Thursday, June 30, 2005

Killer Shrimp, Marina Del Rey, CA


This place has been a Zagat bang-for-the-buck for a while, and the cool thing is that they only serve one thing on the menu: the cajun "killer shrimp," with the only options being whether you want bread, noodles, or rice. As they describe it, "We make only one thing: KILLER SHRIMP. Natural ingredients are simmered for 10 hours to create a luxurious spicy sauce. When your order is received, the shrimp are added to the sauce and cooked quickly. We then rush it hot to your table with fresh French bread for dunking."

And boy, is it a "luxurious spicy sauce" indeed. Full of butter, wine, loads of garlic, chili pepper flakes, and all sorts of other spices, this thing rocks. The shrimp sit in a big pho-like bowl with this "sauce" (it's more like a thin broth, actually), and just one dunk of the bread into this ethereal potion is heavenly. After that, dig your hands in and start peeling the shrimp (if you are too lazy to peel them, then opt for the noodles/rice versions, but then you miss out on the kick-ass broth). Don't bring fussy people who don't eat shellfish or spicy food - they won't have anything else to eat but the pecan pie.

Krispy Kreme

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Ever sweet and rich (the dough seems to act as an airy sponge for all the grease it was cooked in), Krispy Kreme's glazed doughnuts rock. I am also a big fan of the chocolate ice custard filling. Try to go when the "hot doughnuts" neon sign is lit - it's a completely different experience when the doughnuts are fresh off the frying conveyor belt in the window.

Arby's Roast Beef Sandwiches

Arby's

This is more fast food, but Arby's rocks. It's got super-thin slices of hot roast beef (although probably pre-processed) in a hamburger bun. The Horsey Sauce is totally the key to this - without it, this would be a bland dry heap, so I apply the sauce very liberally.

I also like the potato cakes, although the curly fries are good too. It's a shame that these guys aren't as franchised globally as their McCompetitors.

In-N-Out Burger

In-N-Out

Only in California, the fresh ingredients and grilled onions creates a very unique taste. The fries are also made from potatoes that were just freshly sliced, creating a texture that many people don't like (a bit like styrofoam), but I don't mind.

Anheuser-Busch Hospitality Center, SD

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Free beer samples! The Michelob Amber Bock was surprisingly good, but the Draught (fruit) Infusion line was a bit disturbing, although better than I thought it would be. I dunno what was so special about the Budweiser Special, but it sure was refreshing and cleaner than that bottled crap. I suppose any free beer would be good though. :)

Fresh fish at Sea World

Fresh fish at Sea World

...mmm...

ha ha. OK, I really didn't eat these slimy fish, but I did pay $4 to feed the hungry sea lion below.

Hey - it is food. Just not for me, that's all.

Huevos Rancheros at Old Town

Huevos rancheros is the quintessential Mexican breakfast: eggs over medium with tomato salsa on a tortilla, plus the usual rice and beans.

I'm not a big breakfast person though. I think I enjoyed the chips and salsa more, especially since the chips were thin and still hot.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Roberto's, San Diego

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Back on the US side of the border, Roberto's (and its competitor Alberto's) is a late night post-drinking fave due to its greasiness. What's interesting is that this is a uniquely San Diego version of Mexican food, which is not really available elsewhere. The key is in the overloaded cheese on everything, as well as the heavy grease dripping out of taco shells and the like. Not the healthiest food in the world, but late night food seldom is.

At least they have horchata, which is a sweet Mexican cinnamon rice drink. Yum.

Caesar's Bar & Restaurant, Tijuana, Mexico

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This place on the main drag of Tijuana is the birthplace of the Caesar Salad, and they make it painstakingly in front of you by hand, starting with the anchovy being mashed in with garlic and oil using only a fork. Mix in the egg yolk and vinegar, toss and arrange the full lettuce spears, sprinkle your cheese, and add your croutons. Great stuff, especially when paired with Tecate beer (happy hour!), tortilla soup (salty and spicy with cheese and avocado), and chips and salsa (with much more bite than back in Old Town San Diego).

