Le Cirque (Bellagio)

>>  Wednesday, February 27, 2013

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This is the first post in the Winter in Las Vegas series.

Out of all the lavish and extravagant things to be had in Las Vegas, my absolute favorite thing is actually completely free.

I'll never lose my fascination with the magical fountains in front of the Bellagio. This dramatic 5-minute long show - where water dances in perfect time to the ever-changing music - never ceases to capture me. I can sit all night and stare at the fountains - song after song after song.
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In fact, the one time Bryan and I got to stay in a fountain-facing room at the Bellagio (in the dead heat of the desert summer when rates were actually very reasonable), I just sat in our room and stared out the window for several hours, entranced by this captivating show.

There are just a few restaurants that are lucky enough to have that coveted fountain-facing real estate. I had visited one previously (and absolutely fell in love with sitting on the terrace there). This past trip, I got the chance to visit another fountain facing restaurant: the whimsical and playful Le Cirque.

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Nobu Miso Black Cod

>>  Monday, February 25, 2013

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There are certain dishes that are foolproof and just right. These dish have that magical combination of ingredients that really don't need to be (and arguable can't) be improved. They are already perfect. I believe this Nobu black cod recipe just might be one of them.

I saw "sablefish" in the frozen section of Trader Joe's the other day. Sablefish (also called "black cod" or "butterfish"), is a buttery, high fat white-fleshed fish that can be found in the Pacific Ocean, both near Alaska and also the US Pacific Northwest.

Sablefish is very nutritious, having about the same amount of omega-3 fatty acids as salmon. It's a rich, fatty fish which seems to "melt in your mouth" like butter, thus the nickname "butterfish."

I love this simple yet super flavorful recipe from Nobu's cookbook. This rich fish picks up tons of umami from the magical combination of miso, sake, and mirin. It's foolproof, super easy, and tastes fantastic every single time.

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Bon Me (Cambridge)

>>  Friday, February 22, 2013

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Ever find yourself craving a Vietnamese sandwich? Or maybe a tea egg or edamame in the middle of the work day?

I used to work right in One Kendall Square in Cambridge, and I would have loved to have something like that just downstairs from my lab. It's too bad I don't work in the area anymore, because Bon Me, the popular Asian food truck, has opened up its first brick & mortar location right in One Kendall Square.

Bon Me originally started out as a food truck in Boston.  Husband and wife team Patrick Lynch and Alison ("Ali") Fong entered the City of Boston's Food Truck Contest on a whim in 2010 and won. Soon afterward, they opened their first food truck.
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Here it is parked right at the Rose Kennedy Greenway (dreaming back to warmer times!). There are now two trucks (a blue one and a yellow one), and you can find them throughout Boston, such as at BU East on Commonwealth Avenue, SOWA outdoor market, and the Seaport area.

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A Winter in Vegas

>>  Wednesday, February 20, 2013

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It's become a given at this point.

Every January Bryan and I pack our bags and head out to sunny Las Vegas in the middle of Boston's frigid winter. Usually, it's a welcomed relief from the cold East coast weather. This year, oddly enough, Las Vegas got a horrible cold spell, and, I kid you not, it was warmer in Cambridge than in Las Vegas on the day I flew back.

Despite the cold front that had attacked Las Vegas, we still had a great time. We spent our days checking out the Consumer Electronic Show (cool new TVs, tablets, 3D printers, and even a toy you control with your brain waves!). At night, we visited the incredible restaurants in Las Vegas.
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They had on display my new travel-sized food camera, broken down into its parts!
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 Here's a peek at some of the places we visited!

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The Dining Alternative

>>  Tuesday, February 19, 2013

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Supper Club? Not exactly . . . way too refined for that.

Underground restaurant? Hmmm, maybe a bit closer.

Bryan and I had a unique opportunity to enjoy a delightful evening at the home of Chef Peter Ungár and his wife, Ginhee. This wasn't just an ordinary dinner party. Instead, Chef Ungár is a private chef with a pretty impressive background. He recently returned from Paris, where he worked for a year as a poissonnier at the two-star Michelin restaurant Le Grand Véfour.

Chef Ungár's past experience includes spending several years in Boston with the Four Seasons, gaining experience at restaurants such as Aujourd'hui and The Bristol Lounge. More recently, he has worked as a private chef for his own company, The Dining Alternative, which includes these 9-course "Chef's Table" dinners at his home.

