{Snapshot} Qing Dao Garden

>>  Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Pan Fried Dumplings (potstickers)
This is a continuing series exploring the restaurants around my "hood" as part of the larger "Welcome to My Hood" Series. Other posts in this series include Rafiki Bistro (now closed), Super Fusion Sushi, Temple Bar, Giulia, Cambridge Common, and Ten Tables Cambridge.

I admit it's probably a stretch to say that Qingdao Garden is part of my "hood", which up until this point has been limited to the restaurants between Harvard and Porter Square. However, Qingdao Garden sort of sits in that amorphous area on Mass Ave just north of Porter and before Arlington. I don't have enough restaurants there to call that region a separate category, so this is as good as any.

This is technically a {Snapshot} post, since I wrote about Qingdao Garden a long time ago; Seven years ago, if you can believe that this blog has been here for that long.

Clearly my blogging style was really different back then. I find it a bit amusing to compare.
Boiled Dumplings
Anyway, back to Qingdao Gardens.

Qingdao Gardens is a self-proclaimed "Northern-style" Chinese restaurant that specializes in dumplings and noodles. In my mind, it's one of the best Chinese restaurants in Cambridge, serving up excellent handmade dumplings and a large variety of both authentic Northern and Sichuan style dishes as well as your typical American Chinese fare.
Sour Mustard and Pork Noodle Soup
I usually get the dumplings and potstickers when I go, since that is definitely what they do best. Not too long ago, however, Bryan and I decided to branch out and try a few other things on their menu.

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Momofuku Ssam Bar (New York City)

>>  Sunday, April 13, 2014

We finally start our New York Thanksgiving series. I guess it took me longer than I thought to get through all those Japan posts at the beginning of 2014! This is the first post in the series detailing meals from my trip to New York in November 2013.

I am a huge fan of anything from David Chang's empire.

I will never forget my phenomenal tasting menu at Momofuku Ko or the delicious lunch I had at Momofuku Ma Peche when it first (temporarily) opened. I always stop by Momofuku Milk Bar to pick up my favorite sweets, usually the corn cookies but sometimes I'll get cereal milk too. Heck, I've even tried cooking a few recipes from his cookbook, such as his 48-hour short ribs and his pork belly buns.
And yet, surprisingly, I actually had never been to most of his other restaurants.

That is, not until this New York trip where I managed to try two of them: Momofuku Ssam Bar and Momofuku Ma Peche (not the temporary one, but the full-fledged one).
I think I was scared away for a long time because of the nightmarish lines I'd heard about. You can't reserve a seat at Momofuku Ssam Bar unless if you are a large party enjoying one of their famous Bo Ssams. Since it's usually just Bryan and me, we knew that would be impossible.

During this trip, we finally decided to bite the bullet and try coming. To optimize our chances of having no line, we showed up right around 5:00 PM.

Score! There were many seats open.

Within half an hour, the place became completely packed. We were thrilled that we showed up just in time to grab some bar seats.

I was so excited.

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Momofuku Ma Peche (Midtown NYC)

>>  Saturday, April 12, 2014

Untitled _DSC5114_DSC5103
This is the second post in the New York Thanksgiving series. Other posts in this series include Momofuku Ssam Bar.

It's a well known fact that it's really hard to get into David Chang's restaurants. Securing a reservation at Ko involves setting up a special online account on the restaurant's website and then logging in exactly 10 days before the date you want to reserve precisely at 10AM. The reservations are gone within seconds.

Similarly, you can't make a reservation at Momofuku Ssam unless if you are a big party eating a Bo Ssam. If you don't arrive early, expect to wait in long line before getting a seat.

The last time I was at the Milk Bar, I almost missed our taxi to the airport due to the long line of people waiting to buy cookies and soft serve.
Yet interestingly, David Chang's newest restaurant in Midtown, Ma Peche, is never full. Some say that the Midtown location just doesn't attract as many diners. Others blame the weird ambiance - those cold, high celings and weird pink lighting doesn't make for a cozy environment in which to eat. And then others say that the food is just not as good as the other two places.
_DSC5113 _DSC5117
Despite all these reasons, Bryan and I decided we still needed to complete our "tour" of David Chang restaurants. This was the only one left in New York that Bryan had not visited yet (I still haven't visited Noodle Bar, but Bryan's been there before).

Around 6PM on our last night in New York, we showed up at Ma Peche - luggage and all - for dinner before catching a taxi to the airport.
We started with the Broccoli Salad ($14) which came with smoked golden raisins, crispy kale and nori seaweed, and a sesame mayonnaise. Bryan wished for more crunchy broccoli but thought the overall dish worked OK if eaten together with the kale. I liked the overall flavors but wishes for less raisins because I found it to be a bit too sweet. Overall, however, the dish was pretty good.
_DSC5086 Inpired by the childhood favorite combination of apples, celery, and peanut butter (something I never ate as a child but something Bryan always ate), our next course was the Apple Salad, which consisted of fresh apple and celery shavings tossed together in a sweet peanut butter and celery root dressing. Crispy rice on top provided a textural crunch to the salad.

I personally thought the salad was too sweet, but Bryan really liked the combination. Perhaps it made him a reminiscent about his childhood?
_DSC5096 After falling head over heels for the rice cakes at Momofuku Ssam, we were anxious to try the Spicy Roasted Rice Cakes, which came with pork sausage "ragu", water spinach, and tofu. These rice cakes were overall less crispy than the ones from Ssam Bar. They were inconsistent. Some were crispy while others were not. Though the flavors of the dish were perfectly serviceable, the execution was clearly subpar compared to the ones at Ssam Bar.
Despite our disappointment with that dish, the next dish totally made up for it. We ordered the Fried Chicken ($48), an entire chicken deep fried and served with habanero, coriander, and black pepper.