Nice. One might suspect this is a tourist trap being right on Avenido Revolucion in Zona Centro, but it should be the real deal. Who cares, anyway? This is a darned good Caesar salad. Who'd ever thought to be needing a knife when eating a salad? You won't go back to bottled Caesar dressing crap once you have had it made from scratch.

Old Town Mexican Cafe and Cantina, San Diego


This place is smack in the middle of a tourist spot, which is always worrisome (they even have people in the window making tortillas). The restaurant boasts of lots of awards, which seem legit, but it's still worrisome. Fortunately though, this place is pretty good.

I started off with the obligatory margarita (chips and salsa complimentary), followed by a ceviche starter, which wasn't bad, if a bit sour. The carnitas (the house special, BTW) were not as crispy or greasy as I remember them (crap - I just realized that I didn't order the crispy option - argh!!!), but oh do I still miss that taste (hey fresh salsa, tortillas, and avocado!). The chile relleno was par for the course, while the key lime pie was surprisingly tight and tarty.

Bottom line: even if this isn't completely out of this world, it's still worth going to for the freshness alone. Next stop: south of the border to Tijuana, Mexico!

Pho 88, San Gabriel, CA


Southern California is allegedly home to one of the largest Vietnamese populations outside Vietnam. And they do serve some mean bowls of pho, fully authentic with each house having its own secret family recipe (although I'm sure the jalapeno slices are a reflection of what is available fresh locally).

I got my usual tai nam gan (rare beef, flank steak, and fatty brisket for extra flavor) and a couple soda chanhs (lemon soda) to wash it down. The broth was pretty good. I was worried at first that this place had changed hands (and thus, recipies), since the last one at this spot on Valley Blvd was actually called Pho 79 instead of Pho 88. Fortunately, it was still just as tasty as I had remembered it, as a rush of relief flowed over me like a warm blanket. (I'm told that the number usually represents something about the family, like the year they emigrated to the US. Or in the case of Pho No 1, that they are simply the best.)

The cool thing is that pho is actually a breakfast dish in Vietnam. Not a bad way to start the day indeed.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Shamshiri Persian Grill, West LA

Shamshiri Persian food, West LA

Boy, do I love Persian food. And it's so hard to find (unless you live in Iran, I suppose). But there is a big Persian population in West LA - I remember them piling out into the streets after a win in the 1998 World Cup. This place, Shamshiri, is one of the best in the neighborhood, and apparently it has been very successful lately, sporting a new location and decor.

Come here on an empty stomach and you will still have enough left over for a full meal the next day. My favorite is the koobideh (seasoned ground beef broiled on a fire), which seemed a bit sweeter today than I prefer, but was still amazingly juicy, especially when paired with a bite from a sweet raw onion, which I have been told is the proper technique, with the obvious side effects of dragon breath. But burying a cube of butter underneath the steaming hot fluffy Basmati and saffron rice is heaven, as are the fire roasted tomatoes and vegetables.

Venturing onto other menu items, the vegetarian sabzi polo (scallions, cilantro, parsley, dill, garlic, and fenugree baked in rice) was OK, but it had a taste mildly reminiscient of Indian food. The shirazi salad (a Persian specialty of diced cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, and parsley with lemon juice) was refreshing, and this is coming from a guy who hates parsley (but is starting to get accustomed to it). Finally, the dough (a Persian yogurt drink) was really good: sour with mint like a weakened Indian raita rather than a sweet lassi. Pretty darned good all around.

And in case you were wondering if this sounded like a lot of food, it was. There are tons of leftovers. Want some?

Buffalo Wings & Things, Westwood Blvd

I ran into this place out of sheer luck - and perfect timing considering I was so disappointed earlier today that my favorite buffalo wings place, Big Red Wings in Santa Monica, had closed down. I wasn't sure of the quality of this place's wings, although the sauce labels looked very similar to Big Red Wings (it wasn't the same guy behind the counter though).

