Sunday, December 30, 2007

Seasonal Fresh Fruit Plate on UA

Seasonal Fresh Fruit Plate

After all of this airplane food, sometimes it's the simplest things like a basic plate of fruit that are the better choice. Besides, the United menu hasn't changed on these routes since that last flight with them earlier this month.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

More Chilaquiles for Breakfast in Mexico

Chilaquiles Rojos

Here's another plate of chilaquiles for breakfast this morning. This one was loaded up so much that I couldn't even finish it, but it was fitting given that this stuff is apparently also often eaten after a night of drinking.

Friday, December 28, 2007

A Local Mexican Drink Update

Getting ready to make Cerveza Michelada

Time for another local drink update. The first one is particularly interesting since my colleagues took me to a tiny little cantina that was packed with locals and a mariachi band. This wood and stucco based establishment was so old that it almost felt as if you could tie up your horse to a hitching rail outside before entering. But it was much smaller than what one often sees in the movies, and they only had two types of beers.

There's a lot more fun in store here. You know how when one orders a bottle of Corona (presumably anywhere outside of Mexico), the bartender shoves a wedge of lime into the bottleneck? Here, drinking beer is taken to another level in the form of a michelada. Basically, one takes two entire limes and squeezes the juice into a glass. Then one adds things like Worcestershire sauce or Maggi sauce (and even hot sauce if you want to make the cubana variety) and heavily salts the rim before pouring in the beer. With so much lime juice involved, this created a very sour beer, and was a bit odd at first given all of the salt and hot sauce involved too. But once past the initial surprise (you really couldn't taste the beer after all of that), it did make for some easy drinking, especially when paired with some of the bar snacks like chili powder-flavored nuts and - you guessed it - pork rinds!

Tequila BanderaNext up here is tequila bandera, or literally "flag tequila." The idea is that the colors of the three glasses here are like those of the Mexican flag. Start with a sip of the green lime juice, follow that with a sip of the tequila, and then chase it with a sip of the spicy red stuff (a bit like Bloody Mary mix). The strong taste of each one of these contrasted so much with the next one that it really did come together nicely.

Lyncott YakinFinally, here is a yogurt-based drink that I suppose is like a local version of Yakult, complete with all of those "probiotics." Oddly, I think the label said that it was actually from the US, so I'm not completely sure if this is local or not. But it's the first time that I'd seen it.

Pozole from Potzollcalli, Mexico City

Pozole before loading up on garnishes

This was awesome. One of the things I had to get in Mexico was pozole, a soup similar to menudo but using pork (and/or chicken in this case) instead of tripe. This place specializes in it, and in fact is even named after it. It's actually quite a big chain, and looked discouragingly like a Denny's with all of its plasticky booths and menus at first.

But it turned out that it was nothing to worry about. They offered so many variations on the stuff; not only in terms of the colors of the broth (red, green, clear, etc.), but also in terms of the selection of toppings (such as pork rinds - yeah!). In that sense, it was kinda like Vietnamese pho, where the selection of ingredients will vary not only by user preference, but also according to the region that it was prepared in. And my red bowl was simply delicious and refreshing, especially after topping it with radish, avocado, and a squeeze of lime.

From front: mini tostadas, chalupas, and sopesWe also got a few other things on the side, including a platter of miniature tostadas, chalupas, sopes, and quesadillas, all of which were assisted by a heaping of a red chili seed oil-based hot sauce that was effectively the same thing as that Cantonese chili oil that I love so much. What a delight this was!

Enchiladas with Machaca for Breakfast

Enchilada de Huevo con Machaca

This was my breakfast this morning: some breakfast enchiladas filled with eggs and machaca, a salty air-dried meat not too much unlike that cecina stuff that I tried at the market in Puebla yesterday. It made these things a bit salty, but fortunately they shoved some spicy chili peppers in side to pack in some heat too.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Sights from the Market in Puebla, Mexico

Now that's a pork rind!

To round out this day trip to Puebla, my driver took me up to the local market so that I could see what was cooking. There was so much mouth-watering stuff there, such as these gigantic pork rinds in the photo above. There were shops selling piles of bacalhau next to dried chili peppers, the aroma of which delightfully pervaded the air. Chorizo was being grilled on a fire, as were some very thin and salty brown sheets of air-dried beef that I think were called cecina. Butchers were selling all sorts of cuts of meat, including goat heads - complete with hair and teeth - and some kind of an offal meatloaf thing (no, I didn't try that one). I also saw what seemed to be prickly pear cacti (thorns removed) that one is supposed to chop up and make into a salad. And of course, all sorts of bread and tortilla, including some colored and stuffed ones, were everywhere.

