Home | Restaurants by City | Food Photography | Archive | Philosophy |

   
     
 
 

Tuesday
January

31

2006
12:56 AM



Permalink

 

  

 

 
09 dan dan noodles.jpg

Click photo to see entire album.

Spring Moon, Hong Kong, China, tasted on December 12, 2005 — We've already established that some of the best food in countries outside of the United States is located in high end hotels - especially in Asia. And while we had fantastic Chinese food in Bangkok we still needed to have world class dim sum. Enter Spring Moon. Located at the gorgeous Peninsula hotel in Kowloon (a short and cool ferry ride from the Central district to Kowloon). I had some time to kill so I checked out all the cool modern and ancient art at the Hong Kong Museum of Art. I am nothing if not cultured. (Like yogurt.)

Spring Moon is famous not only for its dim sum but for its amazing tea service. Since tea is not my thing I figured I was the wrong person to report on the joys of tea. I went for dim sum. There is something about taking an ethnic cuisine, a cultural gem that's been honed and polished for thousands of years, and refining it with the best ingredients and most delicate preparation so that it is a simple perfect example of that culinary tradition. This is the kind of food that I personally respond to the most. And this is what I ate at Spring Moon.

Things started off with ...

Continue reading Spring Moon...

   

 

Monday
January

30

2006
12:19 AM



Permalink

 

  

 

 
10 roast goose.jpg

Click photo to see entire album.

Yung Kee, Hong Kong, China, tasted on December 11, 2005 — It's harder than you might think to figure out which of tens of thousands of restaurants you want to eat one of your three precious meals at while you're in Hong Kong. You ask around, but you never know if the people you're asking are trustworthy. Are they discriminating? Everyone thinks they are, but most people can't be trusted. It's hard. While at my Thai cooking class there was a couple visiting Bangkok from Hong Kong. I figured they were into food enough to take a cooking class and they were from Hong Kong. Yes. I'm profiling foodies with expertise in countries I'm traveling to. Am I proud? No. Am I hungry? Yes. This is how I ended up at Yung Kee.

I had a reservation and was a touch early when i arrived at the Yung Kee building. There was an entry way and a sign seemed to indicate there was a restaurant on the 4th floor. Like in Japan where space is at a premium it's not uncommon for restaurants to be located on the upper levels of a building. I walked in and handed the maitre'd the card from my hotel with the details of my reservation. The dining room was small and gorgeous. It seemed super high end. They told me they hadn't heard of me. I insisted that I had a reservation. There was some conferring among the staff and then one of the staff members escorted me right out the door. This was weird. He was pleasant enough and asked me to follow him. I hoped he was taking me to get food or get the reservation situation cleared up.  We went back in the elevator and headed for the 1st floor (different than the ground floor I got in at). The door opens to a sheet of plywood blocking our exit. At  this point I am waiting for Rod Serling to speak of my predicament. My escort hits the button for the second floor. We get off and enter a pretty sizable restaurant (relative to the dining room I saw upstairs). Down the stairs is another equally large room filled with tables and diners. My escort, deposited me at the front desk at this other Yung Kee where they did in fact have my name on a list. I was worried they didn't like my jeans. Turns out there are multiple versions of the restaurant nestled in various nooks and crannies of the Yung Kee building. I don't know what the specifics were of the one I originally stopped at but  it looked cool. The hostess who took me on as her new charge looked like she could kick my ass and just might. She took me to my table back up on the second floor. She left me there but looked like she was reserving the right too kick my ass later.

The menu was kind of funny. The opening paragraph crowed about the restaurant making a top 15 restaurants in the world list in Fortune magazine... ...in 1968. Seems like a bit of a stretch. That said, it was followed by a list of every dish they'd entered into competitions and won with over the past few decades including Iron Chef. That was pretty cool. I also got seated next to German tourists in what seemed like the westerner zone. They were all drinking beer with dinner. Not sure why that was funny. 

Dinner started off  with an amuse. Specifically, a Preserved Egg and Pickled Ginger. Iillustrating just how much of a wuss I am this may be one of the scariest looking things I've been served in awhile. The white part of the egg was translucent. But the black glop where the yellow yolk had been was particularly frightening. It took me a few moments to screw up my courage but knew I at least had to take a big bite. I bit into it. Surprisinglyit was pretty close to a simple deviled egg where the yolk was super thick and creamy. The blackness of the yolk did eventually get to me though.

The specialty of the house was Roast Goose. It was prety good. It was super fatty with ultra crispy skin. You do need to watch out for the bones though. The meat was juicy and there was something in the center of the goose. Beans? Maybe boiled peanuts? I did feel like the goose could have been served at a higher temperature. It was room temp and that lessened my enjoyment. Maybe the fact that the runner had the dish for me but wouldn't put it on the table until the waiter showed up a full minute later had something to do with it.

Next up was Broccoli with Garlic Sauce and Goose Liver Sausage. Delicious. The garlic sauce was sharp and thick. The sausage reminded me of boudin noir. Dark, hearty, and chunky.

After that I got Fried Rice 'Yeung Chow' Style. This was served nice and hot. I never thought that a simple fried rice could move me. But this one did. Perfect light fried rice with bits of pork, broccoli, egg, and scallion. Quite simple. quite good. There were juicy plump shrimps buried in middle. That was a pretty nice surprise. Yay!

Yung Kee is a food factory and it's not cheap. The service is not going to be super (especially if you don't speak the language) and they are serving what seemed like hundreds of diners at once. But as far as an authentic Cantonese experience combined with a menu with dozens of interesting things you've likely never heard of, it's pretty enjoyable. My rice and broccoli were both very very good and unique. If I'd sent my goose back to get heated up it would have been just as good as its flavor was quite enjoyable. With all that fat I don't think it would have dried out any time soon. Of course, it's pretty lame for the money to get something served at the wrong temperature. But I look at Yung Kee as more of a challenge for someone not experienced with Cantonese food. You've got to fight to get the proper authentic experience. I think it also helps if you're there with more than yourself so you can try a broader range of dishes. I'd love to go back to Yung Kee with a native speaker and see what other exciting Cantonese food I could try.

 

Thursday
January

26

2006
7:10 AM



Permalink

 

  

 

 

Foodie Threads, January 26, 2006 — New designs in the tastingmenu shop.

 

 

Salmon Ngiri, Tamago Ngiri, Ikura, California Roll, and more. Enjoy.

 

Wednesday
January

25

2006
12:13 AM



Permalink

 

  

 

 
20051210-siemreap 392.jpg

Click photo to see entire album.

Eating in Cambodia, tasted on December 6-10, 2005 — (Note: continued from yesterday's post on being in Cambodia.) There are two factors I thought of as potentially illuminating in terms of what food in Cambodia would be like. 1) They were a French colony, and 2) the water isn't safe to drink. The first raised my hopes that the French/Southeast Asian mix of food traditions would result in something wonderful. (I consider the Vietnamese sub one of nature's finest creations and it's an obvious example of this type of colonial culinary melding.) And yet, how can a country where you can't drink the water have their act together enough to offer great food in abundance? And in the end, the latter factor won out... ...sort of.

My only experience eating Cambodian food in the past has been in Boston, MA at a series of Cambodian restaurants owned by the same family. And the food there us quite enjoyable. It's not Thai. Nor is it Vietnamese. It's in the general vicinity but still all its own with an emphasis (from my limited perspective) on lime juice and beef. Lots of beef. Other stuff too, but definitely more beef than I'd seen in any other Asian cuisine I was familiar with.