We asked if we could order a smaller portion. Unfortunately, it's all or nothing.

We convinced ourselves we could take any leftovers on the plane back to Boston, since we were leaving that night.

So we ordered a whole chicken.
It was huge.

But it was so worth it. The chicken was fantastic.

"This is the best fried chicken I've ever had in my life. I like this better than the one at Ad Hoc," Bryan declared.

The chicken was delightfully crispy and had a really nice deep, smoky habanero pepper flavor.
It was definitely quite spicy though definitely tolerable. Bryan was sweating by the end of the meal. It tastes especially good with a squeeze of lime.
We ate several pieces but just were not able to finish the entire thing. We knew we were pushing it by letting it sit out at room temperature for about five hours (we knew we'd get back to Boston around midnight). However, the chicken was so good we just had to take that risk.
Before we left, we enjoyed a nice pot of China Green Tea from the Rare Tea Company ($5).
For dessert we had the White Chocolate. A delicious white chocolate mousse topped with popcorn, popcorn brittle, popcorn caramel powder, and popcorn butter. We were told to just "mix it all together". I was surprised how much I loved this dessert. It was not too sweet (something I'm often sensitive to) and it had a lovely strong corn flavor.

For the second time at a David Chang restaurant, I found myself scooping up the last bits of mousse with my spoon. I was this close to licking the bowl clean.

*     *     *     *     *

There is a Momofuku Milk Bar Midtown that's right next door to Ma Peche. After dinner I took the opportunity to pick up some corn cookies (my favorite!). 
Momofuku Milk Bar cookie

All of a sudden, Bryan rushed inside the Milk Bar.

"Jen, the taxi is here. We have to go."

I glanced up at the 5-6 person line in front of me. I forlornly looked down at the corn cookies I was holding. You could hear this collective sigh of sadness from the people in line. They all UNDERSTOOD.

"Awww, let the girl get her cookies."

The next thing you know, the cashier turned to me and asked me what I was getting.

"Just these six cookies."

Everyone kindly let me cut in line to get my cookies before we rushed out to the taxi.

Whoever you all were.  THANK YOU. Thanks for letting a girl get her cookies. I will never forget your kindness.

We rushed out of there an made our flight in time.

We got home at midnight, exhausted.
I'm happy to report that we happily ate the leftover fried chicken the next day for lunch. After a brief reheating in the toaster oven, it still tasted just as phenomenal the next day.

And dessert?

Corn cookies, but of course.

Ma Peche
Chambers Hotel
15 W 56th St,
New York, NY 10019
Ma Peche on Urbanspoon

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Homemade Pizzas with an 800° F Pizza "Oven" in my Grill

>>  Friday, April 11, 2014

I can probably count the number of times I've "made" pizza on one hand (and honestly, I'm being pretty lax in how I define "making pizza").
Pizza Flags
One of the first times in recent memory was in Round 4 of Project Food Blog, a national food blogging competition in which I competed (and won!) back in 2010. For round 4, I made pizzas in the shapes of various flags of the world.
I didn't really learn how to properly stretch out a pizza dough until several years later, when I traveled to Vermont to attend a two day intensive baking workshop at King Arthur Flour's headquarters. There, we learned how to make pizza from scratch, and I baked my first pies.
About half a year ago, I had the chance to try rolling out dough again, this time at Posto Pizzeria in Somerville, the only certified Neapolitan pizza restaurant in Boston. There, under the supervision of one of their chefs, I made a delicious Margherita pizza in their 900°F wood-fired oven.

Finally, this past week, I  made pizza at home.

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Empanadas, Tamales, and Beer, Oh My! (El Sanjuanino + my thoughts on Argentina)

>>  Thursday, April 10, 2014

This is the third post in the Hello Argentina Series detailing my week-long trip in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Other posts include Hello ArgentinaLa Cabrera, and La Rambla.

Sometimes ignorance breeds the greatest amount of fear.

This was our first time in South America. Bryan's co-worker had gone to Buenos Aires not too long before our trip, and had told Bryan horror stories of how unsafe the city was.

Coworkers and friends of mine told me similar things. Don't open our mouths and speak in public (you'll reveal you're a foreigner). Don't take taxis by yourself (gypsy cabs are known to rob or swindle people). And never flash your cash around or wear expensive designer things, especially watches (Rolexes are especially popular).
It wasn't until we arrived that we realized that Buenos Aires is not that different from any other major metropolitan city. Yes, you should be aware of your belongings. And yes, the current economic situation is not great, and as a result there has been more petty crime and vandalism. However, when I walked around the city, it really did not feel that different from big U.S. cities like New York, DC, or LA.

Day to day, it actually felt really normal.  In fact, after spending a few days there, I got to the point where I felt comfortable enough to walk around by myself in well-known, crowded areas (with the normal vigilance I would keep in any big city).
Of course, we didn't know all this before we arrived. Because we were not familiar with the city, we had hired a tour guide to take us around our first few days in Buenos Aires.

It turned out to be great. Our tour guide Nestor from BA Concierge was a local who spoke excellent English. Not only did he give us an interesting local's perspective on the current state of things in Buenos Aires, he also helped us feel much more comfortable maneuvering the city on foot.

The best part? He took us to fun little eateries known for very classic Argentinian dishes, such as lomitos (steak sandwiches), Milanesa, and of course, the famous empanada.

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you can contact me at: jen[at]tinyurbankitchen[dot]com
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