A fondaA quick turn into one of the alleyways produced a number of fonda, or very casual eateries where one simply sits down at a single bench facing the proprietor and these huge bowls of rice, soup, or other goodies, including mole poblano. Outside, all sorts of other things were ready for purchase off the street, including little sopes, quesadillas, and tacos where the meat was being cut off of a Middle Eastern vertical spit (fittingly named tacos arabes). One lady was also selling little shrimp cocktails in a clear plastic cup with a squeeze of lime.

Blue CornFinally, I'm never one to skip past anyone selling corn. This blue variety might not have looked visually appealing, but when I saw the lady seasoning them with hot sauce, salt, and a squeeze of lime, I had to fork over my six pesos (US$0.55). Unfortunately, the kernels were surprisingly tough and rubbery. My driver told me that this wasn't because it was blue corn, but rather that the lady had unluckily picked a bad ear for me. Oh well.

Cemitas El Carmen, Puebla, Mexico

Cemita de Chipotle Relleno

My aforementioned colleague also recommended that I grab another speciality of Puebla's called cemitas, which is basically a local sandwich. While there were plenty of places selling cemitas, I stopped at a big shop right around the block (Reforma 321, 246-1524) that I had noticed earlier.

All sorts of fillings were available, with a "Milanese" (read: breaded) beef seemingly the most popular. I grabbed the chipotle relleno instead as I was hoping for a bit of a smoky spicy flavor to result from it. While it ended up being much more subtle than I was expecting (it wasn't like the big taste of a muffeletta), I did enjoy how smoothly it all came together. This was no doubt assisted by all of the other things that were shoved in here, including avocado, onions, pickled chili peppers, and a load of string cheese that just dangled out of the sides.

But there was one thing in here that I absolutely detested. I don't know what the name of it was, but it was some small thin oval-shaped dark green leaf that emanated a flavor that I could neither describe nor eat. (It was kind of like that diep ca leaf in Vietnam...not the same taste, but the same strong reaction to it.) Once I manually removed those offending leaves though, the sandwich was very easy to eat quickly.

Fonda de Santa Clara, Puebla, Mexico

Mole Poblano de Pollo

Taking a two hour ride out of Mexico City over to Puebla was a top priority for me on this trip given how the latter is known for its food. One dish in particular, mole poblano, is the place's best-known creations, so I took my local colleague's recommendation to come down to this restaurant (3 Poniente 307, 242-2659). He said that after having lived in Puebla for two years, he felt that the best mole poblano around was to be found here.

Surely enough, it was the first thing on the menu, and it came out with the signature brown sauce ladled over a yellow chicken leg. The sauce was velvety smooth and rich thanks to the chocolate, but was still mildly spicy rather than annoyingly sweet. That made the chicken an ease to ingest, even if the single leg wasn't exactly very filling. No worries...there is still plenty of food that I plan to get in Puebla, so not being completely full (even after loading up on the surprisingly savory rice and thick tortilla chips on the side) was exactly what I wanted.

Chocolate and Chilaquiles for Breakfast

Chocolate

Here are a couple of classic Mexican breakfast dishes, the first of which is hot chocolate. This is light years from that powdered Swiss Miss stuff, as this was very nutty and aromatic (good for dipping bread in), even if it was much thinner than the Spanish version that I was expecting. This stuff will quickly form a "skin" on top if you don't drink it fast enough though.

Chilquiles verde y rojosAnd here is something called chilaquiles, which I originally thought was rather odd since it seemed like something a bachelor might do to reheat some leftovers. Only later did I realize that this is pretty much exactly what this was designed for: finishing off stale chips by letting them soak in a spicy (or sour, in the case of the green version) salsa until they are soggy and topped with things like cheese. As unattractive as that might sound, this was deliciously spicy enough for me to go for more. Cool - now I know what to do with those stale chips at home!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Random Taco Stand in Mexico City

Pork tacoExposed lightbulbs hanging precariously from a single wire are always an indicator of good food, and this taco stand that I randomly found across the street from my hotel here in Mexico City could not exemplify that more. Actually, it was more of a minivan than a stand, where they just opened up the tailgate and set up a grill. Simply tell them your choice of meat, and then pile on your choice of condiments from the spread along the side of the van.

