Halloween in Japan

>>  Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Untitled Happy Halloween!

I just returned from Tokyo (thankfully right before Hurricane Sandy hit), and was floored by how much they have embraced Halloween. From what I've heard, this is a more recent phenomenon.

One thing that surprised me the most was how many high end bakeries have gone crazy with the Halloween theme. It's something you see less of here in America.

Enjoy some fun photos from my exploration of the high end bakeries at the "depa-chika" (department store basement food halls) at Isetan in Shinjuku, a vibrant area of Tokyo.   Untitled
Yes, that's a $10 cookie (exchange rates are horrible right now - the US dollar is so weak abroad!)
These have got to be the most elegant witch hats I've ever seen.Untitled
Custards, called "pudin" in Japanese, are immensely popular in Japan. Right now pumpkin flavored puddings are all the rage.
This one particular "pudin" shop brings in custards from all over Japan.
Fall foliage hits a bit later in Japan, so it was just starting to turn when I was there. I'm sure it will be gorgeous in a couple weeks.
Not exactly pumpkins, but I thought these were gorgeous and a nice way to end this post with a teaser to one of the most incredible dessert carts I encountered in a Japanese restaurant. I'll post a proper teaser for Japan next week. For now, enjoy the Halloween sweets, and happy trick-or-treating!

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Toasted Hobnob Ice Cream Sandwiches

>>  Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What a surreal weekend.

Bryan and I had basically just stepped off the plane, back from a trip to Japan, when we started hearing about the crazy, unprecedented "monster" storm that was headed our way. We were advised to stock up on food, water, batteries, and first aid kits. People had learned (the hard way) during Hurricane Irene that it was possible to be out of power for days on end.

My refrigerator was empty, having been completely cleaned out in anticipation of my trip to Japan.
Bleary-eyed and jet-lagged, I jostled with the insane crowds at Trader Joe's on Sunday to pick at whatever was left in the store. For some odd reason, Bryan had to wait in almost equally long lines at Microcenter. Were people stocking up on computer games? Hard drives and motherboards?? OK, maybe flashlights and batteries. 

Monday we hunkered down and stayed at home, bracing ourselves for the rain and heavy winds that would come. We spent the day on our computers, working. As the storm built in intensity, we stared out the window, in awe (and nervousness!), as we watched large trees sway around in the strong gusts of wind.

We ate simply. Pasta Carbonara for lunch and Baja style fish tacos for dinner.

As the winds began dying down around 9PM, we tore our eyes away from the Weather Channel to enjoy a nice, relaxing dessert.

A sigh of relief. No loss of power. No floods in the basement.

To celebrate, we munched on homemade Hobnob ice cream sandwiches.

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>>  Friday, October 26, 2012

Ask anyone to name the best chefs in Boston, and undoubted you'll hear Barbara Lynch's name in the mix. After all, this "rags-to-riches" local Bostonian female chef has climbed through so much to get to where she is today.

Her achievements are numerous. She and her restaurants have won multiple James Beard Awards over the years. Her highest-end restaurant, Menton  is the first (and only) restaurant in Boston to receive the prestigious Grand Chef Relais & Châteaux award. No. 9 Park  her original flagship restaurant, is still is one of the most highly regarded restaurants in Boston today.

But no one eats at these restaurants on a daily basis. These are places that are reserved from special occasions, celebrations, and expense account dinners.

That's the beauty of Sportello, Chef Lynch's neighborhood answer for the local Bostonian looking for excellent, Italian food in a casual yet trendy atmosphere.

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Tiny Urban Kitchen on Kitchen Nightmares?

>>  Wednesday, October 24, 2012

This Friday at 8PM is the premier of Gordon Ramsey's reality drama "Kitchen Nightmares" on FOX.  Although I normally never talk about TV on this blog (in fact, I hardly ever watch TV, too busy with all my other activities!), I will most definitely be tuning into this show on Friday.


Well, I was there.

That's right.  This past summer, Chef Ramsey decided to do his magic on a struggling Italian restaurant in Boston's North End. The sequence of events surrounding this restaurant's "make-over" will span two weeks, and seems to promise all the drama that typically accompanies Ramsey's shows (yelling, crying, more yelling . . etc.)
I was invited to attend the re-launch dinner while it was being filmed in Boston.  Along with a few friends, I had dinner on the very first relaunch night at La Galleria 33. It was a bit surreal, surrounded by endless cameramen, harried staff, and Chef Ramsey himself.

I'll write a more detailed post about the entire experience a little later. For now, I just wanted to let you know in case you wanted to tune in.

There's no guarantee I'll be on the show. Like with most shows, I "signed my life away" on those waiver forms essentially letting them do whatever they want with the footage that they took.

I'm a bit nervous about how they'll portray everything, but I promise that my follow up post will be a completely honest rendition of what I thought the evening was like.

