Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Puerto Escondido Taco Truck in San Jose

The Puerto Escondido Taco Truck in San Jose

I missed lunch today and needed a quick snack this afternoon. Fortunately, this random taco truck was sitting around on Commercial Street near North 13th Street in San Jose today (37.363839, -121.893488 near Draeger Construction). I don't know if these guys are there regularly as the spot was vacant in Google Street View, but maybe that's just because the Google car rolled by when they hadn't pulled up to setup shop yet.

From front: chorizo and lengua tacos

Anyway, my chorizo and lengua tacos were exactly what I needed. These little puppies came out piping hot and totally hit the spot with their savory taste and fresh garnish and salsa. Mmm....I wanted to keep going for more (including some of those cemitas I saw them making), but I exercised restraint so as not to spoil dinner. Being only $1 each made me all the more happy too.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

BCC Enterprises Jon-Jon's BBQ, San Jose

BCC BBQ is now Jon-Jon's BBQ

Another name change. Back when I used to live in the Bay Area, these guys were known as BCC, or Bethesda Community Church, BBQ (1305 Old Oakland Road, 297-5799). Now it looks like they've taken up a much more memorable Jon-Jon's moniker instead. Actually, the most memorable thing about this place is the venue itself: at a former gas station in front of a trailer park and with some smoking vessels for the meat right next to the street. It's definitely got character.

#9 Lunch

And fortunately the food was still just as good, with nice tasty fat interwoven into the delicate meat on the ribs as well as a tender tri-tip and delightfully spicy hot links. Of course, this wasn't exactly brisket from Texas, especially since they provided both sauce as well as forks here. But we are way out here in urban California after all, and with these guys around, one shouldn't even bother that commercialized stuff from Tony Roma's and Armadillo Willy's.

Gott's Roadside Tray Gourmet, Napa Valley

Hamburger and Sweet Potato Fries

I've passed by the giant parking lot for Taylor's Automatic Refresher in St. Helena at least a few times in the past. And yet I never stopped there, in part because it seemed like there was so much else to eat up there than just burgers. But then we kept hearing about how great it was, and that we had to get their sweet potato fries. So today, we popped over to their Napa location at the Oxbow Public Market (after figuring out that they had changed their name of course).

It finally became obvious to me why this place is so praised. In the words of Jules Winfield, that *was* a tasty burger! The quality of the ingredients was the key - not to mention the secret sauce and that yellow egg bun. I can see why people like those sweet potato fries too, especially with that chili powder and ranch dressing. And this being wine country, they had a selection of wine bottles available, not to mention quite a few beers on tap. Cool. (A reminder to myself: pass on the lemonade next time - it's not as fresh as I had hoped.)

We've decided that our next trip to Napa will be a on a shoestring budget where we spend most of the time eating at the various Oxbow Market stalls rather than fighting to get a reservation at a fine dining establishment. And if we really want something from Gott's, we could just go to their San Francisco Ferry Building Marketplace location instead, although of course we'll be faced again with the dilemna of having to choose between eating at Gott's or the many other delicious places available.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dinner at Ubuntu in Napa, California


After hearing all of the heaps of praise this place has received, I was pretty excited about coming up here tonight (1140 Main Street, 707-251-5656). The premise of this vegetarian restaurant was that ingredients came from their self-sustaining garden. And this Michelin-starred kitchen was apparently able to do wonders with such seasonal Californian vegetables - so much that even carnivores were big fans. It sounded pretty darned good to me.

Our meal started out with their signature garden "snake" featuring a bunch of unconventional green leaves and roots laid out on a wooden board in a winding shape (and hence, the name). It was lightly seasoned with some herbs, oil, and pecorino cheese, the combination of which appealed to me. But I wasn't that big of a fan of our next two items: a turnip soup as well as some steamed bun with burrata. Sure, they were delicate and tasted fine, but I was hoping for something punchier.