I’m a big planner. I like to figure out all the details in advance and I do so on a regular basis, whatever the trek I’m taking – Cambodia, supermarket, whatever. So, I decided I wouldn’t plan things out for Cambodia. I suppose I’m trying to grow a little. A little. ; ) When I got to Phnom Penh I browsed the web for recommendations and I even sent mail to a fellow blogger (western) who’s living in Cambodia. Only later did I notice that every recommendation I got was for food within a 1 km radius of my hotel. My hotel is absolutely beautiful and conveniently located to the museums and the palace. The center of the tourist trade. And sure enough, every restaurant recommended to me was in that same zone. Frommer’s only recommends restaurants in the tourist area. For god’s sake, couldn’t they even find one Khmer restaurant to recommend? I should have known better, but I finally relented and decided to try the 'best French restaurant in town'. I understand that there were many deeply negative effects from the colonization of southeast Asia, but that doesn’t mean there was no upside. And the fusion of French and Asian food in Cambodia and Vietnam is definitely upside. As I mentioned, I figured, French food in Cambodia would be interesting and delicious. For the most part that's unfortunately wrong. It was more lame tourist crap. I knew I had to break out. After some cajoling, one of the hotel staff finally admitted to me that there was a big restaurant district a couple of kilometers away, but it was across the Mekong River, and I’d need one of the motorbike or tuk tuk drivers to take me there and bring me back as no tourists go there, so there are no drivers waiting around to take tourists anywhere. I knew this was the place for me.

In the early evening as the sun was setting I found Ravy the tuk tuk driver. Ten dollars round trip to Prek Leap. (Cambodia basically operates on US currency.) We started the trek out to Prek Leap on a series of progressively worse roads. And while the bumps were terrible, at least I got to breathe in the pollution from the trucks that kept veering way to close to us for my comfort. (Strangely Phnom Penh seems less polluted to me than Bangkok did.)

After we crossed the river, there were literally hundreds of restaurants lining the road. Some huge monstrosities. Some tiny little shacks with a TV where all the diners appeared to be there so they could watch the soaps, news, or sports on the TVs. After much convincing of my driver he finally took me to a middle-sized place. It was in fact a restaurant located in behind someone's home. The proprietor's were tickled that I was there, everyone giving me looks like - "Oh aren't you an odd little visitor here. Maybe you're lost." But after negotiation, and with the help of my driver I got a couple of beef dishes and some beer of course (cause I'm desperately trying to avoid drinking any water or eating anything that is uncooked). The food was ok. Better than the crappy tourist lunch I had, but not as good as Cambodian food I've had in the U.S. And slowly I figured out that this place (and many nearby) were focused mainly on providing lots of beer and prostitutes for the Cambodian men that frequented the places. My driver assured me that in fact the gaggle of girls serving me dinner were not in fact daughters of the woman who owned the place and took my order, they were in fact girls from the countryside who were there to service the various Cambodian men who came into drink and then use the girls' services. They all looked super young. Scary. I went home hoping that the next day would prove more successful.

I tried one other local place. I was searching for a "crusty rice" restaurant. I never did find one. I did however end up at another restaurant where they were super amused that I was there. Two little girls (this time actual family members thank god) kept poking me in the back while I ate to try and get my attention. Eventually they were shooed away. This place was back on my side of the river but outside the tourist district near the hospital. The guide told me where to go for crusty rice, but I never did find it. The loc lac (beef dish) I got was not really cooked enough. I ate not quite enough to look like I enjoyed it but more than enough to convince myself I had contracted some sort of raw beef disease. They also gave me a pitcher (not a tall glass, but an entire pitcher) of beer. Before I left  however a little kid came by and offered to sell me this little fried rice cracker in a bag. My hosts told me it was called Noumbai k’dan. It was super crunchy, savory, and delicious. Not bad for six cents.

I did try hotel restaurants as well as the rules that hotel restaurants are almost always bad doesn't usually apply in Asia. The restaurant at the Amanjaya in Phnom Penh, K West Cafe, was actually not bad, especially when I ate the Khmer dishes. I avoided ordering pizza, spaghetti, or hamburgers, but the loc lac was pretty decent. However up in Angkor I stayed at the Raffles Grand Hotel D'Angkor. The hotel was gorgeous in a very colonial way. Very old, great service, and it really transported you. I felt as if I'd just completed a three month journey from England and found a small oasis of civilization where they still served tea. Aside from feeling sort of uncomfortable in this colonial make-believe, and the fact that I don't enjoy tea, it was really a very cool place. That said, they catered to a more traditional tourist crowd (read, retired Americans). The requisite buffet was not very good. The high end restaurant serving dinner was not bad though. The soup in particular was good.

While Siem Reap (the Angkor region) is thriving on tourism (when I visited the region a new hotel seemed to be opening every week), the capital Phnom Penh is thriving in a different way. Despite the corruption, people are obviously trying and there's motion and economic activity everywhere. There's even some modern Khmer offerings. My hotel was one, and a restaurant owned by the same folks was another. The restaurant I went to - Malis - was beautifully designed, served modern Khmer food (according to the chef), had an open kitchen, etc. felt like a western restaurant in a good way. There were definitely some culinary highlights food was somewhat uneven, but they had only been open for a few days. If  I were back in Phnom Penh I would definitely go to Malis to see how they'd evolved. There's money in Phnom Penh for a very small percentage of the population. But that percentage is growing I think.

I did have a very positive food moment that involved no actual eating. We were out in the countryside when I learned that the fields we were passing were filled with rice. I realized that I didn't know what rice actually looks like. I was a little embarrassed taking pictures of the folks harvesting the rice, but it was cool to actually finally know what rice looked like as it grew. Neat.

My quest was really to find authentic and fantastic local food. I failed in the latter, and unfortunately I think I may have succeeded in the former. By no means was my five days spent in Cambodia an exhaustive food exploration. But I really did try to cover many places on the spectrum (including trips to the markets). And I felt like the food I found was pretty representative of a lot of the food available to the various strata of society. And it wasn't very good. I don't know if it's the poverty, the restrictions I put on what I ate because of the water, or something else entirely. I know from experience that Cambodia food is a wonderful and unique cuisine. I just wasn't able to find any that really made me super happy. I almost hope I get comments telling me that I blew it and chose wrong at every turn. And if only I'd done X or Y I would have had wonderful food in Cambodia. At least in that case I would learn what to do next time.

I should say that there was one exception. The baguettes. They were sitting at stalls on the side of the road every morning in various parts of town. Breakfast for the local population. More than once I asked Ravy to pull over so I could grab one and wolf it down. The baguettes were among the best I've ever had. Why is it that in this country with rampant corruption and abject poverty they make bread that's about 1000 times better than any baguette I've ever had in the U.S.? (There's some flame fodder. ; )

Anyway, even though I felt like I could have had a better food experience, don't think for a second that Cambodia isn't an incredible place. I fell in love with the country. Things are moving so fast there that I bet the food options are improving on a daily basis. I can't wait to visit again.

 

Monday
January

23

2006
12:40 AM



Permalink

 

  

 

 
20051207-phnompenh 396.jpg

Click photo to see entire album.

