Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Chez Panisse

Chez Panisse has made the list of Top 50 Restaurants in the World for many years, and I put it on my "must go" list on my recent trip to SF. The restaurant is in Berkeley, we got a reservation for lunch at Chez Panisse cafe (upstairs). The restaurant (downstairs) only serves dinner with a pre-fix menu. I've read the the cafe serves equally good food, and you can order à la carte. The cafe opens for both lunch & dinner.

We ordered two appetizers to share -Ricotta with cucumbers & walnut and eggplant toast with salad. Both were simple, tasty and the ingredients were extremely fresh.

For entrées, HN & Clemont ordered the quail with pâté and they liked it. I took a bite and the quail was very moist.

Eugene ordered the pizza with wild nettles, sausage & garlic. Eugene mentioned that nettles was something that used to grow wild in the woods back in his home country and it wasn't considered edible. Some nettles in the wild sting when you touch them. I guess this is why they say "one man's trash is another man's treasure".

I ordered the sweet corn soufflé with chanterelle mushroom, sweet corns, & cucumbers. I LOVED LOVED LOVED it. The soufflé was soft & and the crusty part had a hint of burnt cheese taste to it. They weren't kidding when they said "sweet" corns, those were probably the sweetest corns I've ever tasted. I loved the subtle contrasts between all the flavors - sweet (corns) vs. earthy (mushrooms) vs. clean (cucumbers) vs. creamy (sauce). I had to remind myself to eat slowly so that I don't inhale my food.

I love Chez Panisse, and I'll definitely love to go back again. This is the first time I really experience what "California cousin" is, and I think what Alice Waters (co-foundeder of Chez Panisse) do is important, she doesn't only make delicious food, she also changes the way think of food - certainly makes me realize that sometimes the best ingredients doesn't have to come from some exotic places, instead they are fresh, local back-yard grown produce. In terms of comparison between Chez Panisse & Blue Hill in Pocantino Hills (upstate NY), which share very similar concept, I'd say Blue Hill is more refined, but I love how laid back and casual Chez Panisse is. Plus it's in California, and whenever I think of California, I think of sunny blue sky, gorgeous coastlines and my best friend HN (we are celebrating our 25th friendship anniversary next year) and my heart smiles.

I wish they have this in NYC

In-n-out burger!

My last trip to SF, I demanded that my best friend take me to in-n-out burger. Upon arrival, I told her "What do you want? I'll jump down the car and get it". She looked at me like I am a caveman and said "Huh? Why do you need to jump down? It's a drive-thru". Holy macaroons, have I lived in New York for so long that I forget drive-thrus exist?? Anyway, we both spent a good 5 minutes laughing about my ignorance.

So why is In-n-out burger so good? Well, it's $2.10 for a cheeseburger, the burger patty was thin, but I loved the generous lettuce & tomatoes on it. These weren't the typical fast food half dead lettuce & tomatoes, these lettuce & tomatoes looked freshly cut. Is this as good as my favorite Shake Shack burger? Well, in terms of quality, it's inferior to Shake Shack. But in terms of price, it beats Shake Shack, hands down. I call it a tie.

Marco! Polo! (I like stinky ice cream)

A few years ago, my best friend who lives in South Bay shoved a tub of durian ice cream to my face when I visited her. Since then, whenever I am in SF, I NEED to get my fix of durian ice cream at Marco Polo. This little ice cream parlor has a really outdated signage, but don't be fooled, the gelato is so creamy it's out of this world!

It's very difficult to find durian desserts in America because the smell is so pungent (some say stinky) and it's one of those "love it-hate it" type of fruit. The durian gelato at Marco Polo has real chunks of durians, it's like eating frozen durian but better. The first spoonful is so good it makes me emotionally levitate. They also have other more exotic flavors of ice creams such as jackfruit, mango, taro, red bean, black sesame, and yuzu. I also read that the lychee gelato is amazing!

Address: Marco Polo, 1447 Taraval Street(between 24th Ave & 25th Ave), San Francisco, CA 94116

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Tea & Sympathy

If you want a dose of England in New York, Tea & Sympathy is the place to go. I like the yummy scones with butter & jam, and the pretty granny china. Everything is on the pricey side - $6.25 for scones with butter & jam, $4.50 for a pot of tea. The only time I went they told me that there is a minimum $10/person, with that kind of price list, it's not hard to spend $10 there. They also serve a full lunch and dinner menu, which including Shepard's pie, Bangers & Mash, Yorkshire pudding...well you get the idea. I didn't try the food, but I did try the treacle pudding and it was very sweet, like all treacle puddings, but still pretty yummy.

They also have a small grocery store next door with English imported goods. I spotted a variety of tea, including PG Tips tea bags. They also have Ribena syrups, McVities digestive cookies, jams and scone mixes. Suddenly I wish Marks & Spencer will open a store in New York.