And that's when I started to get rather fatigued with it all, as subsequent courses kept featuring a bunch of esoteric vegetables but were also so subdued in taste that I couldn't help but associate many of them with that rather unflattering rabbit food cliché. Now, I'm sure that it required a very talented staff to create these beautiful dishes, which were respectfully tasty in their own right. But none of them really struck an emotional chord with me; by the time we left, I was extremely full, but not satisfied.

Part of it was our own fault. The menu was littered with so many exotic ingredient names on it that we just deferred to our server to pick our dishes for us. In retrospect, there were a number of other items (like a bean stew or plate of grits) that I think I would have liked a lot more. In the meantime, I can take consolation in the fact that it was very healthy, very local, and all with the added conscience bonus of eating at such a socially responsible place.

Top Dog and Blondie's Pizza in Berkeley

Hot Link

OK it's pretty clear now that that Top Dog in Hong Kong is unrelated to the real deal in Berkeley. There's a proper selection of quality sausages available here, including this Louisiana hot link whose salt, grease, and spices delighted us, especially when wrapped in a lightly toasted bun and topped with some simple mustard and kraut. Mmm...I can see why this would be a great post-drinking snack.

Pepperoni and Mushroom Pizza

We were still a bit hungry though, so we walked down to the corner of Telegraph and Durant for a slice of Blondie's. The selection was fairly limited today but I had them top this pepperoni slice with some mushrooms, which thus came out piping hot after they threw it back in the oven. The crust, while physically a bit thicker than I was thinking of, was still light and crunchy enough to gobble this up in seconds, even if I accidentally threw on a bit too much garlic powder. Yum again.

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Sandwich from Whole Foods Market


No, this wasn't meant to be a sandwich streak. But there was a Whole Foods nearby and we figured that we could grab a healthy yet tasty meal there tonight, which it definitely provided. I like this place so much better than Trader Joe' of these days I should splurge on their $2 bottle of wine too. It's cheaper than water, after all.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

San Francisco's Specialty's Cafe and Bakery

Chairman Sandwich

I once had a boss who would talk a lot about Tadich Grill whenever we went to San Francisco. But he also used to have a fondness for another local shop during lunchtime, and that shop was unforgettably named Speciality's. The sandwiches there were so big that he described them as "casserole in between two slices of bread" - or something to that effect, anyway.

I don't remember being as dazzled as he was by their sandwiches back then, but that was a very long time ago, and it looks like they've now expanded quite a bit beyond their San Francisco base. So we popped over to one of their outlets today for a quick lunch - I was curious to know if maybe I'd have a better impression this time.

Well, the Chairman sandwich that I got above was definitely loaded with lots of fresh ingredients, which was a good thing. And in retrospect I now remember their unique bread with its crumbly crust. But I don't know if I'd go so far as to say that they are better than Potbelly Sandwich Works. Don't get me wrong; it was good and refreshing enough that I'd come here for lunch regularly if I worked nearby, but I'd also go to places like Erik's DeliCafé without hesitation too.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

An Air India Codeshare on SQ via ICN

Indian meal on SQ

I didn't book any special meals on this trip, but I didn't really have to, seeing that today's SQ flight was a codeshare with Air India, which thus meant that Indian food was automatically available on top of the usual two selections. This one on the first leg out of Singapore was tasty enough that I gobbled it up in seconds, although I couldn't quite say the same about the one on the connecting leg out of Incheon, especially when the yogurt that was provided was mildly sweet. Ugh.

What's perhaps more interesting is when an Air India codeshare goes via Korea: this morning's breakfast selections before arrival included not just scrambled eggs and vadai, but also kimchi fried rice. It did the job for me, especially when it came with one of those delicious little packs of roasted Korean seaweed. But it was interesting that they served something with a kimchi odor that the rest of the cabin might not appreciate.

Note to self: the very nicely decorated Asiana lounge on the fourth floor of the ICN concourse came complete with shower facilities, but the spread this afternoon wasn't worth saving stomach space for. (I thought I remembered an SQ lounge last time I was here, but that was so many years ago that I won't be surprised if things have changed since then?) Some of the food courts downstairs might be worth a try if there is time though, even if one of them is just an outlet of Nolboo.