Being in Cambodia, December 6-10, 2005 — (Note: I know this is a food blog, but I was really touched by my trip to Cambodia so today in the first of two posts on the country I want to give some background on my experience there.) I am guilty of romanticizing southeast Asia. It’s dangerous to do it as at best you’ll end up disappointed and at worst it can be condescending. That said, there’s no denying the romance and beauty of the region. I’ve wanted to travel here for much of my life and have finally gotten to make the trip. And in many ways, in my mind, Bangkok was always the iconic representation of what I hoped to see. I’m not sure how to express what I was hoping for. I think the fact that I love Asian food and Asian aesthetics combined with the prospect of encountering a really different society and culture where those came from was attractive. And I fully expected Bangkok to be the highlight of my trip.

In fact, (and this is probably my fault for not getting far enough off the beaten path,) Bangkok seemed to me two dimensional. I admit this is because I only had a few days and I wasn’t able to break out of the tourist routes. But that’s part of the problem, breaking out of the well worn tracks that zillions of tourists have beaten down before you. And in many ways, everywhere I went in Bangkok was optimized for tourists. I almost went down the same path in Phnom Penh. Almost.

Phnom Penh was immediately different than Bangkok. Bangkok is clearly on its way to becoming a world class city. It's decades (or longer) from having the polish of London or Tokyo, but all the basic elements are in place – the excitement, the breadth, the depth, the special qualities. Phnom Penh is dusty, it’s small (relatively), its dilapidated, its broken. The National museum houses a tiny fraction of the treasures this country once had, but looting, the Kmher Rouge, and civil war have seen most of it leave the country. The museum itself is beautiful and sad. He objects are nice, but the building is gorgeous. It’s also worn and frayed. But it’s worn and frayed from use as well as abuse. And ultimately it’s sad and endearing. I know that Bangkok is dusty and dilapidated as well, and I don’t mean to condescend, but really, Phnom Penh may be leaps and bounds ahead of where it was during the Cambodia civil war, but it feels (to me) like a I would imagine Bangkok felt 20-30 years ago. And yet, Phnom Penh is clearly alive.

The people are going about their day, every day, and there are tons of them. The streets are teeming with Cambodian faces. And just about all of them are quick to offer a genuine smile. Commerce is everywhere. I mean everywhere – stuffed into every nook and cranny that can handle someone selling something. People aren’t just selling (and buying – though it appears there’s 10 vendors for every customer), but they are living their lives. One of my favorite moments so far was riding past a local school at 5pm just as streams of kids were pouring out of the gates of the school all in their blue and white uniforms. Tons of parents on motorbikes were picking up their kids and taking them home. It was just another day. And there it was, I found the Bangkok I was looking for, it is Phnom Penh.

It's important to remember a few things though:

  • the guy driving me around every day in his "tuk tuk" (a canopied pair of benches on wheels attached to the back of a motorbike - bigger than a moped, smaller than a motorcycle) made about $100 a month. He spent $30 for the one room he, his wife, and two boys (6 and 10) lived in, $36 a month for English and Japanese classes for his eldest son (who he hopes will be come a tour guide and earn $1000 a month - I think he's overestimating what they make)

  • 80% of the country is illiterate

  • 50% of the country thinks the king is not of this earth (descended from god)

  • the ruling party the CPP are descended from the faction of the Khmer Rouge that escaped to Vietnam to escape intra-party purges

  • the government is super corrupt

  • the leaders of the Khmer Rouge who committed auto-genocide are still around and in their 70s and 80s. While they should all be put on trial for crimes against humanity those trials have not begun and nobody expects them to begin

  • Some people believe that in the '70s the king himself (now a sort of honorary uber-king to make room for his son to be actual king) was complicit, and some people believe that trials would expose not only his involvement but China's support for the Khmer Rouge and for the murder of as many as 2 million Cambodians

  • After bombing the crap out of the country (secretly), the US supported the Khmer Rouge over the Vietnamese puppet government in Cambodia. They preferred the government who'd turned the entire country into a forced labor/"re-education" camp over the one who was pro VIetnam. (Though the Vietnamese sponsored group I'm sure they weren't much better in terms of human rights and corruption, but they do happen to basically be in power today.)

  • Everyone in Cambodia lost people either to the bombings by the Americans, the general fighting, the Khmer Rouge murdering people (Pol Pot believed anyone who wore glasses was an intellectual and murdered intellectuals), or all of the above. I met one guy who was one of 12 siblings. There were only six left. Some siblings escaped to the Thai border and were recruited to fight for the Khmer Rouge while they were in retreat. Some were recruited by the government that took power after the Khmer Rouge were chased out. Brothers ended up fighting against each other. But some of his siblings they don't know what happened to. Likely they were orphaned through all the forced moves by the Khmer Rouge and eventually forgot where they lived and live to this day somewhere in the country not being able to find the rest of their family.

  • The school where I saw all the parents picking up their kids at the end of the day was both inspiring and creepy. Inspiring because of the scene that played out at the end of the day while I was riding by. Creepy because the school looked identical to the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum (formerly prison camp "S-21"). It looked identical because before S-21 was the site of tragedy it was a high school.

In other words. This is a fucked up place. Beautiful. Lovely friendly people. But a fucked up place nonetheless.

I was lucky that I got to spend a few days not only in Phnom Penh but in Angkor as well. Angkor is essentially the icing on the irony of Cambodia. Angkor is a stunning collection of ruined cities and temples. The remnants of the foremost civilization in the world between ~1100 and ~1400. And as they pointed out in the signs at the killing fields, the Khmer Rouge tried to regress the country back to the stone age. From foremost civilization to teetering on the edge of the stone age in 600 years. Makes you think.

Tomorrow, in part 2, we talk about eating in Cambodia.

 

Friday
January

20

2006
12:40 AM



Permalink

 

  

 

 
10 chicken with black bean and chili hunan style.jpg

Click photo to see entire album.

Mei Jiang, Bangkok, Thailand, tasted on December 5, 2005 — It may seem that if you've waited to travel all your life to Thailand that eating anything but Thai food would be a crime. This is in fact, not the case. Let me apologize in advance for this gross generalization and romanticism. I claim that in Asia in general there is a much stronger emphasis on food quality, flavor, freshness, and aesthetics than there is in North America. Furthermore, in the major modern cities in Asia (Bangkok, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Seoul) it's just as interesting to try a foreign cuisine as it is to eat the native food. You wouldn't think twice about trying to get kickass Italian food in New York, why not get amazing Chinese food in Bangkok? Why not indeed. This leads to the next counter-intuitive decision which is to get that Chinese food at a hotel restaurant. As I've discussed before in detail, hotel restaurants aren't the place to eat except of course in modern Asian cities with high end hotels such as the Peninsula hotel where I had a fabulous Chinese dinner at Mei Jiang.

I can think of no better word to describe the dining room than "expensive". And I mean this in a positive way. It wasn't ostentatious or stuffy. It was actually beautifully designed and understated. It just was so well done, and so many staff were on hand to wait on my every whim that you just knew that this was a place for... how can I say it... the well heeled. I felt pretty pampered. But ultimately who cared if they were attentive or jerks... I was there for the food.

As I sat down a dish of Candied Sesame Walnuts appeared. They were adorably yummy. And especially tasty with the addition of the chili dipping sauces. The kind staff came by and offered me a knife and for. I acted all tough and said no thanks. I could make it without them. Next up was a Seafood Wonton amuse bouche. This thing had a perfect fried crispy lightness. There was a refined oiliness in a good way. For me the wonton wrapper was the star player of this bite more than the filling.

Two dishes in one showed up next. How about a plate filled with Roast Duck and Barbecue Pork. Mmmm... fatty goodness. Both were very good. But the pork was very very good especially in combination with the Shanghai Sauce (chili paste and oil) and the fresh chili sauce accompaniments.