Address: Tea & Sympathy restaurant, 108 Greenwich Avenue, New York, NY 10011 (between 12th & 13th Street, opposite the entrance to Jane Street)
Address: Tea & Sympathy store, 110 Greenwich Avenue, New York, NY 10011 (between 12th & 13th Street, opposite the entrance to Jane Street)

Fuzhou cuisine

Fuzhou is the capital city of Fujian province in Southeastern China. Fujian province is one of the most linguistically diverse province, so the idea that people from Fujian province all speak Fujian dialect is apparently not true. Anyway, so why am I so interested in this? My paternal grandparents are from Fuzhou, so technically, I am a Malaysia-born-Chinese-Fuzhou, my paternal grandmother speaks Fuzhou to my dad and his siblings, unfortunately I don't speak one word of it. I did grow up eating some Fuzhou dishes, and my favorite to this day is still the Fuzhou fishball soup that my grandma & aunt make.

Fuzhou fishballs are slightly different from the regular fishballs because they usually come with stuffed minced pork inside. If you don't know what a fishball is and you are starting to wonder if fish have balls, or if I am talking about fish genitals, then sorry to disappoint, it's not that exotic. Fishballs are made by pounding fish meat into a soft paste, adding flour and making into round shapes. The end result is these little yummy things cooked in clear broth (see second photo).

On the corner of Eldridge & Broome is this unattractive looking small restaurant that sells Fuzhou food, I always see people eating there (note: only Chinese though) so last weekend I went and ordered the fishball soup & ban mien (noodle with peanut sauce). The fishballs weren't as good as the ones I grew up eating, but it was comfort food nonetheless. I thought peanut sauce (and some soy sauce) on noodles would be a bit weird but it was actually quite delicious. And the best part was, two ban mien and a bowl of large fishball soup (with 11 fishballs) only came up to $7 for two people!

Address: Fuzhou restaurant (no idea what the name is in English), corner of Eldridge & Broome.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Burger Joint

A few weeks ago I was on lunch-hunting with my colleagues and we ended up at Burger Joint. Who would have thought that you can find this hole-in-the-wall burger place in a fancy hotel? It looks so unpretentious I couldn't quite believe it. Alright, granted the burgers aren't McDonald's price but they aren't exactly hotel price either, it's about $8 for a decent sized cheeseburger.

I got mine medium-well with everything on it, I thought the burger was tasty, it had the strong smokey taste to it that I love. I am sure if you order the burger medium or medium rare it will be a lot juicier, but overall, I was really happy with it.

This place is small and it gets crowded quickly during lunch hour, so if you want to eat-in, go early. The turnover is pretty quick because it functions almost like a greasy fast food place but the burger is great, the vibe is cool & I just love how it's hidden and the only thing that hints that this place exists is a neon burger sign tucked in the corner in the lobby & the line spilling out of the door.

Address: Burger Joint. Inside Le Parker Meridien Hotel, 119 West 56th Street, New York NY 10019.


My friend Helen introduced me to this place after a shopping outing in Chelsea last week. Pinto looked like a pretty fancy place from the outside, it's small but the decor is quite pretty, modern minimalist-chic. They even have their restaurant logo on their dishware. I thought it would be a pricey place but turned out the price was pretty reasonable. My favorites from there was:

Braised leg of lamb with massamam curry & crispy potato. This was excellent! The lamb was really tender & flavorful, the curry was creamy & really fragrant. I loved it!

My second favorite was the appetizer special, roast pork satay. It was glazed with a sweet sauce, again, quite juicy & flavorful. However, the sticky rice that came with it though was disappointing, it was hard as a rock when it was cold & I suspected that it was old and they microwaved it.

The shrimp & herb dumplings with truffle oil infused soy sauce was good as far as dumplings go.

The crab fried rice baked in young coconut was quite normal. It looked pretty but it was a little bit on the bland side.

The crispy chicken wok tossed with cashew, macadamia, almond, peanut & chesnut in chili jam and asian kale was probably my least favorite. It sounded quite fancy but the sauce didn't really do it for me.

The two desserts we ordered - cheesecake & chocolate cake were both great. We all had a satisfying meal there. They also serve some really nice looking cocktails. I'll definitely go back again to try other things on the menu.

Address: Pinto, 118 Christopher Street (between Bleecker St. & Bedford St.), New York NY 10014.

Saigon Bakery

...and I'm back online. I actually miss writing, it's one of those things...when I was writing, it felt like a chore at times, but I am glad I realized it's more than just that.

So back to food, do you know that for $3.75, you can get a banh mi (vietnamese sandwich) that is uber delicious? Well the name is Saigon Bakery. It's this little shop on Mott Street, in the back of a store that sells jewelry/stones (something, I can't remember). I usually zoom past it and head straight for the order counter. They also sell some Vietnamese/Thai/Malaysia pastries.

The baguette was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, the pork was marinated with a sweet sauce and the pickles were yummy. You can order it spicy or not spicy. For $1 more, you can add pate. This is definitely one of my top cheap eat pick!

Addresss: Saigon Bakery, 138 Mott Street (between Grand & Hester), New York, NY 10013