Chwee Kueh from the KrisFlyer Gold Lounge

Chwee Kueh and Pineapple Juice

So that's the difference between the KrisFlyer Gold Lounge in T3 and the very similarly laid-out SATS lounge that United uses next door: they have chwee kueh for breakfast over here. The pickled radish on top was too salty and the rice cakes themselves were a bit rubbery, but hey, it was free after all. Either way, this was probably my first time eating these things with a fork.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Japan's Freshness Burger in Singapore

Classic Burger

I've seen outlets of Freshness Burger on pretty much every trip to Japan, but never bothered to go in, despite how inviting the name and green decor seemed. After all, why waste one's precious time there eating hamburgers when there was so much else to eat? Well, these guys finally opened an outlet in Singapore at the new Nex Mall (23 Serangoon Central #B2-48, 6634-4439). We were in the neighborhood this afternoon and stopped by.

It was disappointing. In my mind, the term "Freshness Burger" conjured up thoughts of a tasty Niman Ranch patty and loads of fresh veggies. And while these guys definitely had the latter (the thick and firm tomato slice in particular being very impressive), the taste otherwise was simply boring, with none of the grilled fat aroma that I was looking for, despite how neatly assembled the thing was. The fried Hokkaido potatoes were a letdown too, in part simply because they brought them to us cold.

I'm sure that part of the problem was simply that I was expecting a proper American burger, and I should know that I shouldn't do that. Instead, I should be expecting Japanese food from the ground up (just as no one should expect proper Italian food at a place like Saizeriya). In the spirit of that, I also got one of their tofu burgers, but even then, I nearly splurted out swear words when I bit into one.

I was expecting them to use firm tofu to mimic a beef patty but instead they used silken tofu, which was so delicate that the thing just made a mess. As a tofu dish on its own, it was actually nice and light. But I couldn't help but think of it as a burger, which just made me cringe. Given my similarly bad experiences with places like Mos Burger and R Burger, I guess that I'll have to turn to some other shop to change my impression about Japanese burgers.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Long Xia Zhou Shi Jia, Orchard Central

Lobster Porridge

This was a totally random visit. Sitting on the grounds of the former Duo Le (181 Orchard Rd #08-09, 6634-7318), these guys specialized in lobster porridge, which looked pretty good from a distance with its yellowish tint and scallion garnish. Besides, they were running a promo of two bowls for the price of one at S$29.90 (US$22.80), so we figured that we'd give it a try.

Fortunately, it worked for me, with a savory yet thin lobster-based soup and a decent chunk of meat in the small lobster half. It was actually more of a Teochew mue rice soup rather than the sludgy Cantonese congee that I was expecting...and I wish they provided more rice at that. But that didn't matter since the broth was the best part of this anyway, even if it wasn't as strong Keisuke's ebi ramen.

Kusabi's Spicy Gekikara Ramen

Gekikara Uobushi Ramen

I love the burning hot thrill of orochon ramen. But I normally forego the "spicy" varieties at a lot of shops around here since they oftentimes seem to be more of an afterthought featuring a scoop of chili sauce from a jar, bringing with it unnecessary distractions like those Chinese preserved beans and garlic. I prefer my spicy ramen to have a focus on sheer heat rather than clouding it with all of those extra flavors.

So it was to my delight when I found out that Kusabi has a gekikara ramen that did just that. Their spices formed a piercingly clean and numbing layer that complemented the uobushi fish powder broth underneath. Even at only the first stage of spiciness, it left enough of a warm feeling around my lips and in my belly where I instinctively made a run for Azabo Sabo's (still existing) ice cream stand around the corner afterwards to quench the heat. My impression of Kusabi keeps improving with every meal.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Pizzeria Mozza, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore


Mario Batali's restaurant finally opened at the Sands today. Actually, it was only the casual pizza-focused half of the restaurant rather than the more upscale osteria half, but it was easy to get to being that it was on the Galleria Level of The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands (10 Bayfront Avenue #B1-42, 6688-8522). In other words, it was down in the mall rather than being way up in the fine dining area hovering over the casino. And the food blew past my expectations.

