Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Pio Pio

Pio Pio is a Peruvian restaurant specializing in rotisserie chicken. My mouth starts watering whenever I think about the chicken, it's so juicy, flavorful and the meat literally falls off the bones.

....and then there's the legendery green sauce......I don't know what they put in it, but it's a little spicy, a little creamy, and a lot addictive. If you think I am exaggerating, I dare you try it!. Doubling the hype is the fact that the ingredients of the sauce is a secret.

The ceviche, salchipapa (fries and fried hot dogs), and maduros (sweet plaintains) are also my favorites.

I've only been to two out of their four locations in Manhattan, the one in the Upper West Side is a little bit of a nightmare, the space is small, noisy and always crowded. I love their Hells Kitchen location because it's really big and great for accommodating big parties. The vibe in the Hells Kitchen location is different from the rest, it's quieter, swankier and very new.

Pio Pio locations:
Upper West Side, 702 Amsterdam Avenue (94th Street)
Hells Kitchen, 604 Tenth Avenue (between 43th and 44th)
Murray Hill, 210 East 34th Street (between 2nd and 3rd Avenue)
Upper East Side, 1746 First Avenue (between 90th and 91st)

Penang - Food Tour

I am forever in love with Penang, be it the palm trees, white fluffy clouds against blue sky, Penang-hokkien accent, sweltering heat or horrific traffic jam, there's just something about my hometown that makes my heart ache when I leave it for too long. What Penang is known for, besides its interesting heritage, is the fantastic food. On my Christmas trip back to Penang in 2009, I took a bunch of my non-Penang friends to sample some of Penang's finest. Here are my list of "must-eat":

Perut Rumah Nyonya Restaurant is a fairly new restaurant along Kelawai Road that my friend Min introduced me to. Nyonya food, sometimes called peranakan food, is typically a fusion of chinese ingredients with Malay herbs & spices. In the case of Penang nyonya food, it is also heavily influenced by our neighbor in the north, Thailand. Peranakan culture is the result of marriage between chinese immigrants and locals in Malaysia back in the 15th/16th century, and is unique in the early British Straits Settlements of Malaya. Perut Rumah serves traditional nyonya food such as roti babi (minced pork stuffed in bread and then deep fried), nasi ulam (fried rice with local herbs), belacan fried chicken, lobak (sliced pork wrapped in beancurd skin marinated with five spice powder and then deep fried)...the list goes on and on. The restaurant is situated in a spacious and well-preserved old bungalow, and the restaurant is beautifully decorated with traditional peranakan tsotskis such as old irons, tiffin carriers and china sets.

Usually when Penangites say "let's go eat mee sotong", you'll know instantly that they are referring to the Fort Cornwalis food court mee sotong (Indian style cuttlefish fried noodle). This stall in located in a somewhat run-down food court (if you can even call it that), and for Penang standard this noodle dish isn't that cheap (about RM4.50/USD1.30) but it's worth every penny. The mee sotong here is slightly sweeter than traditional Indian mee goreng because of the sotong gravy they use. The highlight is they also pour a heap of cuttle fish & spicy sauce on top of the noodles. The best compliment for this spicy & tongue-numbing mee sotong is the delicious vanilla ice-cream coconut shake. It is the perfect thirst quencher & also the best cure on a hot day, which is most days in Penang.

Penang Road teochew cendol is another hot-day savior. It's been in a small lane off Penang Road (Lebuh Keng Kwee) for as long as I remember. Cendol is a typical Malaysian cold dessert made with shaved ice, coconut milk, palm sugar, red beans & green glutinous jelly (flavored with pandan leaves). This is, in my opinion, the best cendol in Penang, and there's something about standing by the roadside, inhaling the fumes from cars & buses while devouring a bowl of cendol that is so undoubtedly satisfying.

