Hainanese Chicken Rice + Giveaway!

>>  Monday, February 28, 2011

I almost never ate chicken growing up.

My mom doesn't like chicken, and thus we hardly ate chicken at home. Furthermore, there just aren't nearly as many Taiwanese dishes made with chicken. Chicken wasn't nearly as available in Taiwan as, say pork, which is an essential ingredient in so many Taiwanese dishes. In fact, Bryan's dad talks about how in Taiwan, his family ate chicken only once a year as a treat, on his father's birthday.

For most of my life, I didn't love chicken because I also associated it with the dry and bland meat that you see in a lot of places. It wasn't until recently (for example, when I started playing around with sous vide), that I realized chicken can be just as juicy, tender, and flavorful as any other meat.

The other day, a Singaporean friend came over and we cooked up a bunch of Malaysian dishes from a new cookbook that I recently received. Hainanese Chicken Rice is one of Bryan's favorite Malaysian dishes, so I immediately opted to try that recipe.

What resulted was seriously one of the best (and simplest!) chicken dishes I have ever made.

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Taza Chocolate Factory Pop Up Restaurant

>>  Thursday, February 24, 2011

They've been one of the hottest food trends lately. Pop up restaurants, made popular by Celebrity Chef Ludo Lefebvre in Los Angeles, are starting to appear in other cities (like Boston!) as well. The concept is simple. A chef sets up a temporary restaurant in a vacant (often unusual) space for one night and serves a dinner there.

Usually, the dinners are prix fixe, reservations are required, and the menu is ever changing.  More often than not the meals are creative, upscale, and multi-course experiences.  In general, it's difficult to score a reservation. Seating is often communal, so be prepared to socialize, meet some new friends, and enjoy a different sort of dining experience.

People have dined in banks, sandwich shops, basements, and . . . in this case . . a chocolate factory!

I had the privilege of trying out my first pop-up experience at the Taza Chocolate Factory over Valentine's Day weekend.

I had a blast.

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Rao's (Caesar's Palace)

>>  Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Update: I have updated this post (originally posted January 2010) with some additional comments and photos from my second visit in January 2011. 

This post is part III of the larger series: Celebrity Chef Dining in Las Vegas.  Other posts in this series include Part I: Mario Batali's B&B Ristorante and Part II: Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill.

Is it worth the hype? Does it really have the same menu as the New York establishment? What’s the food like?

These were all questions running through my mind as I considered what our meal at Rao’s would be like.

Just a bit of background. The original Rao’s is a tiny Italian restaurant in New York City and has been there for decades. It is soooo popular at this point that it almost seems like you have to know someone to get a reservation.  The tiny restaurant, which only has ten seats, only seats one reservation per evening.  Worse yet, seven of the ten seats are already reserved for regulars, many who have been coming for decades.  This leaves exactly three seats a night.  No wonder it's virtually impossible to get a reservation.

Two years ago, Frank Pellegrino, co-owner of Rao's, decided to open a new outpost in Las Vegas at Caesar’s Palace. This second location is run by Frank Pellegrino Jr., the owner’s son and his wife Carla, who is the executive chef. Update: Carla Pellegrino left Rao's in November 2010 and will be starting her own new Naples themed  Italian restaurant called Bratalian in Henderson, NV sometime in March.

Supposedly the menu is very similar, with many of the most popular dishes from the NYC establishment also available in Las Vegas.

I was very, very curious.

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Mesa Grill (Bobby Flay)

>>  Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ancho Chili Duck

There is one place that Bryan always visits without fail whenever he travels to Las Vegas for business.

Yep, it's absolutely no surprise that this million mile world traveler, who loves hot chilies and Mexican food in general, gravitates towards Bobby Flay's bold flavors at Mesa Grill.

Mesa Grill earned a coveted Michelin Star in 2008, only to lose it by the 2009 edition. Michelin did not publish a Las Vegas Guide in 2010, so we won't know until 2011 whether Bobby Flay will get that star back.

This doesn't appear to have affected business at all. Mesa Grill is still one of the most popular destinations inside Caesars Palace. Its combination of excellent food, casual atmosphere, and reasonable prices (by Vegas standards), seems to continue bringing people back for more.