What better way to balance the fat and flavor of the pork and duck than with a delicate broth and dumpling combo. Lobster Wontons and Brassica in Clear Broth to be specific. Be warned that this dish went way beyond my relatively narrow ability to describe it. I will do my best but don't be surprised if at the end of this paragraph you don't even know where to begin to understand what this soup tasted like. The broth was incredible and special. It had a deep flavor but remained light with a core of uplifting almost lemony (but not lemon... it's a "yellow" flavor?) muted brightness in the center. The brassica seemed close to baby bok choy to me. It was cooked to a perfect blend of tender and crisp textures. The dumplings were sublime. These perfect hermetically sealed tiny bombs of soft seafood goodness would  in your mouth with a bite. But only after you bit. Before that there was absolutely no interaction between the broth and the lobster contents of the dumpling. The waitstaff offered me some white pepper for my soup before I even had my first taste. Thank god I said no. I did, out of curiosity, save a bit of soup at the end so I could experience it with the recommended white pepper. This was a mistake. When you mess around with perfection there's only one way to go.

You would think that if I'm traveling all the way to Bangkok to eat Chinese food so I can tell you about it in the blog that I couldn't pass up a soup offered on the menu called Monk Jumps Over the Wall Soup. You would be wrong. I'm not a big abalone fan (yet?) so I passed. Jeffrey Steingarten I'm not.

I did however have the relatively tame Chicken with Black Bean and Chili Hunan Style. Though it may be a favorite I simply couldn't resist. It was just what I hoped for in my dreams. There was just enough smooth sauce to coat the chicken and vegetables and not a molecule more. The sauce was just thick enough to coat but not hide the meat. The sauce made things better without dominating. And the chicken was impossibly soft, delicious, flavorful, and restrained. Super good.

I was pretty full but somehow found room for the delicate cookies placed before me at the end of the meal. The first was a chewy coconut with custard cream. This one was enjoyable but the second one blew me away. It was a butter cookie. It had an amazingly butter and crispy thin shell surrounding an airy iniside. I wanted to buy a box of these and take them home with me. No such luck.

Can someone please explain to me why it's so hard to make refined Chinese food this good fewer than 14 hours from my house by plane? It's moments like this when I realize that I have a hard time being happy. Instead of reveling in the fact that I did get to eat at Mei Jiang, all I can think of is my frustration that there isn't a branch within 20 minutes of my house. I suppose there are worse problems in the world. Luckily, no matter what your problem, when you're  in Bangkok, Mei Jiang will take care of you and make you forget them - at least for a little while.

 

Thursday
January

19

2006
12:59 AM



Permalink

 

  

 

 
23 mise for tom yam.jpg

Click photo to see entire album.

Blue Elephant Cooking School, Bangkok, Thailand, tasted on December 5, 2005 — A semi-regular feature of any tourist adventure in Thailand (especially when visiting Bangkok or Chiang Mai) is a cooking class. I was both excited to learn some basic Thai cooking skills, and leery of a tourist trap. I told myself that I would find some small hip cooking school that was off the beaten track in terms of tourists. Unsurprisingly, I failed. After the 27th time when I tried to get someone to recommend me the little known authentic Thai cooking class, and the response was "Blue Elephant Cooking School. It's the most famous." I gave in. Besides, they had a class that started off with a trip to the market. And that seemed like a nice way to start.

The Blue Elephant Cooking School is located in a cool colonial style building (note: not sure if this is an appropriate characterization as Thailand is the only country in the immediate vicinity that was never colonized) on this small parcel of land surrounded by the tumult and height of Bangkok. The first hour or so of our class was spent heading to a local market. I thought we would buy the ingredients we were going to cook. But in retrospect that was silly. The Blue Elephant had their act together and already had all the ingredients we needed. Our trip to the market was most informational though not functional and that was ok. Then it was back to the school for some instruction and hopefully cooking.

It turns out, that despite being the "most famous" cooking school, the class was pretty enjoyable. Even though we were on rails (the ingredients had mostly been prepped for us) my dishes came out as good or better than most Thai food I've had in the U.S. The chef kept repeating this as well showing his disdain for the quality of many Thai restaurants.

I was worried at the beginning when we entered a standard classroom setting that we'd only be watching him cook, but after each demo we went to a kitchen across the room where we got to cook ourselves. It was cool. One weird moment was when he warned us about the unripe papaya juice saying it would hurt our eyes and stain our clothes but it was ok to eat. I guess unripe papaya juice is essentially edible bleach.

We learned and cooked several dishes including: Green Chicken Curry (Keang Keaw Wan Kai), Sour and  Spicy Prawn Soup (Tom Yam Koong), Stir Fried Rice Noodles (Phad Thai), and Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam). The chef really took the time to try to articulate what the flavor of each dish should be. He'd learned Thai cooking at his mother's side and had many years as a professional chef. I remember him going on at length about how the sweet flavor should never come first on your tongue. For me this was huge. Thai food is one of those cuisines (like Mexican) where the uninitiated joke about how it's the same seven ingredients and flavors recombined in hundreds of slightly different combinations. But this is missing the point. There is not only wide variety in Thai food but strict discipline in terms of flavor profile and balance. And while I wasn't happy that I made my green curry three hours before I ate it at the sit down "luncheon" (not sure what the alternative was) it turns out that our food came out pretty good anyway. In fact, I think the food that I made  that day was better than almost every Thai restaurant in Seattle. Unfortunately that's not saying a whole lot, but still I was impressed. Whether I can duplicate it in my kitchen is another matter entirely, but I will have fun trying.

 

Tuesday
January

17

2006
12:44 AM



Permalink

 

  

 

 

Foodie Threads, January 17, 2006 — As often happens with vast media empires such as our own, the primary medium in which we express ourselves sometimes feels a touch too limiting. The blog and the electronic books aren't enough to contain all our brilliant insights and witticisms. Therefore we turn to the cotton canvas and introduce the new tastingmenu shop.

Sarcasm aside, we're excited about our new online store. Aside from helping fund this little venture, the tastingmenu shop is not our gift shop as you exit the museum. It is  in fact our perspective on what we think makes for cool culinary couture. T-shirts are the cotton canvas for today's social commentary. I knew this when days after this video was on TV, this t-shirt was available for sale.

OK. It's just enthusiasm about food. Not social commentary. But hopefully there's something there that folks will relate to. Some examples:

 

 

We're not just excited about produce either. These vintage food illustrations are cool too:

 

There's also a variety of pithy sayings you may or may not find represent your perspective including "Yes. I do need seven kinds of olive oil.", "Screw the menu. Give me one of everything.", and my personal favorite, "I'm not a vegetarian because I love animals. It's because I hate animals."

There's more in our inaugural version including some vintage napkin folding graphics as well as the first in our series of Classic Kitchen Tools.

Sorry for the infomercial. And while we're not trying to be Jason Kottke, and we don't mind defraying the costs of the site a bit, the truth is that we think there's a lack of hip, funky, cool, and vintage food t-shirts and schwag. And hopefully tastingmenu can help fill that gap.

OK. Now we're done with the promotional blah-blah. The shop will only be mentioned from now on when we have some particularly notworthy new graphics that we think are hot. Tomorrow we're back in Thailand.

 

Monday
January

16

2006
12:52 AM



Permalink

 

  

 

 
07 chaw muang.jpg

Click photo to see entire album.