One a chilly January evening, Bryan and I receive an email with a location in Somerville and a time of arrival.

It is a bit unnerving, but we drive up to the house, ring the doorbell, and enter Peter and Ginhee's warm and inviting home.

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Happy Valentine's Day! + Lamb Romantic Recipe Challenge

>>  Thursday, February 14, 2013

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I am one of ten bloggers competing in the American Lamb Board's Romantic Recipe Challenge. Though I've made several lamb dishes, my Lamb Loin with Chili, Mint, and Mustard Seed is the official entry. The winner gets a one year "Lamb of the Month" membership, which means a lot more posts about lamb on this blog if I win!

Anyway, I would love your support! Please click here to vote. Voting is open between February 14th - 28th.

In other news, it is Valentine's Day today. Frankly, it's been years since we've gone out to eat on Valentine's day. I've found that I prefer not to "fight the crowds" on that day. This year, I plan to  pick up some nice ingredients from a local gourmet market, cook, and just enjoy relaxing at home. Maybe we'll put some logs in the fireplace and just chill.

And dream about warmer days.

Just for fun, I'm including some photos from our trip to Australia back in November (yes, it was spring down under during that time). Now that we've finally finished the Japan travel series, we will be moving into a couple more travel series: An exploration "Down Under" and also a look at a few more awesome restaurants in Las Vegas.

Stay tuned!
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Riding Camels in the Outback in Uluru, Australia
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Diving (for the first time!) at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia
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Looks like Lord of the Rings! Visiting the forests on the Milford Track in New Zealand

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Rack of Lamb with Morels, Asparagus, and Mustard Seeds

>>  Wednesday, February 13, 2013

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Bryan loves rack of lamb but often avoids it because he hates getting his hands dirty. If we do end up ordering it at a nice restaurant, he eats as much as he can (with a fork and knife) and then hands me the bone, which I proceed to gnaw on quite happily.

After all, the meat next to the bone is the tastiest part, right?

This post is part 3 of the crazy lamb-centric meal that I created on Sunday night (right after our crazy snowstorm) in honor of Lamb Lover's Month in collaboration with the American Lamb Board. Other posts in this series include Lamb Loin with Chili, Mint, and Mustard Seed and Lamb Bolognese.
_DSC1025-2 Inspired mostly by Daniel Humm's preparation of lamb rack in his Eleven Madison Park cookbook, I decided to try adapting his gorgeous (insanely complicated) dish into something that a home cook a whip up in a couple hours for a nice, romantic dinner.

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Lamb Bolognese

_DSC1038I've been scared to make bolognese for a long time. Probably a couple years, in fact.

I'm one of those people that is strongly motivated by success. The ugly flip side of that is I'm strongly demotivated by failures. I still remember the first time I tried making bolognese. I had found this purportedly authentic recipe off of a food blog devoted to Italian food. I slaved over the sauce, letting it stew for hours all afternoon. I followed the supposed "rules" of a traditional bolognese - "no tomatoes!" "No herbs!".

After hours of slaving away in the kitchen, I invited Bryan to join me in partaking in my creation.

"It's sort of bland. It's lacking that depth of flavor."

I was so disheartened, I didn't make bolognese for almost three years . . . . until now.

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Lamb Loin with Chili, Mint, and Mustard Seed

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I'm sure most people's culinary worlds expand after marriage.

After all, it's unusual for two people to have exactly the same palate, upbringing, and preferences when it comes to food. Inevitably, your tongue will be opened to a wider variety of flavors when these two worlds collide.

Case in point: When Bryan and I first got married, I mostly cooked Chinese food, with a bent towards Taiwanese cuisine. It was the food I grew up eating, and I was comfortable cooking it. As time has gone by, in an effort cater to Bryan's palate, I've moved towards cooking a broader range of food, such as trying to perfect his favorite pasta dishes, making way more steak than I ever would have on my own, and . . . . learning how to cook lamb.

I never really liked lamb because I've always found it to be a bit too gamey. However, for the sake of my husband, I've been dabbling in trying to learn more about how to prepare perfect lamb. In honor of Lamb Lover's Month in partnership with the American Lamb Board, I had the opportunity to explored several lamb dishes this weekend. Bryan was thrilled to eat so much lamb while enjoying some of his favorite bottles of red wine at home.