If you ask any visitors what they want to try in Penang, most will say Char Kuey Teow (fried flat rice noodle). One of the most famous Penang char kuey teow is the Lorong Selamat char kuey teow. I am personally a little turned-off by this place because the line is always ridiculously long & sometimes you get yelled at if you want the Lady Goggle (note: not related to Lady Gaga whatsoever) to "customize" your char kuey teow. If you have time and don't mind waiting for at least half an hour for a plate of char kuey teow, then by all means. Otherwise my advice is to go during the midday lull. The lady who's been cooking char kuey teow at this stall is famous for her red beret, yellow goggles, and unfriendly attitude. That said, hoardes of locals and tourists keep coming back for more because it is indeed THAT good. The char kuey teow is fried with a well-season wok, with chunks of crispy lard, chives, cockles & big prawns. Yummy-ness comes with the price tag of RM6.00/USD1.75 (for the smallest plate), which is ridiculously expensive for Penang standard but it's life-changing, in a good way, unless you have to cholesterol issue.

Genting coffee shop is a personal favorite because there is a great variety of food stalls here so it's a one-stop food hunting. The duck egg char kuey teow is good, the laksa is super sour but delicious, and they serve my favorite chee-cheong funn (rice noodle role topped with various sauces). Two doors down from Genting coffee shop is my favorite taufufa 豆腐花 (soy bean custard) store. The version of taufufa here is unique because it it typically served warm, and comes with the sweet & fragrant palm sugar.

Perut Rumah Nyonya Restaurant (11am to 10.30pm)
17, Jalan Kelawei, 10250 Georgetown, Penang.
Tel: +604-227 9917

Hameed Pata (open for lunch only)
Food court next to Fort Cornwalis.

Famous Teochew Cendol (12pm to 7pm)
Lebuh Keng Kwee (off Penang Road).

Kafe Keng Huat Char Kuey Teow
Lorong Selamat, just look for Lady Goggles.

Genting Coffee Shop
Lorong Delima 6 and Lorong Delima 3. Opposite the Hamid Khan School.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


It was by sheer coincidence that my friend S. sent me a blog review on Noma after I got my plane ticket to Copenhagen. After I read the review, I knew it had to be on our itinerary. I made a reservation about 2 months prior to the trip, and when JL decided to join the trip, I made the change and they were really accomodating. For a restaurant which is ranked #3 on the San Pelligrino's Top Restaurants in the World, the online reservation process was easy-peasy.

Noma is located inside the North Atlantic House by the waterfront and looks out towards the Royal Playhouse of Copenhagen and Nyhavn. The interior exudes a rustic and calm vibe. As soon as we arrived, we were seated promptly, I was a little surprised to see that the restaurant was not completely filled.

Once we settled down, they brought out the first amuse-bouche, a savoury cookie (bottom) with speck (middle) and blackcurrent powder and pine (top). The sourness of the blackcurrent powder was a nice contrast to the savoury cookie & speck. The pine, however, was relatively tasteless. The cookie was quite crumbly and crispy, I rated this 6 out of 10.

The next amuse-bouche was the crispy chicken skin (bottom) with cheese & lumpfish roe (middle) and rye bread (top). This was really appetizing, I was really wow-ed by the paper thin chicken skin as well as the paper thin rye bread top. I'm sure a lot of science went into creating those two elements, I guess this is the brilliance behind the concept of molecular gastronomy. I liked this a lot, it was a 9 out of 10 for me.

Next up is a Noma signature-creation, it's a pot of fresh raddish with soil, and not just any soil but edible soil. This was really fun and eye-opening. We ate the raddish whole. As for the soil (it looked 100% believable as real soil), it was made of dark beer & walnut. To make the texture more interesting, the "soil" was made in two batches, one with butter which made the texture softer and clumpier; and one harder, which I assumed was dehydrated-rehydrated in some complicated process. The green mousse was made from herb & cream. Taste wise this was a 7 out of 10, novelty factor wise, this was a 10 out of 10.

The next thing they gave us was a crispy toast, cod emulsion with herb & vinagrette powder. The toast was really tasty, it had the texture of a cookie and the herb was really fresh and subtle. It was also so darn pretty. This to me was an 8 out of 10.

After the amuse-bouche, they brought us freshly baked sourdough bread with flower from Sweden (not sure what flower but at this point I think my feet was no longer touching the ground, and my brain ceased to function as my belly took over), with goat's milk butter, and lard with aquavit and pork crackling. The bread was really delicious, and I particularly liked the goat's milk butter. They also brought us the menu. I was really excited to finally see what was on the menu. It consisted of 3 choices - 4 courses, 7 courses or 12 courses. We went with the conversative 4 courses because we didn't want to over-eat and ruin the experience (sudden flashback to dinner at Per Se in 2005, when towards the end I was so full I almost needed a stretcher to get me out of the restaurant).