Fortunately, it turned out to be just like Big Red Wings: not much meat, lots of crispy skin, and a vinegary and spicy sauce. Add celery and carrot sticks with ranch dressing, and it was like Big Red Wings all over again. Yipee! This place, just like Big Red Wings, has the best buffalo wings I've ever tasted.

Hot Dog on a Stick


My parents used to take me to this corn dog place all the time. Back then, they had zucchini on a stick, but I'm sure that wasn't too popular. Now they have cheese on a stick and fries, in addition to the usual hot dogs and fresh lemonade (multiple flavors now like cherry, which I kinda like). Never forget to laugh of course at the girls hopping up and down on the lemon crushing shaft.

I would love to get one of those uniforms for a halloween party or something.

Mongol's in Westwood



Mmmm...this is so much better than Kublai Khan's in Singapore, with many more ingredients, sauces, and oils - select from mild, medium, or spicy, and indicate if you would like garlic or not (sesame seed sprinkles afterwards).

This shop charges by the bowl, so it's funny to see starving UCLA students piling it up as high as they can here. There is a great greasy smell coming from this place...mmm...

Monday, June 27, 2005

The Corner Place, Koreatown, LA

The Corner Place, Koreatown, LA

I've met people in Seoul who say that Korean food in LA is even better than Korean food in Korea. I've known this Korean BBQ place since my college days, and it full-on kicks ass. Hidden in a totally ghetto and beat up strip mall off Koreatown, this place fills up quickly. Wear your old clothes and don't plan on kissing anyone afterwards 'cuz you're gonna stink like smoke, grease, and garlic when you come out. It's definitely not a date place.

The thing that makes this place so good is the ingredients. They provide extra sesame oil for dipping and generous heapings of scallion strips in more sesame oil for extra accompanying taste with your meat. The kalbi here is tender and tasty, using mainly its own fat, and they already cut the bones off for you (unlike many Korean places that use some unappetizing scissors in front of you at the grill). Another great specialty here is the hye mit gui, or cow's tongue, which, in stark contrast to how it sounds, tastes incredible when sliced thinly and burned on a fire - a bit like Canadian bacon, but with more grease. They have a kickass beef and turnip stewed thin soup to accompany, as well as the usual spread of kimchee varieties. You can also ask for raw garlic and jalapenos (no doubt a localized Californian necessity for freshness) to do with as you please. The portions are generous, so come in a group and prepare to eat. Just be sure to come early or the crowds will hit you.

Pink's hot dogs, LA

Pinks

A 65 year old landmark in LA, this hot dog stand is still a beatup little shack with long lines for cheap cholesterol-clogging hot dogs (including for movie stars, who have their autographed headshots all over the walls). It's home to pretty outrageous ingredients like pastrami, bacon, and guacamole, as well as the usual chili, kraut, and cheese in all sorts of configurations. I got the spicy polish dog with chili, grilled onions, and mustard. The dog is great - a thick casing that pops juices all over when you bite in. The chili likewise has its radioactive orange grease color. They of course have the pickled peppers on the side to bite into too. Throw in an Orange Crush, and you're good to go.

This place is awesome, especially since it's open late, so it's great for post-drinking grease bombs.

The Gumbo Pot, LA Farmers Market

Blackened catfish, jambalaya, collared greens, and cornbread

Just before placing my order, another customer left and yelled to the proprietor, "that was the best catfish I've ever had!" That probably blew up my expectations a bit in terms of its "blackenedness," but it was still spicy and burnt on the bottom.

I used to come here a lot just to get the blackened catfish, even though so many other things on the menu looked good (gumbo, jambalaya, etouffee). This time, I got jambalaya on the side of the catfish, so we got the best of both worlds. Collared greens and "killer cornbread" add to it.