Perfect...my three pork tacos, bristling with fat, all went down in the blink of an eye. Now let's just hope that Montezuma's Revenge (also known as the Delhi Belly on the other side of the world) doesn't strike later tonight.

Szechuan Garoupa on United

Sauteed Garoupa with Szechuan pepper sauce

This was billed on the menu as a "Sauteed garoupa with Szechuan pepper sauce," the last three words of which I desperately hoped meant that it would feature some semblance of spicy Sichuan peppercorns. Alas (and the little voice in my head knew better), the way they spelled "Szechuan" meant instead that this was the American interpretation of it: in a sweet and sour sauce. Oh well...I had to try. Besides, I had already eaten the other two items on the menu earlier this month.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Bentendo Pasta & Cafe, Singapore

Tarako to ika to shiso supagetti

This Japanese pasta thing seems to be a growing trend in Singapore. This place (Great World City #03-32, 6235-5606) is run by the Bishamon guys downstairs on the former grounds of the Archangel sandwich shop, all the while preserving its clear glass "fishbowl" of a kitchen.

While they didn't offer that quintessential of Japanese pastas, supagetti mentaiko, they did offer its close (non-spicy) cousin in the form of tarako instead. It was fine, as they kept the noodles pleasantly firm. Nitpicking on a few small things like how salty it was, how small the portions were, or how mass-produced the salad dressing on the parma ham salad tasted would keep me from making any extra effort to come here, but it was just passable enough for me to not resist coming here if it were just out of convenience.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Restaurant Ember, Hotel 1929, Singapore

Butternut squash veloute with roasted king prawnsHotel 1929 is one of those cozy boutique hotels that has been springing up around Singapore lately, complete with a little restaurant that has apparently been generating some buzz (50 Keong Saik Road, 6347-1928). They ran a five-course set menu for Christmas Eve tonight, with each item bearing rather ridiculously long names (we half-jokingly asked for an English menu afterwards). But despite this, the decor wasn't too pretentious, and I ended up really liking each of the dishes, all of which were fresh, well-assembled, and delicate, if rather small in size.

Yeah, that was worthwhile. I guess that is another one of those fine dining establishments where the food fortunately tastes good too.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Seared Fish on SQ

Seared fish in tomato-oregano sauce with roasted vegetables and mashed potatoes

It's a good thing that I had that delicious chopped sirloin steak at the airport, because this thing was quite nasty. Ugh - I didn't even finish it. At least the plane had the new SQ seats, which was much better than that old-school non-VOD flight on the way up. I sure hope that more planes get fitted with these new seats soon.

HKIA's A Hereford Beefstouw

Chopped Sirloin Steak

It's been quite a while since I had the time to stop at A Hereford Beefstouw at Hong Kong airport's Terminal 1 (2136-0695). And I had forgotten about how cool it was, with its hanging napkin and little pencil for taking orders with. I was tempted to try something else on the menu this time, like a ribeye or Dover sole, but I could not pry myself away from that Chopped Sirloin Steak again.

And just as with before, this tender little thing rocked, especially when its clean tasting yet super juicy meat went through alternating dips in the flaky salt and hot mustard. Screw the upcoming airplane meal...I'm loading up on this! (And yes, that is a Shirley Temple in the background again. I dunno why I am on this sudden streak of kiddie drinks.)

Mmm...Mak's Noodle

Wanton Mee

Yum. Mak's is still one of my favorite places in HK, not only in terms of the tasty little bowls of super firm and skinny yet tasty noodles, but also because of the sheer simplicity of it all. Plus, a little bowl of hot clear soup is perfect to soothe an alcohol-ridden stomach from the night before...just before conveniently walking to the nearby Hong Kong Station to catch my flight home.

Hello Kitty Yogurt Drink from HK

Hello Kitty Yoghurt DrinkYes, it was a bit embarrasing for a grown man to be buying this little baby blue bottle with Hello Kitty characters all over it. But this 7-Eleven wasn't selling any Calpis, so this was the closest thing that I could find. It was a bit thicker than I was expecting, but it did the job in the end. Hello Kitty to the rescue!