Cabbages & Condoms, Bangkok, Thailand, tasted on December 4, 2005 — The name of this restaurant certainly gets your attention. And it's meant to. Luckily, Cabbages & Condoms is not a reference to the menu, but rather is the name for the broader hotel and restaurant chain that is dedicated to raising money for a non-profit that among other things supports family planning and anti-AIDS efforts (Population and Community Development Association). You would think that a restaurant in service of a charity would feel it could rest on its good works rather than focus on making great food. You would be wrong.

Cabbages & Condoms is located down a side street (a "soi") in a busy Bangkok neighborhood. That description, however, works for pretty much every restaurant in Bangkok that's not on a main drag. The almost alley-like street from which you enter gives you the impression that  the restaurant will be tucked away and small. It's tucked away, but certainly not small. It's huge in fact. As you pass the handicraft store and the buckets of condoms you enter a large open air space threaded with little white lights. Like a lameass, I opted for the indoor air-conditioned dining room.

As I sat down, the ridiculously attentive but not overly familiar service resulted in a dish of delicious super savory Brown Rice Crackers arrived in front of me. They were like a rice cracker and an Ak-Mak cracker had babies that preserved the best aspects of both. Yummy.

The first of the items I ordered arrived - Chaw Muang. It was steamed minced chicken and onion wrapped in dough. It was chewy, doughy, soft, and slightly sweet, and... purple! Cool. Super yummy dumplings.

Next up was Yum Nuea Yang, Thai spicy and sour salad of pan-grilled beef. This dish was super fresh bright, tangy, and spicy. Pretty great. This was followed by Moo Tod Kra Tiem Phrik Thai, deep-fried pork with pepper and garlic. The pork was not delicate but in a good way but not overbattered. It was super savory without any accompaniment whatsoever. That said, the dried, fried, onion shavings added some good flavor as well. I'm pretty sure this was the best schnitzel I've ever had in my entire life.

The rice that accompanied the dishes was so fragrant. perfumed, and light. Delicious. Thinly sliced cucumbers were everywhere. Super crisp and light. And of course, never mealy.

The meal was interesting as there were were really three distinct flavor profiles represented by each of the dishes. But once I got the essence of each dish I found myself mixing bits and pieces  from each and enjoying the novel combinations.

At this point during my time in Bangkok I had everything from street food to mom and pop hole-in-the-wall  to big family and tourist restaurant to hotel high-end refined. And frankly all rocked. Is it possible to get bad Thai food here? Do I just have an incredibly low bar? I've mentioned before how tough it is to do all this eating eating on my own. I can't really finish everything I order. At Cabbages & Condoms I did. I couldn't help myself. It was just so good (and of course cheap). Thai cooking is based on a deep understanding of flavor and making sure it exists in each dish in generous quantities. But let's be clear on something, strong flavors don't mean there isn't subtlety. There is. Plenty. Strong flavors interwoven in subtle combinations.

After dinner, instead of a mint with the check they give you a condom. Of course.

Tomorrow I try to learn how to cook some Thai food for myself.

 

Friday
January

13

2006
12:40 AM



Permalink

 

  

 

 
01 fish balls.jpg

Click photo to see entire album.

Thai Street Food, Bangkok, Thailand, tasted on December 4, 2005 — While there are many high end and high quality restaurants and food experiences to search for on this planet, perhaps the most reliable quality food experience in the world is street food. Of course there are exceptions, and some countries are better than others, but in general I believe this. Street food is most of the world's answer to fast food and there are several reasons why it's often your best bet for something great to eat. Mostly it's because quality is about focus and street food vendors have no choice but to focus. The space limitations alone require it. They also help force the street food vendor to restock with fresh ingredients each day. And in much of Asia the street food is a local tradition and authentic. It doesn't get much better than that.

After that type of introduction you'd think that I'd have a seriously detailed survey of Bangkok street food. You'd be wrong. But only because I suck. I think it would have taken me weeks to really get even a shallow but semi-complete view of the street food experience. Instead you'll get a super basic (and incomplete) intro as well as a decent number of pictures of what I was able to find in my few days in Bangkok.

Some random tidbits in no particular order:

  • There are three main places for street food (you'd think there would be only one - the street) in Bangkok. They are 1) the street (even late into the night), 2) food courts in malls (or entire malls), and 3) the huge outdoor markets (like the Chatachuk weekend market).
  • The malls are a good place to get your bearings. The food is excellent (again unlike food courts in North America) and it's a controlled environment in which
  • The food is incredibly cheap. For some reason the malls have these systems where you have to buy the mall food scrip. If you have any leftover you just turn it back in for cash. Their not making money on the exchange rate so I guess they think it's easier to pay with their coupons.
  • The food is incredibly good. And there are tons of options. I especially enjoyed everything that was deep fried. And in many cases everything was deep fried.
  • Did I mentioned the deep-fried bacon-wrapped hot dogs?
  • Fish balls are woefully underrated. In Asia they know how to make fish balls. Chewy, spongy, smooth, and super savory. Some days I felt I could go through about a hundred of them.
  • They had these little mini chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry donuts. I don't know why I was surprised to see them, but I was. That said, they were super delicious. Why does miniaturization always make things more adorable?

Bottom line, if you're lucky enough to be in Bangkok, Thailand, or just about anywhere in Asia, I highly recommend you sample early and often as you pass one food stand after another. You pretty much can't go wrong.

 

 

It doesn't have anything really to do with street food. But I love the soda variations I find around the world. What the hell is Pepsi Latte?

 

Thursday
January

12

2006
12:09 AM



Permalink

 

  

 

 
03 green curry of river fish dumplings.jpg

Click photo to see entire album.

Celadon, Bangkok, Thailand, tasted on December 3, 2005 — In general, eating alone is no way to eat. Eating is a social experience meant to be shared. Social interaction aside, when you're trying to get a sense of a restaurant, going with many people is best so you can try as many dishes as possible. Imagine how difficult it is to try a bunch of dishes when you're not only eating alone, but the food is served family style (as it is in most Thai restaurants). I suppose that's all I can really complain about given how good the food was at Celadon, a super interesting and refined Thai restaurant at the Sukkothai hotel in Bangkok.

Celadon is a beautiful restaurant. Thai design is gorgeous in general with all the dark wood. The modern lines combined with the antique sculptures and icons are just beautiful. It was still my first day in Thailand so I decided to order calmly and  have at least one thing that I knew so I could acclimate my stomach slowly. Chicken Satay fit the bill. You might argue that chicken satay is so simple, why order it if you're trying to see whether there's any talent in the kitchen. I claim that the simpler dishes are the true litmus tests because there's no hiding if they aren't good. When something is simple, the flavor has to be right out in front. And it's easy tell when it isn't.

No worries with the satay at Celadon. The meat was buttery and creamy. The peanut sauce had sweet and roasted qualities. Though only accompaniments, the cucumbers were excellent too. Attention anyone who makes food for other human beings and cares about quality. Attention to detail makes a difference. A big difference. The cucumbers had these ridges and were sliced small and super thin. Their texture was super enjoyable especially in combination with the chicken.

When you spend this much time telling others what you think of various food experiences it's important to know your own blind spots, limitations, and biases. I won't claim to be introspective and secure enough to know them all (much less admit them) but I will point out that I am a sucker for refined ethnic cuisines. And Celadon was definitely refined Thai food. It's not that the ingredients changed, or the recipes were modernized. It's just that things were done with care and precision. Refined to me is the opposite of rustic. I like both, but I really adore refined. The flavors feel clean and pure to me. And while Celadon plays the refined notes well, I was also pleased to see that their dishes could be hearty at the same time. Case in point was my next dish - Green Curry of River Fish Dumplings. In terms of trying new things, this seemed like a good idea. Frankly, the fish balls were amazing. They had a slight rubbery quality in a good way (like a sausage or Vietnamese beef ball should). The texture was super smooth and the flavor was deep. These were heavenly.