Me? I'm excited to continue expanding my repertoire of dishes I can make.

And maybe, just maybe, I am finally starting to enjoy lamb.

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Bondir (revisited)

>>  Tuesday, February 12, 2013

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It's a cold, cold snowy night. Where shall I go for dinner?

2012 was an unusual winter, to say the least. It was really the first winter in my life where snow did not stick around at all the entire winter. It was our first winter in our new home, and the lack of snow gently eased us into the life of "homeownership".

This year is quite different. All of a sudden I'm dreaming of warm, cozy spaces, crackling fires in brick fireplaces, and hearty, soul-satisfying food. Of course, when I think fireplace, I think of Bondir.

I can't believe it's been this long since I've visited Bondir. It's not for lack of trying, that's for sure. It's seems virtually impossible to book a last minute reservation at this tiny, intimate restaurant in Cambridge. Since I lasted visited, Bon Appetit Magazine crowned Bondir as one of the ten best new restaurants of 2011. There's a reason why it's hard to get a seat here.

So over time, I lost the will to try, and (sadly) it sort of fell off my radar screen.
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A couple weeks ago, a local Cambridge start-up called Nara contacted me about trying their new restaurant recommendation mobile app. Now, I get contacted about trying new food type apps all the time, and there's no way I have time to really play with each and every single one. So I have to choose. For some reason, Nara seemed a bit different for two reasons. One, it was started by MIT folks (my alma mater!) who are applying their proprietary algorithms to predict and learn which restaurants you will like - sort of like a Pandora for food. Second, they offered to treat me to a meal in exchange for trying out the app. How could I resist?

After downloading the app, I immediately tried looking for a place. Obviously, since it knew next to nothing about me (I think I answered two questions in the beginning), the predictions were average, at best. However, as I began inputting "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" for every restaurant I had visited, I began to see that it was learning my preferences. Over time, the recommendations got better and better.
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You aren't completely beholden to the app's suggestions, of course. You can filter by a variety of categories, such as distance, cuisine, and price. You can even type in the name of the restaurant into the search box, if you really want. The app is integrated with Opentable, which is really really useful for making immediate online reservations. For restaurants that are not on Opentable, an address and phone number are listed, so you can call directly from your mobile phone to make a reservation.

One cold Sunday evening, I did a search on Nara and Bondir popped up. It had really been awhile since I had visited the restaurant. I noticed that they were on Opentable, which (from my memory) was different from a couple years ago when all I could do was call to make reservations.

Shockingly, there was an opening at 5:30PM. Not ideal, but we took it. Lucky for us, there ended up being a cancellation that day, and we were able to dine at 7PM instead.

Thanks Nara!

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A Snowy Chinese New Year

>>  Saturday, February 09, 2013

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Happy Chinese New Year!

Can I just say it's been a crazy weekend? I really think this is the biggest storm I've ever encountered in my conscious memory. It was fascinating to watch the snow just continue to fall . . . and fall . . . and fall.
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The next day, after the storm was over, we ventured out. Check out how deep the snow is! (Yes, it is up to my knees).
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Virtually everything was closed in Harvard Square except for the CVS and the Starbucks. It was weird to see the door of the T (subway) closed.
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Poor bikes.
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The river was frozen over in an oddly yellowish color.

Stuck at home, we obvious couldn't go out. Instead, I ended up cooking . . . a lot! I was a bit bummed that I couldn't have a proper Chinese hot pot on the eve of Chinese New Year. Nevertheless, I did manage to squeeze out something sort of Chinese. :)
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On Friday night I made a hearty lamb osso buco in the pressure cooker with saffron rice and cilantro gremolata. It was warm, hearty, and the perfect dinner to accompany such cold weather outside.
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We had that with one of my favorite vegetable side dishes, roasted Brussels Sprouts with bacon and habanero peppers. So good.