Our favorite item was nothing more than a simple caprese, but man, was it good. The photo above already gives a good idea of the quality of the tomatoes, but the thing that really got to me was the cheese, which was absolutely delicious. When a place named Mozza does its own mozzarella, we knew that we had to get this, and it not only hit the mark but also went straight through. Other items that we got included their chicken wings, which weren't nearly as fiery as their description suggested, but were still pleasantly savory with a wide range of spices and grilled scallions on top.

The other impressive surprise was the pizza dough. When it first came out, I was so let down since it looked like some nasty thick crust pizza that one orders for delivery in the US. Only after closer examination did we realize not only that it was thin, but that the big poofy outer crust was crisp and airy...the texture was slightly reminiscient of Chinese youtiao. This was such a great meal that I eagerly look forward to seeing what the other half of the restaurant can crank out when it eventually opens, especially with its mozzarella bar.

River Valley Nasi Padang, Zion Road

Beef Rendang and Curry Chicken

I've never really been a huge fan of nasi padang, so I never made much effort to come down here (54 Zion Road, 6734-3383) despite all of the praise I've heard about it. Yet a colleague of mine kept telling me about how much his family loves this place, and how his mom will even drink the curry straight. My curiosity was piqued.

And after finally having had it, I can see why this place is so popular - it's the good quality meat. The beef rendang was consistently tender while the curry chicken was super juicy. I don't know if I'd go so far as to drink the curry, but it was refined and rich, while the chili sauce gave it some extra bite.

It's just too bad that my first time having nasi padang was so miserable that it pretty much scarred me for life. As such, I still won't make much of an effort to get this again, but maybe if I had tried this place from the start, I might have ended up being a bigger long-term fan.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Takashimaya's New Japanese Food Court

Bukkake Udon

Here were a few sights from the new Japanese section of Takashimaya's basement food court. Tsuru Koshi Udon in particular resonated well with us. Unlike that Kazokutei place, the noodles here were nice and firm. The broth that they provided with hot noodles was even more impressive with a quality salt that just pulled all of the taste together. There will definitely be a repeat visit here.

Five Okawa Rice Balls

I was still a bit hungry though, so I made my way over to Yonehachi, a shop from Japan that is apparently known for its rice. I grabbed this set of sticky rice balls, with each one featuring a different flavor like seaweed or sansai. This was fine, but I really should come back here again to try a full meal rather than just this sampler box of rice.

Japanese Strawberries

And finally, here were some Japanese strawberries from Kyoho-Ya, a corner featuring a wider selectino of Japanese fruit than Isetan and Meidi-Ya usually do. As expected, these strawberries were sweet, juicy, and just to the right degree of ripeness.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Jiro Ramen from Kusabi Singapore

Kusabi Style Jiro Ramen

I haven't been to Kusabi in a while, but it looks like they've added a couple of new items to their menu. Earlier this week I tried the kasaneaji shio ramen, whose crystal clear chicken stock was just as refreshing as Keisuke's version. Tonight I got the jiro ramen, a massive bowl loaded with veggies, garlic, and lard, with an option to get even more toppings. This was pretty darned good.

The noodles were super thick and firm, and the broth was very rich. The highlight for me was the huge wad of bean sprouts that I gobbled up in an instant. I complimented myself for eating lots of veggies, all while hiding an evil grin that emerged after noticing the layer of lard globules floating on the broth. I drank that thing until my bowl was completely empty.