Photos courtesy of FOX

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Jeni's Inspired Vanilla Ice Cream

>>  Sunday, October 21, 2012

I love ice cream.

It's one of my all time favorite foods and something I could eat at every meal (if only it were as healthy as kale or broccoli). Yes, I know it's all my dad's fault, but that doesn't make me crave it any less.

And I'm from Ohio. And my name's Jennifer.

It's no surprise that when I found out about Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream from Ohio (of all places!) whose immense popularity seemed to be sweeping the press and blogosphere by waves, I decided I absolutely had to try it (I mean, seriously, how often does my beloved home state get this kind of praise from the food community?).

But then, it's not like I can ask my mom to bring me ice cream from Ohio when she visits. And I usually only go back to Ohio during the holidays, so it means waiting months before trying it. That is, until Formaggio Kitchen started carrying it in their stores.

You can guess what I did next.

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Hungry Mother

>>  Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Why don't I go to Hungry Mother more often?

We are spontaneous diners who don't plan ahead. As many unlucky diners have learned throughout the years, not planning ahead = not dining at Hungry Mother.

I have found Hungry Mother (together with the likes of Bondir, The Helmand, and Craigie on Main), to be one of the most difficult reservations to get in Cambridge at the last minute.

It's not hard to see why. Their prices are reasonable and the food is phenomenal. It's unusual that I'll write about a restaurant three times on this blog, but I think it's warranted here. After all, the first post had no pictures (I know, crazy huh? Early days of the blog!) and the second post was just a recipe for one of their dishes. So now (finally!) for the first time, I have a proper write-up full of mouthwatering photos as well as my thoughts about the experience.

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Ding Tai Fung (Bellevue)

>>  Monday, October 15, 2012

This is the first post in the Summer in the Pacific Northwest Series, which is sort of being run concurrently with the Oh Canada Series (partly due to some overlap).

I guess you could say I'm on a mission.

It's not a difficult mission, really. I'm just trying to eat at every Din Tai Fung in the world, that's all. I've made reasonably progress to date. I visited the original one in Taipei, of course, as well as the one in Los Angeles opened by the family's son. There are franchises around the world, and I've gone to both the ones in Beijing and Shanghai. Heck, I've even been tricked and gone to a knock-off one in Toronto.

And then they finally decided to open a second location in the U.S. I prayed that they would choose the East Coast (why not? There is already so much good Chinese food out west!). Alas, they decided to open in Bellevue, just outside of Seattle.

Disheartened, I really had no idea when I would be able to go.

As it turned out, Bryan's cousin decided to get married in Seattle. Better yet, his aunt (with whom we stayed) actually lives in Bellevue.

It's not hard to guess where I wanted to go for dinner.

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Involtini di Prosciutto e Provolone al Forno

>>  Friday, October 12, 2012

Reverse engineering is one of those skills that some people are just born with . . .

These people can taste something at a restaurant, immediately identify key ingredients, and then recreate a pretty good mock-up at home. If I could do that, we wouldn't be eating out nearly as much.

Ha ha, in fact, Bryan once said to me, "if you could cook like Jody Adams, I'd be happy to eat at home everyday."

Alas, I am far far away from being anywhere close to having the cooking savviness that many of our local chefs possess. However, once in a blue moon, I do succeed in recreating some easy dishes inspired by local restaurants.

Here's a delicious yet über simple appetizer dish we made the other day. It's inspired by one of Bryan's favorite appetizers from Monica's (both the Trattoria and the Vinoteca) in the North End. It's funny, if you look at both posts, you'll notice Bryan ordered it both times - he likes it that much.

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New York Michelin Stars 2013

>>  Thursday, October 11, 2012

Untitled "Foie Gras" at Eleven Madison Park

It's official! The 2013 Michelin guide for New York City has just been released.

The Michelin Guide is a guide book published by Michelin (yes, the tire company) that reviews and rates outstanding restaurants around the world. It originated from France in 1900 and was pretty European-centric until 2005, when it published its first guide for the US (New York City, to be more specific). Since then, it has published guides in many cities, including Tokyo, San Francisco, Chicago, and Las Vegas.

According to the Michelin Guide, one star represents a restaurant that is "very good cuisine in its category".  Two-stars mean "excellent cuisine, worth a detour", and three stars are given to restaurants offering "exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey". 
 Fried Asparagus with black truffle
 Cherry Belle Radishes and Miner’s Lettuce with Black Winter Truffle Mayonnaise at Per Se

There are some notable changes. Several newcomers came onto the list, such as two-star Atera and the following one-star places:  Blanca, Cafe China, The Nomad, Torrisi Italian Specialties, Lan Sheng, and Hakkasan.