A Post-Drinking Plate of Beef Ho Fun

Dry Beef Ho Fun

Oh man, this was very much needed tonight. After a good number of drinks at a company holiday party tonight, my mind naturally started to think about food. But I couldn't seem to find any spicy-a$$ late night vindaloo around to soothe the cravings (and Ebeneezer's wasn't exactly what I was looking for either), so it was great that I somehow was able to both intuitively and easily walk towards that one shop (sorry, I still don't know the name since it is all in Chinese) where I could get my late night fix of greasy dry beef ho fun, complete with that requisite Cantonese chili oil that I love so much. Mmm - that hit the spot!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Lung King Heen, Hong Kong

Some kind of dim sum

This linen-clad harbor view restaurant at the Four Seasons hotel (8 Finance Street, 3196-8888) was supposed to be one of the best Cantonese restaurants in the city. We thus picked this place for a nice business lunch today, all the while hoping that most of this praise was actually based on the food itself rather than the distractions of its fancy decor or service.

Indeed, this place did turn out to be quite posh, with an amazing set of porcelainware and top notch staff just waiting at your beck and call. If you want to impress your business contact, then this is definitely the place to do it, especially if you decide to splurge on the HK$780 (US$100) bowl of their top end shark's fin soup with fresh abalone (wow!)...and that is an individual serving, by the way, so don't forget to multiply that by the number of folks in your party. No, we didn't go for that, even if there were plenty of lower grade versions available. Instead, we grabbed a few signature items from their (limited) dim sum menu, as well as some other recommendations such as a scallop dish as well as some kind of chicken.

Fortunately, all of the praise for this place did seem based on the quality of the food. Everything was so finely prepared and fresh enough for me to gobble this down in a heartbeat, including a very delicate crab meat xiao long bao that beats the pants off that overhyped thick-skinned stuff at Joe's Shanghai in New York. I was also amazed by the detail of the workmanship that went into our (cheaper, non-shark's fin) soup. Most importantly, this "contemporary" cuisine, while very creative, didn't clobber nor stray far from its traditional Cantonese roots. Thumbs up for me. Next time we've just got to find someone with a fat expense account to help with the outlay for that US$100/person soup!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Pan Fried Chicken on SQ

Pan Fried Chicken with Coriander Sauce

Hey that was suprisingly good. SQ offered a pan fried chicken with potatoes and grilled vegetables for dinner in economy class tonight. The chicken was fluffy and the green coriander sauce was rich enough to wash it all down. Looks like they are starting to use these new square trays on all flights now too, even on the older planes (this one didn't even have the Krisworld VOD system...wow!).

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Mini Wok Noodle or Mini Bowl Noodle?

Mini Wok Noodle

I'm not sure why this is called "Mini Wok Noodle" in English, since the second word in the Chinese name of this dish is actually the character for "bowl" instead of "wok," right? Well, this bowl of noodles does come with a little wok filled with soup, all sitting over a little burner to keep it piping hot...and to poach the raw egg at the bottom of the wok too. Even if it is a bit gimmicky, I like it; the hearty soup is a perfect complement to the greasy but tasty noodles.

It's clear why I enjoy this stuff so much: it's pretty much based on the same stuff that goes into one of my favorite local dishes: bak chor mee, with all of its fried pork lard, meatballs, and mushrooms. Indeed, it looks like this is generally available from bak chor mee hawkers. But the soup is richer in taste thanks to all of the meat and such.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Idiyappam and Ragi Dosa at Chella's

Idiyappam

This is a Keralan idiyappam, or "stringhopper," which I got on the a advice of an old colleague of mine. This thin vermicelli pancake-like thing usually comes with a variety of dips. Here at Chella's in Little India, they provided not only a basic curry but also this sweet orange powder to go with these steaming hot patties, allowing it to double as both a starter and dessert for me.