On a separate but related note, the Farmer's Market in LA has undergone a huge renovation with a plasticky outdoor shopping center attached, but it's not too bad. Actually, the original Farmers Market is still good - lots of various stores, including a store specializing in hot sauces, a store specializing in gourmet food (like olives), and the usual fruit/nuts stores. I'm thinking of returning tomorrow to get corned beef and cabbage as well as maybe even a cajun breakfast. Do come here if you come to LA.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Alejo's (Italian), Marina del Rey, CA


One of the cool things about this place is its deceptive appearance in a little beat up strip mall with little or no parking and the lack of a liquor license (hence, forcing customers next door to 7-11 to buy a bottle and bringing it into the restaurant for de-corking). In spite of this, Alejo's serves some great food, in part due to the very fresh garlic (the olive oil dip for the bread stings due to the freshness of the garlic). It's top rated in Zagat, and I used to come here quite frequently.

Tonight was a mild disappointment in that the pasta was a bit softer than I prefer. But the little clams were still surprisingly savory, the minestrone was ok, and the bread dip still stung. The hilarious 7-11 action was in play too (a $1.49 for a little single screwtop Merlot from Gallo in a brown bag) - that place must have the world's greatest windfall as a result of being next to Alejo's.

The line started forming after seven, so get here quickly. And if you are wondering about the name, apparently this place is owned by Spaniards, not Italians.

Chicago for Ribs, Palos Verdes, CA


This is a chain restaurant, but one that I've never been to before, so I didn't mind going so much. Besides, American BBQ sounded pretty good at the time.

It was pretty much what I expected, if not better. The portions were huge of course (we ordered the World Famous Chicago Feast for two). The BBQ sauce didn't have enough kick, but it was still OK, and the meat had the right amount of fat attached. The potato skins with bacon and sour cream were also good enough to have to apologize to my arteries again. They had an onion loaf like Tony Roma's, as well as cole slaw, although I like my cole slaw to be creamier. Still, add some corn bread and beans, and you have yourself a meal.

Anyway, this is a chain that I suppose that I could bear if force fed (apparently they have one in Jakarta). But nothing beats little family shacks, like the Salt Lick outside Austin, or the little no name shack outside San Jose Muni golf course.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Coldstone Creamery, Cupertino, CA

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This place is pretty cool (and yes, it is a chain - from Arizona). There are a limited selection of ice cream flavors, but lots and lots of extras like fruit, nuts, candy, etc that are hand-blended with cold spatulas on the granite counter for some unique combinations (hence the name). Go with one of their recommendations, or create your own.

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This reminds me of Humphrey's Yogart in Brentwood that does something similar (only sweet or tarty yogurt available, but with an unlimited selection of ingredients to blend in and thus mutate the taste). I kinda like that place better because of the tart flavor, but maybe that's just because I haven't found the right combo at Coldstone yet.

Kingswood Taiwanese, Cupertino, CA

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Smack in the middle of a huge Taiwanese shopping center (anchor tenant: Ranch 99), this place serves Taiwan-style spicy hot pot (and separately, Taiwan teppanyaki). This is pretty darned authentic, just like the NT$299 (US$10) places in Taipei, but not all you can eat. Still, prices are reasonable, and the ingredients are just like it is in Taipei with sa-cha sauce, raw eggs, and the broth.

The broth is the best part - I think they procure it straight from Taiwan. Beware - the "middle hot" is actually the full broth, so it's more like the "big hot" in Taiwan (my stomach is still burning right now - to be revisited tomorrow morning, if you know what I mean). Apparently to get "small hot," they just mix in the non-spicy broth, while the "large hot" has an added packet of chili peppers. Either way, this is darned spicy (and darned authentic). And yes, it's still better than the mainland versions. It's a bit funny coming all the way to the US just to eat Taiwanese food though.

On a side note, this place's teppanyaki is pretty good too. Normally I bash the Taiwanese for completely obliterating and destroying all that is good and pure about any non-Taiwanese food, but Taiwanese teppanyaki is one thing that is actually pretty darned good in its own right (savory with lots of butter and grease without any nasty sauces or anything), and Kingswood does a pretty good job of it.