It was only later that I realized that this was inspired by Ramen Jiro, a chain with a testosterone-driven cult following in Japan. I also finally understood what it was that I was eating at Menya Shinchan a few years ago. Sure, maybe these are just copies of the original. But even without having been to Ramen Jiro in Japan, Kusabi did the job for me.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Ajino Chanpon, Tokyo Walker, Plaza Singapura

Ajino Chanpon

The first time I had champon was maybe ten years ago, and I didn't really like it. I kept wondering, "What's up with all of that darned cabbage?" Strangely, the thought of some cabbage sounded pretty good tonight, so we came to that Tokyo Walker area at Plaza Singapura to give Ajino a try (68 Orchard Road #04-01, 6333-9287)

To my surprise, I liked it. The cabbage was exactly what I wanted (in fact, I wanted more), and the rich broth was a nice pairing. I'm not a huge fan of those thick noodles, nor will this be anything that I'll make a huge effort to come back for. But it was a lot better than I thought it would be.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

United Economy Class Vegetables and Rice

Stir Fried Vegetables and Rice

Looks nasty? It was. Had I seen it beforehand I probably would have gotten the sandwich instead, but it was too late. Worse, it was filled with two things that I absolutely despise: water chestnuts and cooked carrots (I like raw carrots but hate cooked ones because they become sweet). At least those chips were good.

Perhaps more interesting was my seating adventure, which started when I cleared the Business Class waitlist at the gate. I settled happily into that upper deck window seat and even started a movie as we sat at the gate for a while.

Then after about 20 minutes, an agent came upstairs. The original passenger finally showed up, thus bumping me down past even my originally assigned Economy Plus seat into a spot all the way in the back of the plane. Oh well - so much for getting work done on a nearly drained battery.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Crudite and Beer from the O'Hare RCC

Crudite and 312 Urban Wheat Ale

United's Red Carpet Club in O'Hare's B Concourse is always stocked full of crudite and ranch dressing. It's not like it's anything that special, but for some reason I enjoyed this immensely, perhaps in part due to that local Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat Ale. I normally don't even like wheat beer, but that cool telephone handset used as a beer tap handle caught my eye, and to my surprise, I liked the taste too.

An Unexpected Snack Box on United Express

United Express First Class Snack Box

I was surprised that we got a full snack box on the way to O'Hare this morning given that they only gave out a measly bag of nuts on the way down to New Orleans. I wonder if they ran out of boxes earlier this week or something? It was the same 2.5 hour route run by United Express, so it doesn't seem like it was due to lack of time.

Ironically, I didn't grab anything to eat at O'Hare on the way down because I thought we'd be getting snack boxes on the flight, while I ate at MSY this morning precisely because I thought we wouldn't get snack boxes on the way up. Murphy's Law prevails yet again.

Breakfast from Creole Carvery and Bar at MSY

Andouille Sausage Breakfast Platter

This was an andouille sausage and egg breakfast platter from the only place open in New Orleans Airport's C concourse at 5 AM. In retrospect, I should have gotten some grits while I was down here, but the sausage and biscuit did the job. I suspect that I was just too distracted with the fact that there is no Red Carpet Club here...nor public WiFi. At least the airport was empty enough that I could plop myself down next to a power outlet.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Rice from Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen

From left: Cajun Rice and Red Beans and Rice

I can't remember where I read that Popeye's made a respectable rendition of red beans and rice, but I am not sure if I agree. The beans were obliterated into such a mush that this seemed more like Mexican frijoles. Granted, I'm hardly an expert on red beans and rice considering that I only tried it for the first time this morning, but I still liked Daisy Dukes' version the best, with its spicy bite, whole beans, and soft rice.

While I was here, I also got their Cajun rice, which is of course more properly known as dirty rice thanks to those brown bits of chicken liver. I've never had the real version before so I don't know how this compares, but it worked for me as the liver taste was mild and rich rather than offending. Then again, if I hadn't tried any other place's red beans and rice before, I'd probably like Popeye's version too.

Johnny's Po-Boy, New Orleans

Catfish Po' Boy

This place (511 St. Louis Street, 524-8129) was supposed to have some of the best po'boys in town, so I stopped by to pick one up on my way back. And while I liked the fried catfish in my version, the sandwich was a bit of a bore to me. Maybe it was because I got mine plain without any dressing, although I guess I've never really been a huge fan of po'boys in the first place either.

Epilogue: this was pretty darned good after I started drowning it in some local Louisiana hot sauce.