Ragi DosaI also got a ragi dosa, which is a dosa but made with some special grainy brown flour that is supposed to be rather healthy. Indeed, after I placed my order, the proprietor grumbled, "healthy!" But the ghee-based option did force one to question that assertation a bit.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Via Veneto Restaurant, Clarke Quay

Ravioloni Crema e Funghi

It may look like a goopy mess in the photo, but our great experience with this ravioloni was responsible for bringing us back here (Block 3E River Valley Road #01-06, 6334-1983). It was super rich thanks to all of the cheese, and super fragrant thanks to all of the mushrooms. The other pastas on the menu seemed fine (fresh, firm, and tasty too), but it was really this dish that was the draw for us. Just beware of the dry chili pepper flakes; they are so spicy that the restaurant puts a warning label on the shaker.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Cube Steak at Pepper Lunch Express

Cube Steak & Hanbaagu

Interesting. Pepper Lunch Express is now selling what it calls "cube steak." It was rather sinew-ey, which probably isn't that surprising given the low priced fast food that we're talking about here. But at least when you got to the more edible pieces of meat, it was still tasty given the assistance of that wad of butter on top. I'll stick to the more tender hanbaagu next time though.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Saffron Vodka Poached Cod on UA

Saffron Vodka Poached Cod with Asparagus Leek Sauce

This was the dinner selection on tonight's flight back to Singapore. I was a bit surprised to see how yellow the fish turned out, especially since there wasn't much of a saffron (nor vodka) taste in it. Indeed, one could argue that it was a bit bland. But it was tender, and the orzo risotto was full of enough taste that it paired fittingly well in the end.

Side note: it looks like I've had this on UA before and completely forgot about it. At least the orzo was a bit different this time.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Phil Stefani's 437 Rush, Chicago

Prime Ribeye Chop

Sure, Chicago is known for its pizza and hot dogs, but one other very critical thing that we had to be sure to do on this trip was to head into a swanky mahogany-lined steakhouse. These guys (437 North Rush Street, 312-222-0101) were apparently headed by a Milanese chef who also featured an extensive list of pasta on the menu should you so choose. But similar to Morton's, each cut of plastic-wrapped beef is presented to you before the start of the meal. I went for my usual ribeye, which in this case came with a giant Barney Rubble-like bone attached to it.

It was pretty much exactly what I was looking for in a classic steakhouse like this. The charred edges of the steak provided just the right complement to the fatty, tasty, and tender meat (that rosemary-based sauce on the side really wasn't even necessary), and of course requisite starters like oysters on the half shell were all available. The sauteed mushrooms were a bit sweeter than I'd like (I prefer the buttery version at Morton's instead), but pretty much everything you would want in a testosterone-charged carnivorous meal was here. Now it's time to reach for the bed and pass out.

Billy Goat Tavern, Chicago

Cheezborger

This place teaches you a lesson in thinking three-dimensionally if you don't know where to look. The address (430 North Michigan Avenue, 312-222-1525) may lead you to think that it's right across the Chicago river on the glitzy Magnificent Mile, but one can walk by several times without noticing the place until realizing that it was necessary to take the stairs down to the underpass. And if you take the wrong stairs like we did, you'll be surrounded by dumpsters and dark loading bays that required us to walk around a bit before finding it tucked into the recesses of the area (we later realized that a more obvious way to find it would have been to go east on Hubbard from Rush Street where the underpass and signage are much more apparent).

But that's only part of the fun about this place. These guys have been around for a very long time and are full of local cultural significance, ranging in everything from baseball to politics to journalism and even a skit on Saturday Night Live. And not surprisingly, a little bit of attitude comes along with this tiny hole in the wall: when we ordered a requisite "cheezborger," the pushy proprietor insisted that we upgrade to a double instead as that was "DA BEST." We did, and the order was immediately shouted to the greasy grill behind him.

So how was the food? It looked rather sad at first: limp and thin (almost McDonald's-like) patties sitting in a lifeless undressed bun. Sure, he pointed you immediately to the condiment counter on the side where you could load up on some pickles, onions, and mustard, but you sure weren't going to find any lettuce nor tomatoes around. After taking a bite of this thing though, we realized that all of that would have just been an unnecessary distraction, as the cheese and oily patty were all that were needed to give this thing the tasty bang that one looks for from a burger. Mmm...I'm still salivating at the thought of it. It was definitely cool to check out the brash character of this place, and getting a nice greasy burger to finish it off only made it better.

Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza, Chicago

Bratwurst mit Sauerkraut

Cool. We randomly stumbled across this German holiday festival in the Loop today, where they were selling sausages and Gluehwein, kinda like some stands that I've seen at Konstablerwache in Frankfurt. The piping hot Gluehwein was perfect on such a cold day, and even came in little souvenir boot-shaped mugs that kept reminding me of Beerfest. Anyway, the tasty Bratwurst hot off the grill was just the right little snack that we needed, especially in such cold weather.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Shaw's Crab House, Chicago

Sauteed Lake Erie Yellow Perch

Now this is my kind of place: an old-fashioned wood-laden restaurant featuring simple American seafood with a casual oyster bar and live music should you wish to forego the formal dining room (21 East Hubbard Street, 312-527-2722). Obviously they specialize in crab, be it dungeness, Alaskan king, or whatever happens to be in season. Being from the West Coast where dungeness is a plenty and Alaskan king is already shipped everywhere, I opted for something a bit more local to the area instead: the Sauteed Lake Erie Yellow Perch, served with nothing more than lemon butter and cole slaw.

And these light yet firm pieces of freshwater fish were exactly what I needed after a week of eating nothing but high-cholesterol food. A refreshing iceberg wedge helped to complement this, not to mention the fresh berries for dessert. So now I know that if I ever need a break from all of the hot dogs, pizza, and meat around here, I can take comfort by making a bee line straight to one of the seafood shops instead.

Giordano's Famous Stuffed Pizza, Chicago

Sausage Stuffed Pizza

This big pizza chain across Chicago is known specifically for its stuffed pizza, which is even thicker than deep dish pizza with its extra layer of dough and pizza sauce on top. I was never that big of a fan of Chicago-style pizza though, so adding this extra dough isn't going to make me happier.

Still, I suppose that I can understand why people would like this, especially since the dough was a bit buttery and pastry-like, and perhaps worth the 40 minute wait. And I didn't mind the taste of my sausage topping itself. But I think that I'm still much more of a New York pizza person, and this meal unfortunately didn't serve to sway from that conviction very much.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Duck Fat Fries from Hot Doug's, Chicago

Clockwise from bottom: Duck Fat Fries, Buddy Hackett Bowl O' Sausage Chili, and Brandy-infused Spanish Chorizo

At long last...after having missed the Fri/Sat-only duck fat fries at Hot Doug's on my last trip to Chicago, I made sure that we timed it correctly this time. We sure weren't the only ones thinking about a Saturday lunch at Hot Doug's though. When we arrived just before noon, a line was already forming outside of the restaurant. Don't forget that Chicago in December means sub-freezing temperatures that we had to patiently bear for 15-20 minutes outside before making it into the second half of the line inside.

Now, admittedly I was a bit let down with the duck fat fries when we finally got them. I guess that I was expecting some special quirky twist in it, but instead it seemed pretty straightforward. Don't get me wrong; even then, these were still probably some of the best fries that I've ever had, especially with that fresh potato taste. But I remember the same about his "normal" fries too. I really should try them side-by-side...not to mention getting a bit of those cool tater tots too while I'm at it (cue: Napoleon Dynamite). Well, I hope to have plenty of chances to do so.

Potato-based products aside, we also grabbed a couple of his special sausages today, including the Brandy-Infused Spanish Chorizo and the Atomic Bomb Spicy Pork Sausage. I'm normally not a big fan of sweet things, but the latter was so spicy that the sweet hot mustard and Brun-Uusto jalapeƱo cheese were perfect complements to that already delicious sausage. Similarly, the smoked Gouda shavings provided an amazing overtone to the chorizo, even if the bacon-garlic mayo was a bit heavy on the garlic.

Regardless, I truly love this place. The food here is just so darned good that it's no wonder why people would wait outside in the freezing cold for this. While Kobe beef ranks up there as one of my favorite meals ever, this one comes pretty darned close...and at only a fraction of the price at that. Thumbs way up.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Bon Ton Cafe, New Orleans

Fried Catfish

After so many days of being in New Orleans, we have technically been eating more Creole food than Cajun. And given that we had no plans to drive out to Cajun country on this trip, we did want to make sure that we came here (401 Magazine Street, 504-524-3386), apparently one of the first Cajun restaurants in New Orleans...and one that is only open on weekdays, in fact.

It was a cozy little brick-lined place with checkered tablecloths and was filled with nearby office workers. I went ahead and grabbed a cup of turtle soup to start as well as some fried catfish. The dark red soup was satisfyingly full of flavor, even if a bit on the salty side, while the thin cuts of catfish were tender, even if that pink sauce on the side was a bit excessive in garlic. Well, it did the job in the end. It would have been interesting to head out of the city to get a closer feel of the Cajun lifestyle though.