SF Ferry Building Farmers Market

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Here are some BBQ hotlinks in a sourdough roll from a vendor at the Saturday morning Farmers Market (closes at 2PM). I love these farmers markets - they've got everything that I love: fresh veggies, BBQ, spices, wine, beer, cheese, beef jerky, fresh seafood, etc. The smells and thoughts alone make me salivate.

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The only place I avoided this time was the vegan section (vegan sushi? yuck!). I considered getting a pulled beef sandwich and sausage dripping in blood and taking it over there. And I couldn't resist - we went back to Hog Island as well, eating more Manila clams and sweetwater oysters. Yum. More farmer's markets, please!!

Friday, June 24, 2005

Aqua, San Francisco

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This is one of the top restaurants in San Francisco, specializing in fish. Probably the most impressive thing about this place is the "final assembly" of the dishes at the table, as well as the chef's unannounced specials that come as a courtesy at the beginning and end of the meal. The mushroom soup had a surprisingly rich punch, but my ham-wrapped sturgeon was only ho-hum (nothing really notable about it). The service is certainly good though, as is the dessert.

One interesting thing is that most chichi places like this are usually very heavy on butter and cream such that you feel a bit sick afterwards. In contrast, this place was much lighter and healthy-feeling. Still, this isn't exactly a place that I will get cravings for, with the possible exception of that mushroom soup. It seems like this place is a bit more hit-or-miss, despite all the rave reviews this place gets.

Tony's Seafood, Point Reyes, CA



My dad took me here once as a kid, and I finally found this place again after all these years. It's a little shack on the oyster farm where they shuck oysters by the roadside and BBQ them with a red sauce and garlic. Comes in plates of four.

Interestingly, the BBQ oysters are not of the local variety. They are flown in from Washington state and are huge. Too huge. I still prefer the smaller local variety (which they thankfully still serve raw on the half shell). The New England clam chowder is a bit too salty too, but still acceptable. The horseradish is pungently fresh though.

At the end of the day, the Swan Oyster Depot and Hog Island beat this place by far. But it's still worth coming to, even if it's an hour and a half drive up from the city, more so for the coolness factor of the location than anything. Just be sure not to run any bicyclists off the road on those narrow winding streets.

R&G Lounge, San Francisco

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This place in Chinatown doesn't have a very Chinese sounding name, but it is famous for its salty stir fried crab. They use local dungeness crab that I rave about. Although the MSG and batter are a bit excessive, it's definitely very San Francisco Chinese.

Add in some beef ho fun (it sported a very greasy aroma but lots of meat tenderizer) and chili oil, and you are good to go. It's not quite as good as Hong Kong, but pretty close, and certainly much better than Crystal Jade in Singapore.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Stinking Rose, SF

Garlic

This place is famous (in some ways, notorious) for its garlic-centric menu. In theory, it sounds amazing, but in practice, the food is only mediocre, at least, in the past few times that I had been there. My perception changed tonight.

It's obligatory to get the Bagna Calda, which is "garlic cloves roasted in extra virgin olive oil and butter with a hint of anchovy. A wonderful treat for spreading on our house baked buns. Served at your table in an iron skillet." This results in a mildly sweet taste to the garlic, which I don't completely like (I'd prefer a more raw taste), but it's not bad.

Meals

Then I got the prime rib, which turned out to be amazingly tender and tasty (dare I say, even more than Lawry's??). Wow - that was surprising. They threw some oddly-placed garlic cloves on top of it, which weren't anything too special, but I sure liked the au jus and horseradish sauce. Wow - I'm still salivating just writing this.

Maybe I ordered the wrong things last time, or maybe my expectations were particularly low this time. But now I would actually consider coming here again, whereas in the past I would just blow this place off. Either way though, this place comes nowhere close to Ninniku-ya in Tokyo, a similar garlic-centric restaurant but with absolutely mind-blowing food. I am still utterly amazed at how any food in Japan (including non-Japanese) turns out so incredibly (with the possible exception of Mos Burger - yuck!!).