I'm thrilled there are three Chinese restaurants on this list. Hakkasan, a high-end modern Chinese restaurant, is originally from London and hails from the creator of the Wagamama chain (also from London). Cafe China and Lan Sheng are both Sichuan restaurants in Midtown. Out of all the newcomers, Torrisi Italian Specialties is the only one I've tried, and I can definitely attest that the food there is excellent.
Mosaic of Capon, Foie Gras, and Celery Root at Daniel

In terms of changes, the original chef of the shojin (temple) cuisine restaurant, Kajitsu, had left earlier this year. We visited Kajitsu right when the new chef had begun. Although it was a great dinner, we weren't blown away with the meal as much as we had hoped. It seems like the Michelin reviewers felt the same way, dropping it from a 2-star restaurant to a 1-star restaurant.

The three-star champions remain the same as last year.  Out of all those places, Daniel is my favorite in terms of overall experience (the service, food, and ambiance were all just perfect), while Le Bernardin is still my favorite when it comes to the food (love, love, love Eric Ripert's command of seafood).

Three Stars

Per Se
Le Bernardin
Eleven Madison Park
Jean Georges
Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare
Uni + Lardon at Marea

Two Stars

Gordon Ramsey at The London
Momofuku Ko

The two star list is still pretty exclusive (such a far cry from Tokyo, which currently has fifty-seven two-star restaurants). I love the food at Marea, although I found the total experience at Momofuku Ko to be more unique, surprising, and overall more interesting and fun. It's not a surprise that a reservation is so difficult to procure.

One Star

Ai Fiori
Tasting Menu
Parallel Tasting at Aureole in Las Vegas (also 1 star)

Aureole [Vegas Aureole post]
A Voce Columbus
A Voce Madison
Blue Hill
The Breslin
Cafe Boulud
Café China
Casa Mono
Danny Brown Wine Bar & Kitchen

Bryan has eaten at way more of these 1-star establishments than I have. I know that he prefers Batali and Bastianich's B&B Ristorante to their 1-star New York establishment, Del Posto.  Neither Bryan or I  was particularly impressed with Aureole when we tried it in Vegas (even though it's also rated a 1-star there).

Del Posto
15 East
Gotham Bar and Grill
Gramercy Tavern
Jewel Bako
Somen noodles with Summer Cypress at Kajitsu (dropped from 2 stars to 1 star)

Kyo Ya
Lan Sheng
Minetta Tavern
The Modern
The Nomad

As I mentioned earlier, I guess I've only had the "1-star" version of Kajitsu because I tried it right when the new chef began. The experience was really interesting and the variety of plants and other ingredients was most definitely exotic. The entire meal just did not blow me away like I had hoped. Perhaps I need to visit Kyoto someday to get the true kaiseki or shojin ryori experience.

Porterhouse for two at Peter Luger

 Peter Luger
Picholine - closed
Rouge Tomate
Spotted Pig
Sushi Azabu
Sushi of Gari
Tamarind Tribeca
Tori Shin

Peter Luger must be one of the few cash-only places on this list (interestingly, contrast that with Japan, where it's not unusual for 3-star Michelin establishments to ask that their $500+ meals be paid by cash). Of course, the steak at Peter Luger is fantastic and probably worth all that hassle (though Carnevino in Vegas is still our all-time favorite steak place),
roe and smoked fish
Trout Roe and Smoked Fish at Torrisi Italian Specialties (newly added to the list)

Torrisi Italian Specialties
WD-50 [Wylie Dufresne]

We loved our meal at Torrisi Italian Specialties, and we haven't even had their famous 20-course dinner tasting. The lunch was excellent, though we still like Il Buco Alimentari's pasta a bit better, and (of course), nothing beats Rome and our favorite place there.

Although the Michelin Guide may not catch every great little hidden restaurant in a city, it does a good job of at least choosing excellent restaurants to feature. I've never had a bad meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant, and in general, I agree with their rankings. 3-star establishment tend to be better than 2-stars, which are better than 1-stars.
Kampachi Tartare from Le Bernardin

However, I wouldn't just "Michelin-shop" when choosing where to eat in a new city. There are a ton of fantastic restaurants out there that have not been recognized by Michelin.  Heck, entire cities (Boston included!) have never been reviewed by the Guide. In general, it takes a lot more comprehensive research (my favorites are Chowhound boards, local newspaper reviews, local blogs, and confirmation by other "top restaurant" lists) to really get a complete picture of any one city.

Nevertheless, the Michelin Guide works great, especially if you're short on time (hello business traveler like Bryan!). Chances are, you'll enjoy an excellent meal if you eat at any establishment recommended by the Guide.

A note from our sponsors:
Of course it's fun to dine out in New York, but sometimes you'd prefer to have the food brought to you. Consider catering NYC for a change.

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Sunday Night Suppers via Formaggio Kitchen

>>  Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I love Sunday suppers.