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RM Seafood (Rick Moonen)

>>  Monday, February 21, 2011

RM Seafood
According to Rick Moonen, founder of RM Seafood, these five fish will be extinct by 2048 if we don't change what we're doing now:

Salmon  *  Tuna  *  Cod  *  Snapper  * Bass

Rick is a huge proponent of sustainable fishing, and his restaurant is a living example of a place that aims to practice what it preaches. Rick believe that most Americans tend to gravitate towards what he calls "The Big Five," (the five fish types listed above) thus contributing to the depletion of these fish in the oceans.

Rick Moonen's goal is to give these Big Five fish "a break." He has added lesser known fish to his restaurant's menu in an effort to show diners that these fish taste good too.

Rick is not only a proponent of sustainable fishing, of course. He's also a very well known chef. Rick was a finalist in last season's Top Chef Masters. He also trained at several New York restaurants, including Le Cirque, La Côte Basque, and Oceana, before opening RM on his own in New York.

In 2005, he was given an offer he could not refuse. Mandalay Bay had built a gorgeous 7 million dollar restaurant space and they asked if he wanted to "slap his name on it."

Not wanting to destroy his reputation with a mediocre second-class imitation of his NYC restaurant in Vegas, he instead decided to close his New York restaurant, pack his bags, and move to Las Vegas to run RM Seafood full time.

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Bouchon Bistro

>>  Friday, February 18, 2011

I'm a pretty big fan of Thomas Keller.

If you just look at my restaurant posts this past year, you'd think I was on some sort of subconscious mission to try every single Thomas Keller restaurant in America. I mean, between The French Laundry, Per Se, Bouchon Bakery, and now Bouchon Bistro, I'm pretty darn close. All I have left is that famous fried chicken at Ad Hoc. Heck, I've even cooked from several of his cookbooks, including a multi-course meal made completely with sous vide, and of course my beloved TKOs.

Bouchon Bistro is clearly very different from The French Laundry and Per Se, which are extremely upscale restaurants with three Michelin stars each. Thomas Keller decided to open the more casual Bouchon Bistro because he wanted to capture the essence of the amazing bistros he enjoyed while traveling in France. These were typically small, intimate family-owned venues where the husband cooked in the back while the wife managed the front of the house. He wanted Bouchon Bistro to be "a place where people come to relax, talk, and to eat. A kind of home."

I'll agree that Bouchon Bistro is a great place to relax. Though it hardly has the feel of a small, family-owned home, it retains the warmth and comfort of a traditional French bistro. Situated on the 10th floor in a slightly hard-to-find part of the Venetian, Bouchon takes the classic French bistro and nudges it up just a bit with that Thomas Keller flair.

Case in point: the moment you sit down, you are greeted with beautiful artisanal baguettes (strewn across the table!), fresh butter, and pistachios!

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Bouchon Bakery (Las Vegas)

>>  Thursday, February 17, 2011

It's almost a ritual now.
Whenever I'm in a city with a Bouchon (and yes, with this one, I've been to all three), I never cease to stop by and pick up a sweet little snack. It's hard to pick one favorite (virtually everything I've tried there has been absolutely delectable), but I usually get a TKO (Thomas Keller Oreo) or a macaron, though I also love their bouchons and chocolate croissants.

The one in Las Vegas is inside the Venetian. Yes, this is the same casino that has the replica St. Mark's Square, a river inside, and the singing gondola rides. It's quite a sight.

The Bouchon Bakery is actually separate from all those fun things, and instead is located right next to the Phantom of the Opera theater entrance.

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Beijing Noodle No. 9

>>  Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Beijing Noodle No. 9

This is something you don't see everyday.

If you look really closely, you'll see a noodle master behind the counter tossing and whirling a huge rope of dough.*

Sure, if you're in China and you explicitly seek it out, you can find traditional Beijing-style hand-pulled noodles in a number of locations. In the US, however, it's a bit of a lost art. Pulling and stretching noodle dough requires a ton of physical strength and stamina.  Furthermore, it takes months of training before a chef can consistently and accurately pull out perfectly formed noodles for customers.

As a result, it's virtually impossible to see this type of food in the US unless if you are in New York, LA, or . . . . Las Vegas?

Welcome to Beijing Noodle No. 9, one of the newer additions to the Caesars Palace Empire here in the middle of the Strip.

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Jean-Philippe Pâtisserie

>>  Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Is that really a 27-foot tall chocolate fountain?