Celadon has a dirty little secret - it's in a hotel. The Sukkothai hotel to be exact. And frankly, hotel restaurants are almost never good. This is because hotels need restaurants on premises (to serve room service, breakfast, etc.). In order to entice restaurants to reside on premises they either create them on their own (following their own mass market formulas) or the subsidize the restaurant's existence. Either way, the staff of the restaurant are almost never competing for business. They have a sure thing. It doesn't matter how bad they do as the hotel will never shut them down. They can't. This atmosphere makes for lousy food. This however appears to be mainly an American phenomenon. In Asia, forget it. Some of the best restaurants I've eaten at are in hotels. And Celadon is no exception.

For my final dish (I know it's a bummer that I only had three) I got a regional specialty from central Thailand. I thought that would mix things up a bit. I ordered Baked Yellow Curry Rice with Prawn, Chinese Pork Sausage, and Eggs.  This was a perfect complement to the spicy curry. The rice was sweet but not overly so. Normally I'm not someone who enjoys an emphasis on the sweet part of the spectrum, but the little juice pineapple cubes were super enjoyable. The dish was also covered with (what I think were) coconut filaments. Well, to be honest, I'm not sure what they were exactly but they tasted like coconut cotton candy.

This was pretty much a superb first day in Bangkok. My lunch at essentially a grandma's restaurant was excellent as was my dinner at a high end hotel restaurant. (By the way, the high end here was also pretty cheap - $6 for an entree.) So far I'm pretty much in love with Bangkok and the food at  has to offer.

 

 

Wednesday
January

11

2006
12:29 AM



Permalink

 

  

 

 
08 mee grob.jpg

Click photo to see entire album.

Chotechitr, Bangkok, Thailand, tasted on December 3, 2005 — Walter and Mary-Alice had been to Thailand a couple of weeks before I arrived. They made only one restaurant recommendation for all of Bangkok. I figured I better get there first. It was a bit of a challenge as the language barrier seemed to ensure that the cabbie would have no idea where the place was even though I had the front desk at my hotel write down the address for him. Apparently knowing the restaurant is located on Phraeng Phuton doesn’t help much if you have no idea where Phraeng Phuton is. At the last minute I found that one of my maps actually had the street on it and directed the cabbie to drop me off nearby Chotechitr.

You need to understand that to me, upon arrival, Bangkok was like a ripe fruit, bursting with possibilities, and I was worried that in my haste I would let too much of the juice drip onto the floor. (OK, that’s kind of yucky imagery but you get the gist.) If I wanted a small restaurant, not frequented by tourists, off the beaten path, and family-owned, this was the place. Needless to say I was pretty proud of my accomplishment at even getting there when I was asked a question by the owner and chef Mrs. Krachoichuli Kimangsawat that I couldn’t answer: “what would you like to eat?” It hadn’t occurred to me what I might want for lunch, so I decided to put my fate in her hands. This was a good idea.

While I waited for my food I ordered a Coke. I was pretty clear on not drinking tap water (or putting ice made from tap water in any of my drinks) and while I thought of asking to see if they had Pellegrino, I decided to settle for a Coke. It always tastes better from a glass bottle anyway.

Soup was first. Tom Yum Goong specifically. This is a soup I love and adore and have had many times. I still remember the first time I ever tried it when the wall of sour and spicy hit me like a heart attack. It really blew me away. This was at once a more confident and down to earth soup than almost any other instance of Tom Yum Goong I’d ever tried. It was hearty, thick, and rich. There were fragrant bits but it was also sweet (but not overly so). The flavors were very balanced but not shy either. There were also enormous prawns in the soup. The shells were mostly gone, but the heads were there in their full glory. I admit I was a wuss about the heads, but I ate the bodies hungrily. The soup was very good.

Next up was Mee Grob. Think of it as a nest of fried noodles with sauce and (in this case little shrimps) dotting the noodle landscape. The dish was certainly deep fried but there was zero grease. The noodles themselves were crunchy but never too hard. And the flavor of the sauce was sweet but not cloying. It almost had an orange juice flavor. Mrs. Kimangsawat assured me it was lemon juice. Excellent.

Finally I had the Banana Flower with Shrimp and Chicken. I really had no idea what the hell a banana flower was so she was happy to show me. I apologize if I misunderstood, but I believe she showed me an example that was young and not quite at the point where it was ready to be included in my dish. I was right to trust them. While the first two dishes had similar flavor profiles, this dish was different. It had more of an emphasis on the savory tones tones than the other two dishes. It was also creamy with a super light acidity (maybe from citrus?). And most enjoyable there was a build up of pepper on your palate way at the end of the finish of the flavor. The effect was that by the end the dish had a nice kick to it. Excellent with the fragrant and perfectly cooked rice that was sent my way.

I’m not sure I could have asked for a better first meal in Bangkok. And while I typically don’t mention cost as it varies and people’s perspectives on cheap and expensive can be vastly different, this meal cost $5.25. It would almost be amusing if the food weren't so good.

 

Tuesday
January

10

2006
12:38 AM



Permalink

 

  

 

 
24 even more truffle shaving.jpg

Click photo to see entire album.

Bo Innoseki Innovation, Hong Kong, China, tasted on December 2, 2005 — Secret restaurants appeal to me on a deep level. I figure, if someone is willing to break the law to make food for people, then there’s not much they wouldn’t do to make that food worth eating. Imagine my excitement when I heard that Hong Kong was filled with these restaurants out of people’s homes. I wondered just how much risk the proprietors were taking given that they allowed their names and addresses to be published in the New York Times, but I decided to seek some out nonetheless. The first in my quest was Bo Innoseki. It turns out that Bo Innoseki went legit and moved to highly designed restaurant in a high-profile location next to Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club. Much to my embarrassment I only found this out by showing up at their old speakeasy location and then convincing someone local to let me borrow their cell phone to call the restaurant and find out why the front door was locked. Twenty minutes later I found the new place and made my way to the relocated and renamed Bo Innovation. Would being ‘legit’ affect the food? Since I had nothing to compare to I didn’t know (though a fellow diner told me that the food had gotten more complex since they moved) but I was excited nonetheless.

There were several set menus. I chose the most expansive – the White Truffles and Hairy Crab Feast.

In front of me was a beautiful custom tray obviously built just for the restaurant. The inlaid pattern was beautiful. I didn’t have to wonder for long what the three holes at the top of the tray were for. First up was “The 3-Salads” – Caesar in a Cone, Waldorf in a Drink, and Niçoise in a Bite. Each came in a little cup that fit neatly into one of the holes at the top of the tray.

At first I thought, “oh isn’t this clever”. But rather than shticky, the reconstructed salads in their new forms were actually quite enjoyable. What I liked about each was the clarity. Each little morsel started out with my tongue wondering – “what is this?” (What? You’re tongue doesn’t wonder?) And then mid-taste the flavors would come into focus and I’d think… “hey, this tastes like a Waldorf salad”. The Caesar had a nice anchovy component. And sure enough, in each case the flavors came together very nicely to be exactly as advertised. Neat and enjoyable. (I often wonder what I would have thought if I’d tasted the food blind. I think naming of dishes, and setting expectations in general has so much to do with how we perceive food. It’s seems silly but it’s true.)