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Sanraku, San Francisco



It has been a while since I last had American sushi. This place was the epitome of it (i.e., chicken teriyaki, big plates of lots of not-the-freshest sushi off a limited selection of California rolls and maguro). It's not bad, but definitely not Japan.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

John's Grill, Ellis Street, SF

Clams

Perhaps it's a bit of a tourist trap - this place was billed as being the "home of the Maltese Falcon" (I guess Humphrey Bogart's character came here to eat?). A very old place (over 100 years old), this place was dark, musty, and wood-paneled, but still cozy and welcoming. And the food was American fare. I once again started with my usual steamed clams. Although the clams were definitely not as small as Hog Island's, they were still tender and fresh. And dare I say - the broth of butter, garlic, and white wine was just as good - if not better - than Hog Island's. I drank the entire thing. I've really gotta watch my shellfish/butter (cholesterol) intake - this can't be good for me.

Steak

Not making it any better, I had a ribeye steak after that, which was also tender and with just the right amount of fat (not much excess needed to be removed). It was grilled on the fire perfectly too - dare I say, nearly as good as Morton's?? (whoa - bold statement.) Finish it off with their homemade vanilla ice cream (thick and rich), and that was a very satisfying (albeit not super healthy, especially considering the heaping of sour cream that I drowned my baked potato in) meal.

If this place is a tourist trap (not even rated in Zagat), then the food certainly is surprisingly good. I've been here once before and don't remember it making such a favorable impression on me, but then again, that was 10 years ago.

Max's, San Francisco

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This was typical American deli fare - pastrami, corned beef, patty melts, etc (and huge portions). I had the French Dip, which doesn't look appetizing in the photo, but was juicy and tender with a healthy touch of cheese. The mustard selections were an added touch, as was the "brewed at the table" ice tea (reminiscient of Vietnam?).

Monday, June 20, 2005

Hog Island Oyster Company, SF

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This is a real gem and true food in the purest and most beautiful sense. This place (more of a bar than a restaurant - it's in the corner of the market, but really nicely decorated with a view of the bay) is at the San Francisco Ferry Building, serving local oysters from their waters just north of the city near Point Reyes (if you visit their oyster farm instead, they will serve you fresh oysters on the beach). The menu is very clean: basically just oysters, clams, wine, and beer (all on tap, BTW - they refuse bottles - yay!!). They barely even use the stove - it's practically a cold bar where they shuck oysters in front of you and pour beer from tap. Paradise.

The oysters were very, very fresh - so much that I didn't even really put anything on them, choosing to eat them straight instead. A wide variety is available: Sweetwaters, Atlantics, Kumamotos, and French Hogs. The steamed Manila Clams were perhaps even better (which really says something) - the white wine and butter were heavenly (seriously - once you taste it, you will say, "wow"). Skip the clam chowder though if you get the steamed clams. Although the clam chowder isn't bad (interestingly, they include the shells), the steamed clams are better, and they basically use the same clams.

Try to go on Mondays from 4-6 PM - it's happy hour ($1 oysters and $2 beers). But beware too - they close early (8PM), and you may have to wait a bit as it's a small place.

Mr. Pickles Sandwich Shop, San Mateo, CA

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I knew I'd been in Asia too long once I stepped into this little sandwich shack and smelled all sorts of scents that I hadn't experienced in such a long time. This little shop near the office had of course not only the usual sandwich selections, but also a bunch of specialites named after local high schools. I had the Hillsdale Knight, which featured sliced hot links, BBQ sauce, and cheddar cheese. Although I was a bit disappointed that the hot links weren't spicy Lousiana sausages with a thick casing, it was still pretty good given all the BBQ sauce and sharp cheese. Add a root beer and think crunchy "dirty" chips from Louisiana, and you're set to go.

And here was another sign that I'd been in Asia too long - I felt that these American portions were huge!