On the first floor of the Bellagio inside Jean-Philippe Pâtisserie you'll find the world's largest chocolate fountain. This crazy, fully functional fountain pushes through 2100 lbs of chocolate at a rate of 120 quarts a minute. We sort of stumbled upon this place for lunch one day, and what wonderful, serendipitous treat it became!

Who is Jean-Phillipe? Jean-Philippe Maury is the Executive Pastry Chef for the Bellagio. He oversees a team of seventy people who produce over 15,000 pastries a day for all the restaurants and shops inside the Bellagio. He has won numerous awards, including Best Pastry Chef in France in 1997.

Jean-Philippe's lifelong dream?  "Open a French patisserie in the United States with an opulence never before seen."

I have to say, he may just have reached that goal.

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China Poblano

>>  Monday, February 14, 2011

Beef tendon Kumamoto oyster tacos with Szechuan pepper corn sauce? Fried potatoes with a choice of mole poblano or XO sauce?

José Andrés' newest venture in the swanky new Cosmopolitan hotel on the Strip in Las Vegas pairs casual Chinese and Mexican food together in one trendy location. The vibe inside is interesting. Chow down on casual dim sum / tapas all while gazing at Chinese doll statues, a slideshow montage of Chairman Mao and the like, and an open kitchen with cooks diligently churning out tortillas, hand-pulled noodles, and other little "eats."

To quote Mr. Andrés himself, it's a “grand, beautiful, sexy fantasy.”

The two cuisines don't really mix, save for the one or two dishes that I've mentioned above. In fact, the kitchens are separated, with two distinct take-out counters under matching neon signs ostentatiously screaming "CHINESE FOOD" and "MEXICAN FOOD."

José Andrés was originally tasked with the job of creating a Chinese restaurant for this new hotel. Not being comfortable with the cuisine, he instead opted to do a mix - half Chinese and half Mexican (the cuisine with which he is most familiar and for which he is most well-known).

Odd concept, to say the least, but José Andrés argues that, at the end of the day, the two cuisines are not too different. Really, isn't a Peking duck wrap basically a Mexican soft taco with a few twists?

We'd have to try it for ourselves to see.

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Eating Las Vegas + Giveaway!

>>  Friday, February 11, 2011

January is always a crazy time for us.

Having barely recovered from holiday eating in both California and Ohio, we annually make our way to Las Vegas to attend the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Of course, there's so much good food in Vegas, the holiday binging just gets extended. Any possible semblance of New Years resolutions fly out the window. Ha ha, that's why it's nice to have Chinese New Year shortly following in February, sort of a second chance!

This year we spent an entire week in Vegas, thanks to generous food-loving friends who let us stay in their timeshare with them. On the dining front, we revisited some old favorites as well as try several new places. I will be highlighting these excursions in detail this coming week in the "Eating Las Vegas" series.

Can you guess where we went? I'll give you some clues.

Just to sweeten the deal, I'll do a drawing to give away one $25 Chefs Catalog gift card. 

Ways to enter the Giveaway: (deadline - Wednesday, February 16. 2011)
1. Leave a comment guessing which restaurants are pictured below. (Bonus extra 4 entries (total of 5 entries in the drawing) if you're the first person to get all of them right)

2. If you're not familiar with Las Vegas restaurants, leave a comment telling me which photo is your favorite and why.

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>>  Thursday, February 10, 2011

It was, at most, twenty degrees outside. Weeks of continuous snowstorms had created huge mounds of snow that nearly walled off area businesses from view. The ground was icy; parking was impossible to find (darn snow piles taking all the spots!); and traffic was horrendous.

It is from this hostile, wind-whipping environment that we entered the warm and inviting oasis of Bondir, one of the newest restaurants to open in Cambridge. This was unquestionably one of the nicest, coziest spaces I had ever seen.

The moment you enter, a huge fireplace greets you, roaring and crackling away. The radiating warmth invites you to sit down, take a deep breath, and relax. Comfortable benches and cushions line the open waiting area. A woman sits in the corner - a glass of wine in one hand, a book in another.

Alas, we aren't here just for drinks, so we pull ourselves away from the roaring fireplace and settle into one of the 22 seats in this tiny restaurant.

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Giveaway Winners! {Seamless Web}

>>  Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Il Panino Express

Hope you all had a wonderful weekend!