Next up was Uni, Pumpkin Rice Pudding, and Cucumber Jelly. I couldn’t decide what I thought of this dish until the very last bite. And that last bite was superb. The trouble was that I had a hard time getting the perfect balance of ingredients in my mouth with each bite. The sliver of dried tomato served to focus the foundational flavors in the dish. As I ate at first I thought the dish was a bit all over the place. But I realized in the end that all the makings of greatness were there if I could get them to balance on my tongue. In writing about food I’ve taken on the obviously more difficult role of critiquing the food I get to eat. I’ll leave the easy part of coming up with a solution for how to make every bite sing like the last bite of this dish to the chef.

The uni was followed by Tuna Belly, Essence of Morel, and Air Dried Foie Gras Shavings. This was super enjoyable. I was surprised at how much flavor the foie gras shavings had. They really conveyed not only a solid foie gras flavor, but had a deliciously smooth textural quality as well. Yummy. Afterwards I got Caviar with Oyster Tofu. Another clean and simple dish. But I really enjoyed the flavor combinations. The sea was well represented, and the caviar wasn’t weak. (I hate it when Caviar shows up with very little flavor.) The tofu was custardy in a good way. Nice.

At this point in the meal a waiter I hadn’t seen before approached me with a slightly uncomfortable look on his face an started to tell me that the his manager and the Chef had a request. At first I thought he was going to ask me not to photograph the food. Instead he proceeded to invite me to the chef’s table (or more accurately the Chef’s bar located in the cold prep and plating area of the kitchen in the back of the restaurant. I readily agreed of course and joined five other customers sitting at the bar and having their dinner cooked in front of them. I think they were moving me so they could make room for a big party. I didn’t care. I always enjoy the show.

My first dish at the bar was Steamed Foie Gras, Sticky Rice Soufflé, Iberian Braised White Daikon, and Caramelized Green Daikon Juice. I realized, kind of amused, that this dish was really foie gras mochi with the daikon balls as little tapioca pearls. Aside from the cute factor, the dish was interesting and deeply good.

As I ate I noticed the chef was behind the bar alternately cooking, chatting with customers, and encouraging the kitchen staff to perform at their best employing a broad range of techniques both encouraging and critical. For me it was nice to see the unvarnished activities in the kitchen. It was also clear that the Chef was part of the reason many Hong Kong residents came to the restaurant. Not just his food but his personality.

Next up was White Truffles, Chinese Pasta, with Egg. This dish was magnificent. There’s really no other way to describe it. While the pasta/egg/truffle combination is relatively standard, this particular version was original and special. The pasta was uniquely Chinese (as the chef told me as he shaved a generous amount of truffles onto my plate, “everything in this dish comes from China… except the truffles.”). The noodles were like elongated thick penne tubes with an enjoyable chewy quality. As you began the dish you broke the yolk to really bind all the elements together. The tons of truffle shavings were delicious as always. And frankly, given my deep and abiding love for white truffle I worry about being balanced in evaluating dishes that contain them. But this dish was so much more. The pasta itself was either pan-fried or put in the salamander to get a crispy brown top (in retrospect I think some kind of broiling in a salamander was the technique – like you would use on the top of a good baked macaroni and cheese). The crisp texture of outside of the pasta was a perfect textural complement to the rest of the dish.

A little surprise dish form the chef followed. Not on my menu was Tofu with Foie Gras, Caramelized Pear, and Pine Nuts. It was just a spoonful, but that’s all I needed. The flavor profile was certainly more traditional with the sweet complementing the foie. But I enjoyed the textures together even though the softness of the tofu and foie were similar. They were still complementary. The chef later told me he thought of it as a tofu dish where the foie gras was playing a supporting role.

The foie was followed by Pine Nut Crusted White Fish with Escargot Duck Egg Sauce and Pea Shoot Royale. The pea custard had loads of flavor – it was chock full of green pea-ness. (No, I never get tired of that joke. And yes, I am in third grade.) But really it was quite good. The escargot and the white fish were not as flavorful. I could have done without one of the seafood items in exchange for the remaining one to be more flavorful. Even with this mixed dish it’s still very clear that one of the chef’s strengths is isolating the core flavor of an ingredient and making sure it’s not only preserved, but highlighted through the cooking process. The value of this should not be underestimated.

This skill was featured in the Hairy Crab Soufflé with Aged Jiangsu Vinegar. The soufflé was like a freshly cooked crab in soufflé form. Yummy. The vinegar was good too though I could have done with maybe a touch less.

Time for a palate cleanser – Ginger Beer to be specific. Huge fire on the finish of this one. It cleared my palate alright and scorched the back of my throat (but in a good way). I was ready for the next dish.

And next up was Jasmine Smoked Sea Bass with Chrysanthemum Glaze and Pickled Ginger Pellet. I’ll admit that I usually eschew dishes that have the word “pellet” in them. But we’ll chalk that up to the language barrier. In fact, this dish had a genuinely special combination of flavors. There was sweet with ginger and a smoked flavor as well. Frankly, the dish was reminiscent of sushi.

One note to mention is that the pacing was kind of rough. It was actually superb when I was in the dining room, but once I moved to the kitchen things were a bit haphazard. I think the chain of command in the kitchen was a little confused because sometimes the chef would make it his business to take care of the customers personally and sometimes he was busy cooking. Not sure there was one person focused on the diners there. But it wasn’t a huge deal.

It’s funny how in tasting menus chefs often still feel the need to make the last savory dish something bigger than the others. Personally I can live without it as I’ve already eaten a ton of food. In this case though it wasn’t entirely unwelcome as the somewhat larger portion was of Wagyu Striploin, with Mixed Mushroom, Mustard Potatoes. The beef was super buttery. I mean, it literally at times tasted like a stick of grilled butter (in a good way). And the mushrooms were perfectly cooked.

Dessert didn’t go exactly as advertised but it was still quite good. I started off with Chocolate Pudding Cake with Port Marinated Strawberries and Vanilla Sauce. As someone who writes about food you want to not gush every time someone puts hot liquid chocolate in the middle of chocolate cake. To put it simply, it’s just not cool. But there are some things that are simply innately GOOD. And yes, there are worse and better examples. And this happened to be a better example. Much better. Fantastic liquid bittersweet chocolate was oozing out of the center of my little cake and mixing with everything. The strawberries were a rich complement. Super yummy.

And finally I got Lychee Foam with Rose Water. This was a nice cloud-like closer for the meal.

It turns out I was supposed to get Vanilla Ice Cream with White Truffle Shavings instead of the chocolate. And although I would have liked to try it, I was pretty happy, pretty stuffed, and pretty jet-lagged so I expressed my gratitude and made my way home on the tram that takes you from one end of Hong Kong to the other.

Chef Leung is obviously trying to do something special. And I think he is. I think as with anyone trying to innovate, there always has to be a grounding in solid flavors and textures, and it’s clear that for the majority of the meal his dishes are well grounded. It also felt, at least to me, that when the innovation borrowed from the regional traditions, that’s when it seemed the most solid, flavorful, and frankly special. And any restaurant capable of that is worth going back to.

 

Monday
January

9

2006
12:17 AM



Permalink

 

  

 

 
16 sausage bun.jpg

Click photo to see entire album.