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Anise Cafe on West San Carlos, SJ

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Billed as "California-style Vietnamese," this place had a set menu for Father's Day, and it was better than I thought it would be. The spring rolls were fresh, while the papaya salad as well as the mango and watercress salad were both pretty good, if a bit sweet (they tended to overuse the sugar in every dish, but it was still OK). The tiger prawns grilled with tamarind sauce were stacked in a pretty tower, and were grilled with nice burnt edges too (an open fire brings out the best taste in shrimp). The parmesean spaghetti underneath the prawns was OK, if out of place. The beef salad was tender and buttery, but nothing like the Thai variety. (And oh yes, is that red streak on the plate actually a squirt of Sriracha sauce? Ha ha - it is! It just wouldn't be American Vietnamese food without it!) Finally, the mango flan was OK, if a bit sweet.

Service was a bit spotty tonight though. The servants' inexperience showed, the power went out three times during our meal, and the cooks even forgot rum on two of the mango flans. But overall it has a nice ambience and a friendly environment. It's not a bad place to go for Father's Day, although I doubt that I'd ever go there on my own accord, as it's a bit too sterile for me.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Chevy's "Fresh Mex"

Oh no - a chain restaurant! Welcome to suburban hell! Actually, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. The seabass had a great mesquite grilled taste to it, and the crab quesadillas were much better (much richer, less fishy) than the Ritz-Carlton Singapore's seafood quesadillas. But it certainly is commercialized, as seen in the little cactus ornament and birthday chants (cue Office Space: "You don't have enough flair"). Also, it's clear this is really American food rather than true Mexican food, as evident in the hard shell taco. Still, it was much better than I would have thought for a chain place.

Hot dogs in Union Square, SF

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I was looking forward to a nice American hotdog off the streets as an afternoon snack, but I was totally disappointed. After hunting down the most crowded stand (as an indicator of a good food vendor), the "steamer" hot dog he gave me was nothing more than a plain hot dog with the usual condiments. What a bummer. I was at least hoping for some nice twist - maybe some bacon, deep-fry action, or something unique. But he was just a plain and simple hot dog vendor.

Well, at least it was juicy. But I was a bit bummed.

The Swan Oyster Depot, San Francisco

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This place is part of my regular routine now whenever I land in San Francisco. United usually lands in the morning, so I go straight through immigration and customs (which were abnormally fast today, BTW) to the rental car and right on into the city at California and Polk. And wow - there was a line forming already. I waited in line for about 45 minutes (longer than immigration at SFO!), but I finally got in.

And then I was in heaven.

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The most important item: Anchor Steam Beer, brewed in San Francisco, with a taste that I miss so much. Next: clam chowder - a much thinner version than most (those darned Progresso guys messed up my head!) but incredibly tasty all the same. Then: a half dozen raw oysters on the half shell, both local (smaller, tastier) as well as from the east coast (bigger). Finally: a cold half cracked Dungeness crab. Add a little local San Francisco sourdough bread and butter, and voila: paradise.

Even though I can get certain hometown things in Singapore like Mexican food, juicy hamburgers, etc, the one thing from California that I can't get in Singapore is Dungeness Crab. The shell and meat are much more finer than that crude Sri Lankan crab used in Singapore. The meat is so nice that it's best eaten without any seasoning or sauces at all - just its pure taste after being dunked in boiling water. American seafood is one thing we can't get in Singapore - the most simple preparation, usually involving steaming or grilling, with maybe only a little butter or cocktail sauce to taste. I'm gonna eat as much of this as I can before heading back.

UAL Biz Class dinner - filet mignon

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Geez after all that beer and soba, I dunno if I can eat anymore. Besides, I should sleep now to help beat jet lag. But let's see here - on the menu today is either the turkey, filet mignon, or Japanese Obento. The Obento sounded good with a little sake, but for some reason, I just didn't want something so light. So I went for the filet again (or as stated on the menu, "herb and onion crusted filet mignon with red curry coconut sauce, potatoes au gratin and blanched broccolini - today's menu features beef from Australia").