Snow piles have shrunk in Boston just a tiny bit as the rain over the weekend melted some of them down. I've actually had a chance to go out for a run! There are icy patches and puddles here and there, but it's actually not too bad! A friend of mine is trying to convince me to run a half marathon with her. The furthest I've ever run is a half marathon relay (ha ha, which means you run half of a half marathon), but I might just take on the challenge and take her up on this offer!

Using random.org, I picked two winners to receive Seamlessweb $25 certificates:

Cavitybuster said
"in college, my favorite was the frozen coffee drink from espresso royale on comm ave. i like any type of hot or iced coffee w/cream & sugar."

Diana said
"So far, I like the Intelligentsia beans used at Bloc 11. It's also a very nice place on a sunny day was good music."

Please e-mail me at jen{at}tinyurbankitchen{dot}com to claim your certificates!

Snow Totoro enjoying our last snow storm

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9th Annual S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition - New England Regionals

>>  Saturday, February 05, 2011

Last night, for the second time in my life, I got to witness something extraordinary.

Eight young culinary students, top students at their own respective schools, came together to compete for the coveted prize of New England Regionals winner at the 9th Annual S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition.

Stakes were huge. The winner would be flown to Napa Valley to represents New England in the Nationals Competition in March. Winner of the Nationals Competition gets $20,000 along with a one year paid apprenticeship from one of the chef judges.

Competitors had only 2 hours to prepare and plate a final dish for the judges to try. The creativity and skills of these young chefs does not cease to amaze me. At an age where most students are trying to figure out how to boil pasta and live on their own, these students are already churning out sous vide meats, homemade gnocchi, and foams. Incredible.

Join with me as I take you on a brief tour of all the dishes that were made and a description of the night's activities, including a brief interview with the winner. :)

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Happy Chinese New Year! China Series Recap

>>  Thursday, February 03, 2011

Great Wall of China

Welcome to the year of the rabbit!

We in Boston are still digging ourselves out of mountains of snow that fell on us the last two days. However, things are definitely looking up. The sun is out today, the snow is melting, and Punxsutawney Phil didn't see his shadow yesterday! Maybe hopes for an early spring??

As many of you are aware, I have been running a pretty extensive China Series detailing my (two!) recent trips to China this past fall (both during Project Food Blog, no less!). It's taken quite a bit of time to write up all the posts, but I'm nearing the finish line. My last post? A hand-pulled noodle class that I took in Beijing! That particular post is taking a bit longer because I have some neat video footage from the class that I want to put together. [Update - the post is here!]

Stay tuned for that final post to round out this series!

Meanwhile, I've compiled the rest of the posts together in one photo montage. Peruse and enjoy!

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Shaanxi Cuisine [Xi'an and the Terra Cotta Warriors]

>>  Tuesday, February 01, 2011

For thousands of years, the Chinese knew the legend of Qin Shihuang, the first emperor of China. Emperor Qin ascended to the throne at the young age of 13. Obsessed with wanting to live forever, he began constructing his tomb soon afterwards. Qin wanted to be surrounded by the largest and strongest army possible in afterlife. According to Sima Qian, a well known historian who lived about a century after Emperor Qin (circa 100 B.C.), it took nearly 700,000 men over three decades to build this massive army.

Chinese children grew up hearing stories about a magnificent tomb buried underground filled with thousands of life-sized terra cotta soldiers, precious jewels, and magical rivers.

Imagine the shock and awe when, in 1974, a poor farmer hit upon this tomb while digging for water. For the first time in history, the legend had been validated.

The army was real and incredibly well preserved.

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There's No Such Thing as a Free Lunch - or Is There? (GIVEAWAY)

Genki Ya Tuna Nigiri
Organic Sushi from Genki-Ya

Free coffee, free lunch.

Remember back in the days of college (ha ha, maybe many of you are still in college!),  when any sort of free food would cause stampedes of people, no matter how good or bad the food was?

When I was at MIT one year, they had this thing called the Infinite Buffet. Sort of a play on the Infinite Corridor at MIT (the 2nd longest corridor in the world after the one at the Pentagon), there were promises of food. Lines and lines of endless free food. Infinite amounts of food. A dream for any college student.

Well, it turned out to be disaster, (for me at least). The crowds were insane - seriously, mobs of people shoving their way forward, trying to get at least a bite of the free buffet food. Alas, there really wasn't enough food, and many of us (me included), left basically empty-handed.

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