Getting My Bearings, Hong Kong, China, tasted on December 2, 2005 — Taking almost three weeks to tour around Asia and expand my culinary palate (not to mention my worldview) seemed like a precious opportunity and I didn't want to waste a single minute. And as often happens when you're nervous, you've gotta shake the nervous energy out of your system so that you can focus and do your best. And in this case my best was supposed to be experiencing as much authentic food in Asia as possible. Frankly, my first several hours in Hong Kong were not my best. By no means do I feel I really did some valuable surveying. I'd call my first several hours more of a random survey. That said, maybe you can learn from my mistakes and random successes.

I was planning several stops through multiple countries in Asia. In the past I've been guilty of overplanning (choosing every single meal months in advance) as well as following the wrong recommendations (often from mainstream media or non-quality focused food directories). I guess I'm a slow learner. But I was determined on my first day to do two things in Hong Kong - experience some serendipity enjoying the street food in the area, and using Peyman's Law: choose places to eat based on the length of the line out the door; the longer the line, the better the food. These seemed like good themes until my dinner (for which I did have a reservation).

It turns out that a) when you're in a city without a bunch of street food, b) you don't speak the language, c) you're not really sure what to order at restaurants serving the local food, you've essentially increased the level of difficulty of eating something good. First up I went into a cafe cause I was starving for some breakfast. I checked out the menu and only saw western-ish fare. I figured, maybe a ham breakfast sandwich in Hong Kong might be new and interesting. I also ordered a chocolate milk. Not super exciting, but I ordered just a little so that I would have room to sample things as I walked the city. My ham sandwich showed up and it reminded me of all the finger sandwiches I'd eaten in Japan - no crusts. I guess it was good, but interesting? Not really. The chocolate milk was interesting, but not particularly enjoyable. Basically they took hot chocolate and poured it over ice. Weird.

I did salvage breakfast by walking by a tray of baked goods and pastries outside Restaurant Du Lac Bleu. I can't resist a pastry filled with sausage, and I immediately learned that Hong Kong was excited about these little bundles of deliciousness as bakeries across Japan. This one was up to snuff - buttery, soft, and smooth bread surrounding essentially a mini-hot dog. Yummy.

I saw some interesting food markets as I wandered around. I'd have to say the most interesting thing I saw was the cage filled with live frogs. Mmmmm.... frog soup. I don't know why I assumed they were going to be made into soup. I've never had frog soup much less ever heard of its existence, but for some reason these looked like soup frogs to me.

I wasn't too proud of my breakfast efforts but I thought I had a good strategy for lunch. I wandered through a bunch of side streets in the Central district until I found a place serving lunch that had a line around the corner. Unfortunately I fumbled the ball on the one yard line. I really had no idea what to order. I could have done some research in advance and written down some common dishes I wanted to try. Instead I was reduced to spying the dishes of the diners around me and pointing to one of them to indicate what I wanted. Unfortunately they all appeared to be eating scrambled eggs with shrimp which can be a good dish, but not  necessarily super interesting. I kind of felt pressured as the language was a real barrier at this particular place and I was taking so long to order that I just pointed to the nearest pile of scrambled eggs so they could get my order going. Well, the dish was kind of greasy and not too flavorful, but at least this old guy across the path (the restaurant appeared to occupy two corners of an alleyway) would step out of the back of one of them roughly every 3.5 minutes to scream something at the people on my side. You'd think after the seventh time I would have steeled myself against it. Not so. Every time it made me jump in my seat. Chalk lunch up to opening jitters. I was determined to up my game for dinner and the rest of the trip.

 

 

 

 

BTW... special thanks to our friends over at Accidental Hedonist for the nomination for the 2005 Food Blog Awards. We were nominated in the Best Food Blog - Restaurant Reviews category. We're in good company with four excellent blogs, but of course since this is a poll-based contest, we hope you vote for us. Please vote for us here. Thanks!

 

Tuesday
January

3

2006
11:55 PM



Permalink

 

  

 

New Year, New Perspectives, January 3, 2006 — It's been a long break, but we're back. Finally. With each year that tastingmenu gets written we try to improve so that there's reason to keep coming back. Two years ago we did our first cookbook. Last year we helped put on the tasteeverything awards and put out our second cookbook. We knew we had to top ourselves this year so we've got quite a bit of excitement planned for the year. More publications, the second annual tasteeverything awards, some new accessories, and of course tons of detailed writeups and closeup photos of the best food experiences we can find from all over the planet.

While we rely primarily on our taste buds to decide which of those food experiences to share, perspective does count. And while we feel reasonably well eaten (the culinary equivalent of well read), we often feel that we're lacking enough perspective and experience to really understand the quality of some of the food we're eating.

Here on tastingmenu we're starting a new series of posts called "Tastingmenu gets schooled". This is going to be a three part series, with each part consisting of multiple entries here on the site. In each major part of this series we're going to try and personally broaden our experience so that ultimately the entries on this site get better. The first part involves broadening our culinary palate... in Asia.

It's hard to bring authority to the table on a particular type of food when you've never eaten it in its native country. And while we certainly know which food tastes great to us, it would be better if we had a baseline to compare. Asian food has always been a favorite of ours, but while Japan has been visited many times (with one stop in South Korea as well), we've never been to some of the other countries in the region - and there are many.

For part 1 of Tastingmenu Gets Schooled we're spending a few weeks in Asia - Hong Kong, Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Angkor Wat, and Tokyo to be specific. Starting with our next post we'll be reporting on all the exciting food happenings that we were able to manage in our relatively short trip. It's not exhaustive, but hopefully it gives enough of a sense of the food in each country - especially China, Thailand, and Cambodia to which we've never been.

As for future parts of Tastingmenu Gets Schooled we'll reveal those as time goes on. Let's go!

     

 

 

 

 

 

   

OUR SPONSORS

 

Tastingmenu is focused on superlative restaurant experiences from two perspectives: behind the plate and behind the stove. Tastingmenu is written by Hillel (professional eater) and Dana (up-and-coming professional chef) in Seattle, Washington.


Search tastingmenu

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
             
     

 

     
     
 

  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

Browse tastingmenu

 

Home | Restaurants by City X | Food Photography | Archive | Philosophy |
Free eBooks: All About Apples | Autumn Omakase

More: Discussion | Cool Food T-Shirts | Ingredients | Markets | Recipes
Search | Blog FAQ | Other Blogs
 

Best of tastingmenu

 

 


City View
June 9, 2006
San Francisco, California
 

05-har gow.jpg

 

Entry: July 6, 2006


Blue Plate
June 8, 2006
San Francisco, California
 

11 macaroni and drunken spanish goat cheese.jpg

 

Entry: June 19, 2006 


L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon
March 31, 2006
Las Vegas, Nevada
 

07 roquette salad gaspacho and tofu.jpg

 

Entry: July 18, 2006

 

 

Browse by City

 

Boston | Chicago | Houston | Las Vegas | Los Angeles | Maui | New York | Philadelphia | Portland | San Francisco | Seattle | Toronto | Utah | Vancouver | Washington D.C.

Bangkok | Beijing | Hong Kong | Seoul | Tokyo

Amsterdam | Berlin | Italy | London | Madrid | Paris | Vienna

 

Browse by Month

 

2006

J F M

2005

J F M A M J
J A S O N D

2004

J F M A M J
J A S O N D

2003

J F M A M J
J A S O N D

2002

A  S O N D

2001

D

     
 

     

Comments, questions, or feedback: info / at / tastingmenu / dot / com
All pages Copyright (c) 2001-2007 tastingmenu.com

Last modified 12/14/07.