Breakfast at Brennan's in the French Quarter

Eggs Hussarde

Brennan's is one of those historical places in New Orleans featuring tuxedo-clad wait staff, table linens, and a classy decor (417 Royal Street, 504-525-9711). Breakfast is apparently a big thing here, so we popped on down here this morning to check it out. It's pretty much a fixed price three course set, from which we picked items associated with Brennan's, including an oyster soup, a so-called Eggs Hussarde, and the tableside-flambeed Bananas Foster to close.

Despite the obvious catering to tourists and high prices (sets at US$36 and upwards), I did like the food. The oyster soup was savory yet delicate and was a nice way to kick things off (together with my spicy Creole Bloody Mary). The Eggs Hussarde was similar to Eggs Benedict but with some extra wine reduction or something...and as with anything with Hollandaise sauce, one couldn't help but smile upon tasting it. And while the Bananas Foster came loaded with an inordinate amount of brown sugar, it was a fitting way to finish off this very filling meal. Time to go back to the hotel and sleep!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A Couple of Fried Southern Snacks

Golden Flake Louisiana Hot Sauce Chicharrones and Zapp's Spicy Cajun CrawtatorsWhen in the South, be sure to grab some pork rinds, right? These Golden Flake ones on the left were sporting a Louisiana hot sauce flavor, thus making them also a bit sour in addition to being spicy. But I liked them. The bag of local Zapp's potato chips on the right were also just the right combination of grease, spices, and potato flavors that I was hoping for.

Mother's Restaurant, New Orleans

From front: Debris Po'Boy and Crawfish Etoufee with Turnip Greens and Cabbage

Po'boys are basically the local version of submarine sandwiches, as seen in not only the use of that airy local French bread and sometimes seafood-based fillings, but also in that it has its own lingo too. For instance, being "dressed" means that you want it with mayo and veggies, while "debris" is in reference to roast beef shavings that fell into the gravy when it cooked. Not only is this place (401 Poydras Street, 504-523-9656) very popular for its po'boys, but these guys also lay claim to creating the term "debris" when a customer allegedly asked for it. Given that story, we knew that we had to come.

Unfortunately, I incorrectly envisioned these roast beef shavings to be the somewhat salty or charred edges of the roast. Instead, they seemed to be not much more than small shreds of basic roast beef in the end. Moreover, I think I got a bit too carried away by the thought of "debris" when I ordered a dedicated debris po'boy rather than the Famous Ferdi Special that includes not only roast beef and debris, but also some kind of ham that these guys are also known for. So I didn't quite get the taste that I was expecting and hence was a bit let down.

Well, it was still interesting to have tried though, especially since the juices drenched the heck out of the bottom half of the bread (a bit like an Italian beef from Chicago)...so much that I had to flip the whole thing over onto the still dry top in order to put it into my mouth. Their crawfish etoufee was also mildly soothing yet savory, and it was great to get some of those meat-flavored stewed veggies on the side.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Deanie's Seafood, New Orleans

Barbecue Shrimp

We were originally drawn here by great photos of shellfish piled up nice and high (841 Iberville Street, 504-581-1316, with the original location out in Metairie). So I was a bit bummed upon arrival tonight to find that boiled crawfish was still out of season, thus forcing me to settle for the "barbecue shrimp." As I later learned, this local dish wasn't really barbecued, but rather sitting in a pan loaded with spices and a red-colored oil.

It came complete with two super light baguette loaves that you could dip into that tasty oil, a bit like that Killer Shrimp place back in Southern California (man, if all bread were as light as this French stuff, then I'd be eating a lot more bread than I do today). All of this was fine and dandy except for one huge problem: the shrimp were disappointingly powdery. This was very odd considering that these guys seem to specialize in fresh shellfish (and indeed, the fried shrimp platter that we also got was much fresher...with a great light batter, BTW). So I don't know if I just hit a bad batch tonight or something.

Well, one interesting thing about this place was the free boiled potatoes that were provided at the start of the meal instead of the typical bread basket. You can butter them up if you'd like, but they are also already lightly seasoned with a hint of chili powder, which was a pleasant surprise. I guess I'm not getting any big piles of boiled crawfish on this trip though...what a bummer.