Napoleon House, New Orleans

Red Beans and Rice

I wasn't really planning to come here (500 Chartres Street, 524-9752). But after this morning's breakfast, I was craving more red beans and rice, and these guys had it on their menu. The portions were much smaller than I was expecting, and it wasn't spicy either, thus making it nothing more than just a boring plate of beans and rice (I had to use the hot sauce in order to sustain my interest). It was cool to see the old building they occupied though, especially with the paint peeling off the walls. I like that local Abita Amber beer too.

Daisy Dukes, French Quarter, New Orleans

One Pound of Hot Spicy Louisiana Boiled Crawfish

There were two quintessential New Orleans dishes that I missed out on last time I was here: boiled crawfish plus red beans and rice. The latter would be easy enough to get this time around, but the former was fraught with challenges given that it was December, which meant that yet again it was not the peak season for them. Fortunately, I found this place (121 Chartres Street, 522-2233), which not only had them in stock, but was also open 24 hours of all things. So what else would a guy like me do? Get them for breakfast, of course!

Red Beans and Rice

A little side cup of red beans and rice came first, and it was everything that I wanted and more: it was salty, spicy, and fatty with cuts of sausage, all on beans and rice that were stewed to a pulp. I didn't even really need that hot sauce on the side, and liked it so much that I wish I had gotten an entire plate of this stuff. It's too bad that Popeye's in Singapore doesn't carry this stuff; apparently even fast food chains out here do a decent job of red beans and rice.


Then I got around to decimating those crawfish, which were naturally a bit small given that it was not the right season. But that didn't really matter, since the best part of these things was not the tail meat, but rather the juices that one sucks out of the head. It sounds kinda nasty, but it was delightfully savory...almost like finding some lobster bisque inside (or maybe even the soup from Keisuke's ebi ramen). Rock on. This totally made my day, and it's not even 8 AM yet! It was much better than that Gumbo Jumbo place back home.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Arnaud's Restaurant, New Orleans

Gulf Fish Amandine

Arnaud's (813 Rue Bienville, 523-5433) is one of New Orleans' most popular restaurants, scoring 25's across all three of Zagat's criteria. So I was expecting quite a bit. And while the live jazz, tuxedoed waiters, and historic building in the middle of the French Quarter definitely brought some local charm to this jackets-recommended place, I was kinda let down with the food.

OK, it wasn't bad. The shrimp in their signature shrimp Arnaud were fresh, but mustard was so pungent in the Creole rémoulade that it overpowered the thing...I might as well have just shoved a spoonful of the sauce directly into my mouth. The Gulf fish amandine above tasted just like it looked: fresh and relatively light, but not necessarily anything so exciting to get me craving it again.

Maybe I just ordered the wrong things. At least their version of Bananas Foster was better than the heavy beignets that I got from Cafe Beignet around the corner last night. Well, I guess one can't argue with the historic charm of the venue...although just one visit here is probably enough for me.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Junk Food from New Orleans

Zapp's Voodoo Chips, Bud's Deep Fried Peanuts, and Big Shot Fruit Punch

Here was some junk food that I picked up from the all-night liquor store across the street from the hotel tonight...and they were pretty much all locally produced, be it the "New Orleans' Own" Big Shot carbonated fruit punch to the Zapp's chips that I had last time, even if this Voodoo flavor was a bit sweet.

Perhaps the more interesting thing was those deep fried peanuts (OK, they're from Tennessee, but it's close enough), whose label says that you can eat them with the shell. Well, that's stretching it a bit. Sure, deep frying those goobers made the shells a bit easier to eat, but they were still peanut shells at the end of the day. At least the hot flavor got surprisingly spicy after shoving a few of them into my mouth.

Grilled Prawn and Baba Ghanoush on United

This was the appetizer on today's flight to the US. That unsightly thing was actually baba ghanoush with a nice sesame tahini taste, while the prawn was surprisingly firm and with a grilled aroma to it. Considering that it was airplane food, it was respectable. But my roast turkey main course was too dry, nor did I really care much for those sweet mashed potatoes.