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Interesting. I've ordered the filet on UA many a time before (not bad, although a bit heavy), but this is the first time I had seen it with a curry sauce. I wasn't too sure how it would taste, but to my surprise, it was actually pretty darned good. The meat was especially tender too. The starter, "sauteed herb shrimp with basic and smoked duck, fresh lemon and mango salsa, with fresh seasonal greens with Roquefort dressing" was just as I had experienced every other time - very cold (from being up at 35,000 feet??) and not the freshest, but certainly not bad either. Actually the Roquefort dressing was great - surprisingly sour, but in a good way. Everything else was typical United fare - the cheese in the potatoes could have been creamier, but it was still edible. The broccoli sucked though as it was soggy and bland from boiling. That's when you wish that they had stir-fried it to keep it crisp instead. No wonder so many kids growing up hated broccoli: if it were always boiled, then I'd hate it too.

"The Narita Beer Machine" at the UAL lounge

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I remember on one of my first trips to Japan, my friend said, "hey come into the UA lounge with me - there's a really cool beer machine in there!" And indeed, now I always go in there for the beer machine: take a cold glass from the refrigerator, place it in the beer dispensing machine, press the beer button, and away it goes, tilting your glass and finishing it off with just a little bit of head for a really nice creamy taste (and I hate head on my beer too!). The little Japanese crackers are a nice complement to the Japanese beer. I'm not sure what brand of beer it is though.

And this thing always strikes up conversation. I remember some people once complaining that they couldn't find the beer (cans/bottles), and that it was ridiculous for an airline lounge to not have beer...only to feel silly when they finally saw the machines pouring away. Today, sure enough, the guy next to me was saying "ah the Narita Beer Machine!" Try it next time you fly United via Narita.

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And oh yes, on the way out, I found these peculiar little squares marked "kiri" - I wasn't sure if they were chocolate or what. So I grabbed one, and it turned out to be a nice creamy cheese. Having shoved the entire piece of cheese in my mouth, I needed to find crackers. Looking around - oh - there are saltines! I love cheese. It turns out that this is actually a processed cheese from France.

Narita Airport: Zaru Soba and "Meron Soda"

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At long last - melon soda! (from Fanta - have you ever been to the Coke Museum in Vegas?) I was hoping that Japanese places in Singapore would have it, but after a long and fruitless search, alas, there was none. So only when transiting through Japan can I get a meron soda. together with a refreshingly cold zaru soba with scallions and wasabi; just what I needed after a flight that seemed longer than it really was.

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Actually, the photo above has nothing to do with food, but having a Japanese operator listed on a GSM phone still has a huge novelty for me, considering all these years of feeling disconnected whenever going to Japan. For me, I would buy a 3G phone not for all that videoconferencing fluff, but rather simply the ability to roam in Japan with your existing SIM card (with SMS and data capabilities too). Yay! What a geek I am.

Now we just need Korea to get on WCDMA. (when pigs fly)

UAL Biz Class "Prior to Arrival" cheese

UAL Biz Class

These guys featured an "International cheese selection - Camembert, Blue Opal, and Gruyere cheese with fresh fruit" along with a glass of Pavillon de Loudenne 2001 Medoc. I like cheese and wine (particularly cheese), but I have never really been properly schooled in the distinctions and procedures (are you supposed to cut off the rind of the Camembert and spread it, or is that too ghetto?). I've never been a huge fan of Camembert, and the Blue Opal was disappointing (not quite the rich blue cheese I'm used to at Morton's!). But the Gruyere had a nice taste, even if it was a bit firm. The Medoc was nice too - I never remember wine names, so hopefully I'll remember this time.

United Airlines Business Class breakfast

This was "Scrambled eggs in crepe gratinee - Mornay sauce, parmesean cheese, bacon, and a spinach souffle with a fresh fruit appetizer," according to the menu. For some reason, all UAL business class meals taste the same: very heavy. Not bad in flavor (especially for an airplane), but I'd get sick of this stuff after a few flights.