New Orleans' Central Grocery's Muffuletta

Muffuletta

Damn, that was a good sandwich. This local specialty was apparently created here at the Central Grocery (923 Decatur Street, 504-523-1620), which on its own is already a cool little shop with which to buy your spices and pickles from.

But they have a counter on the right that sells muffulettas, or these gigantic round sandwiches that are just bursting with flavor thanks to all of the salami, cheese, oil, and pickled olives. This stone cold thing may not have looked like much, but it sure tasted amazing. Just be sure to give the extra portions to your friends, since even just half a muffuletta can be a challenge to finish.

Cafe Du Monde, New Orleans

Beignets and Cafe Au Lait

Yes, this trip is getting a bit touristy, but this place (800 Decatur Street, 504-525-4544) is an institution that deserves a requisite visit in the morning. Besides, it has been so long since I've been here that my memory could definitely use a refresher (then again, I suppose that any memory from Mardi Gras is by nature going to be blurry).

This place specializes in beignets, or these little rectangular grease bombs that are a bit reminiscient of Chinese yio tiao, but sitting under a layer of powdered sugar. This was a very welcome thing, even for a guy who doesn't like sweet things like me. The milky cafe au lait was helpful in countering all of the grease and sugar too, even though I was hoping for a stronger taste...I probably should have just gotten some simple black coffee instead.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Gumbo Shop, New Orleans

Clockwise from top: chicken andouille gumbo, shrimp creole, jambalaya, red beans & rice, and creole creamed spinach

I was a bit apprehensive about coming to this place at first (630 St. Peter Street, 504-525-1486). They advertised in so many tourist brochures that it just reeked of a tourist trap. But we just needed a quick bite nearby, so when I noticed some positive comments from locals about this place too, I gave in and hoped for the best.

The menu was simple enough for me to just grab the complete Creole dinner, featuring tastes of all of the quintessential gumbo, jambalaya, red beans & rice, creamed spinach, and hot bread pudding. Now, I am definitely one of those scorned tourists rather than a local, so admittedly my ability to judge this is rather impaired (and I didn't even realize until recently that there is a difference between the Creole and Cajun versions of these). But the gumbo and jambalaya did come off on the mild side for me, so I needed to reach for quite a bit of the tableside hot sauce and ground pepper in order to give it some added kick.

Sure, I liked it in the end, even if the bread pudding was quite sweet (gotta love the pleasantly light baguettes that they provide here, BTW). I wouldn't necessarily come running back right away, but this cozy little brick-lined place was just the right thing to set the stage for a few days of good local food to come.

Poached Eggs on United

Poached eggs and tenderloin with Hollandaise sauce

What a nice break from the usual omelettes on United. Granted, anything covered in Hollandaise sauce is going to taste good, but these eggs were poached just nicely (impressive considering that we were on an airplane) and the little cut of tenderloin was, well, tender. It wasn't exactly a low cholesterol meal, but it sure was good. Keep this one coming, United!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Paradise on Earth, Tanjong Katong Road

House Special Beef with Satay and Scallop Broth

While I love Sichuan hot pot, I've never been a huge fan of local "steamboats" since the broth, sauce, and ingredients were usually a bit of a bore. But when it was suggested that we come here tonight (200 Tanjong Katong Road) due to some satay-based broth that they offered, I was intrigued. Did that mean that we were going to be dipping our food in some thick peanuty like stuff bubbling up from underneath?

Sorta. It obviously couldn't be that thick, so it was more of a thin stock with a bit of that peanut aroma. But aside from that, there was nothing really that exciting about this, as the taste got all covered up by the dipping sauce anyway...which in this case was a respectfully spicy Thai style one, but not one that I particularly used too much of either (I brought along a little bottle of Taiwanese sa cha sauce to use instead). Oh well. At least the fried rice was quite addictive with its smoky flavor.

Chocolate Collon, Anyone?

Glico Collon Biscuit Roll

Oh man, talk about an unfortunate way to transliterate Japanese into English. To make things worse, they are cylindrical in shape and come in a chocolate flavor. This also comes one day after ordering some (naturally filled?) intestines at the bak kut teh place yesterday.

Naturally Filled IntestinesActually, I didn't eat either one, and I wouldn't be surprised if both were pretty good. At least the Calpis name is sometimes converted into Calpico instead.