On Saturday morning, as the snow slowly came to a stop, my mom called me to check to make sure we were OK. She also reminded me that it was the eve of Chinese New Year, a time when families get together and eat Chinese hot pot.
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Alas, there was no way I could head out and pick up Chinese groceries, so I did the best I could. Bryan and I enjoyed a fun little lunch of fresh udon with XO sauce, Taiwanese meat sauce, and a simple stir fry of spinach with garlic and carrots, celery, and shitake mushrooms with XO sauce. It was surprisingly simple but really hit the spot, reminding me of home.
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For dinner, we enjoyed one of my favorite fish dishes that's so easy to make and tastes fantastic. This is Nobu Matsuhisa's famous miso black cod (I'll publish a post very soon about this, or you can just Google it!). It only takes about 15 minutes of prep and never disappoints.
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Happy New Year all! I have a few fun Chinese New Year themed posts lined up for the next two weeks, along with some cool Boston restaurants I've visited lately. Finally, we'll start a couple more travel series very soon.
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And if you're looking for Chinese recipes, definitely check out my Asian Food Gallery for inspiration. I've fallen behind on adding a photo for each new recipe, but you can scroll to the bottom to see the entire list.

Happy New Year!
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Sukiyabashi Jiro

>>  Tuesday, February 05, 2013

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This is the eleventh and final post in the series titled Tasting Tour of Tokyo detailing my recent trip to Japan. Other posts include Kikunoi AkasakaRokurinshaMikawa ZezankyoKaoriyaSushi SawadaSushi AokiStreet Food in TokyoOmotesando Koffee,Ukai-tei, and Japan's Underground "Depachika" Markets

Dreaming of Sushi
How often does one get to personally taste the handiwork of a man who has been obsessively honing his craft for over seventy-five years?

Meet Jiro Ono, one of the most famous sushi masters in the world. The Japanese government considers him a "national treasure." The Michelin Guide has awarded him its highest honor, three Michelin stars. Many world famous chefs, such as Eric Ripert and Joel Robuchon, consider him one of the best sushi chefs in the world. Anyone who has seen the movie Jiro Dreams of Sushi understands the devotion, dedication, and near-obsession this eighty-six year old man has for the art of creating perfect sushi.

His perfectionism is evident in the way he runs his restaurant. Apprentices begin by learning how to wring out hot towels for guests. For months, all they do is wash dishes and clean, only saying "yes, yes" and never talking back. Eventually, they are "promoted" to other tasks, such as making rice and massaging octopus (for up to 45 minutes to make it soft!). Somewhere in the middle of all this, they finally get the chance to touch fish, make tamago, and eventually - the holy grail - work the front counter with Jiro.
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Jiro's restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, has been called one of the most difficult reservations to get in the world. This tiny sushi bar is hidden in the basement of a subway station and only has ten seats. Rumor has it that they only speak Japanese and thus won't even talk to foreigners who try to reserve in English. You may need to book up to a year in advance. Forget modern conveniences like email or credit cards at this old establishment.

I'd heard about this place years ago when I started researching restaurants to try in Tokyo. However, it wasn't until recently that I more deeply appreciated the back story of this little place.

"Jen, you have to watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi. I think you'll love it."

My friends had purchased the Blu-ray disc after seeing the movie because they loved it so much. Soon after we watched it, Bryan declared that he wanted to go to Jiro. Unfortunately, it was just about a month before our Tokyo trip. The likelihood of booking anything so late into the game looked extremely grim. Nevertheless, Bryan's pretty relentless when he really wants something, and will pursue as hard as he can until he gets what he wants.

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Japan's underground "depachika" markets

>>  Monday, February 04, 2013

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This is the tenth post in the series titled Tasting Tour of Tokyo detailing my recent trip to Japan. Other posts include Kikunoi AkasakaRokurinshaMikawa ZezankyoKaoriyaSushi SawadaSushi AokiStreet Food in TokyoOmotesando Koffee, and Ukai-tei.

I don't think I'll ever tire of visiting local supermarkets regardless of which country I am visiting.

There's something about a country's supermarket that really speaks volumes about the country's culture. I love roaming the produce aisle to see what's in season locally. I'm intrigued by the junk food that local residents enjoy. Heck, I even like paying with the local cash just so I get a sense of the currency. One of my favorite things to do when I lived in Japan over the summer in college was to shop at the local market and cook in my apartment. For some reason, I felt much less like a foreigner and much more like a local.

It was so fun.

I haven't lived in another country again since that 3-month stint in Japan, but I still love roaming supermarkets whenever I travel.

Here's a fun and surprising look at what I found as I roamed a fancy supermarket underneath a Japanese department store called Isetan, part of a larger underground food hall (the "depachika" - literally underneath the department store).

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