Sunday is the day when you can spend a little extra time preparing for that fun, relaxing dinner. Instead of quickly trying to churn out a dinner in 30 minutes after a long, hard day at work, you have the whole afternoon to shop, prep, and cook that elaborate (or just time consuming) meal.

Oddly enough, I find that the type of dinner I enjoy most on a Sunday evening is actually not that complicated.

Instead, it involves visiting one of my favorite neighborhood markets, Formaggio Kitchen, and just buying whatever catches my eye. Formaggio Kitchen offers tons of fun eye candy for food lovers, but be forewarned! You could easily spend hours (and many, many dollars if you're not careful!) perusing their aisles filled with all sorts of carefully curated, artisanal products.

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Uni Sashimi Bar

>>  Friday, October 05, 2012

Just a little over a month ago I celebrated my 11th wedding anniversary.

I guess I never really wrote about our celebratory dinner.

As you can see, I'm just a tad back-logged on my posts. That's what happens when you travel over the summer, I guess. You eat out more when you're on a trip (like every meal), and you have less time to blog.

So the posts (or, more accurately, the photos) pile up.

And then there are the weeks, like this past week, where I was inundated with work (my other job, as a lawyer). I almost never do this, but last week I worked into the wee hours of the morning multiple nights in a row. I was exhausted, severely sleep-deprived, and really unaware of anything else that was going on around me. Thankfully, my mom was in town and cooked me lots of yummy home-cooked Chinese food to sustain me that week.

 I'm finally back.

Back to share with you about a really, really great meal I had last month.  Perhaps it was because it was our anniversary and I was more relaxed. Or perhaps it was because of the excellent service we got at Uni. Or perhaps (more likely), the food is just exceptional here, and that really makes a difference.

Whatever it was, I really enjoyed our special (yet low-key) omakase ("Chef's Choice tasting menu) dinner at Uni Sashimi Bar.

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Summer in the Pacific Northwest

>>  Thursday, October 04, 2012

Stanley Park, Vancouver

The Pacific Northwest is a gorgeous place to visit in the summer. The rain that they get all throughout the rest of the year produces gorgeous, verdant hills that are absolutely breathtaking.

From a food perspective, they have access to some of the freshest produce around.

Last summer, I had a wonderful opportunity to visit this unique region with Bryan’s family. We spent a few days in Seattle (to attend a wedding), before heading up north to Vancouver and Victoria.

Here’s a sneak peak at some of the food we enjoyed on this trip, some of which overlaps with the Oh Canada series. Stay tuned for more detailed posts on some of these places!

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"Fake" Ding Tai Fung (Toronto)

>>  Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Ding Tai Fung Toronto
This is the fifth post in the Oh Canada series, summarizing some of the great eats I had when visiting various Canadian cities this past year. We're moving from Montreal onto Toronto now! Other posts in this series (Montreal posts) include St. Viateur BagelsLe BremnerSchartz's Smoked Meats, and Joe Beef.

I was most definitely totally fooled.

I mean, I'd vaguely heard about this happening. My mom has told me anecdotal stories about my Taiwanese relatives popping into Din Tai Fung in other countries (was it Macau, or maybe some small city in China?), only to be turned off by the clear subpar quality of the food - an obvious knock-off.

But for some reason, I didn't think it would happen in North America, a place where trademarks are typically enforced rather strongly.

I had heard there was a Din Tai Fung in Toronto, so it was actually my idea to get everyone to go there. You know me, trying to hit as many Din Tai Fungs as possible.

It wasn't until after I came back to the US, and after some online research, that I confirmed that I had indeed eaten at a fake Ding Tai Fung.

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Worlds of Flavor: Persian Saffron Rice

>>  Monday, October 01, 2012

Persian Saffron Rice "Cake"
One thing I like about having this blog is that it forces me to constantly think about creating new content. Don't continue cooking the same old tried-and-true recipes. Otherwise, I'll have nothing to write about here.

Of course, when times get busy (as they have been lately), it's easy to get lazy and rely upon those tried-and-true favorites. I cannot tell you how many times I've made Baja fish tacos, Taiwanese grilled corn, or the simple roasted beet salad this past summer. One of Bryan's recent favorites that we've made numerous times? Pasta Carbonara.

I must confess I was hoping for an "easy" project when I got an offer from Dailybuzz Food to sample a product from RiceSelect and write a "Worlds of Flavor" blog post about the dinner.

I thought, "rice will be easy! There will be so many different kinds of Chinese things I can make."

The catch? They wouldn't tell us what kind of rice we'd get.

As luck would have it, they sent me brown basmati rice - so very, very, un-Chinese. Completely unfamiliar with this type of rice (I don't think I've ever cooked basmati rice before), I had to do a bit of research.

I finally settled upon trying to make Chelow Ba Polow Paz, or Persian Saffron Rice, an intensely fragrant rice with a gorgeous crispy crust.

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