...and just because they could, after we ordered, they brought us another "teaser", they described it as beetroots and mulled fried bread with salt. The beetroots were thinly sliced, and covered in some sort of black chalky sauce which I couldn't figure out what it was and forgot to ask. This was overall quite tasty, and visually appealing, the colors from the beetroots & sauce created a cool abstract painting on the plate. I thought this was a 7 out of 10.

The first lunch course was the razor clam with parsley jelly with "snow" in natural (razor clam) juice and dill oil. The "snow" was a tribute to the weather and it was made with buttermilk and horse raddish. The razor clam was so fresh, and the dill jelly was subtle and complimented the clam really well. The "snow" was the mind-blowing part of the dish for me, it was like one of those liquid nitrogen thing, which was frozen but melted really quickly in your mouth. The horse raddish gave it a wasabi-eque kick, really really well done. We all loved this, and to me this was a definitely a 10 (maybe 15) out of 10.

The second dish was caramelized onion with juice from early grapes (from the isle of Lilleø) with tapioca and lemon thyme leaves. The cook who brought out the plate (a young Californian guy) pointed out that the grapes were early harvest grapes that they pressed and aged for a few months, they liked the taste and incorporated it into this dish. There were so many competing flavors in this plate that I didn't really think it worked that well, at least for my friends and me. The onion was really strong, and grapes juice was sour, and the lemon thyme was pungeant. I thought it was just way to "busy". I guess just like science experiments, some are succesful and some aren't, this one to me wasn't bad, but wasn't great. I gave it a 5 out of 10.

The next course came with a viking knife wrapped in beautiful leather. My friend BK instantly felt guilty because she is a full-time vegetarian but goes on breaks when she travels, which I am utterly thankful for. We had ox cheek, the green vegetables on the front of the plate was cabbage folded into wafer with cabbage compote inside. The middle part was poached cabbage with rose hip, pickled cardamon, lingonberry, and capers on stems. It was a really beautiful-looking dish, bursting with colors. I liked how they balanced the dish with very light flavors, and the ox cheek was really tender and soft. I never knew poached vegetables could be so tasty. This was a 9 out of 10 for me.

For dessert, we got walnut ice cream with walnut & blackberry powder. This dessert was a tribute to the wintry & snowy weather. It looked plain and boring but the ice cream was quite delicious, the hint of sour blackberry powder really brought out the walnut flavor. This was an 8 out of 10 for me.

Feeling extremely greedy, I decided to order one more dessert. I asked the staff what I should order and without blinking he suggested the Øllebrød with skyr ice cream, foam and rye bread crumbs. He also explained that Øllebrød is a traditional Danish porridge, usually served for breakfast, it's made from rye bread (usually leftovers or stale bread) soaked in beer & sugar. Øllebrød is one of those dishes that every Danish family knows, and has their own little versions. The Øllebrød was a little sour, the skyr (Icelandic cultured dairy product, similar to strained yogurt. although technically it is a very soft cheese) was a little sweet. This to me was really the perfect way to end the meal. I gave this a 10 out of 10.

I have to also mention that the service was exceptional, they were attentive but relaxed, and most of the food was brought out by one of the cooks and they explained the dishes really well and answered all my questions patiently. I was told that there were about 15 people working in the kitchen, and I am sure the are more during dinners & busy nights. For me, this was a relatively reasonable meal considering the ranking of the restaurant and also it being in Copenhagen (where a sandwich costs USD20). My lunch at Noma was not only enjoyable, but was also educational. I came back reminiscing how understated, unpretentious yet elegant everything was. At times I think some chefs are trying to be food-magicians but came out looking so passé, my experience at Noma was nothing but interesting & invigorating, especially since I am completely unfamiliar with Scandanavian cuisine. I hope Noma keeps pushing the envelops because they are definitely on the right track.

As we sauntered out of there after 3 hours of really enjoyable lunch, we couldn't give a damn that it was all foggy and the weather was disgusting. Our tummy was happy and that's all we needed.