Friday, January 23, 2015

Golly Gee what Great Goodies at G by MIKE ISABELLA or Restaurant Week rates high here (1-22-15)

SPOLIER ALERT:If you watch TOP CHEF Boston this season and missed this week's episode, you might not want to read this until you have seen it!
Back in the USA after two weeks recovering  from our huge SE Asia/Beijing trip we finally wandered out for dinner for several reasons.
1)It's Restaurant Week here in DC so many deals are available and quite worthy
2)Our kitchen is under a 2+ day renovation as a new stove is being installed, so cooking in it last night was just not possible
We chose G by MIKE ISABELLA (http://gbymikeisabella.com) as we had met Chef Mike several times in the past year and while he exhibits an "in your face" persona on TV on TOP CHEF, he is truly a great guy and extremely generous.
This past year we purchased him to cook in our home at the March of Dimes Signature Chefs Gala and while the auction was going on, the bidding was so fierce, her offered to do TWO of the same auction items, despite his busy schedule.
Indeed, he was standing in the kitchen entry way and I greeted him and he came over and chatted with the three of us for a while. Later he checked on dinner and we even caught a glimpse at one point of Chef George Pagonis (who was overseeing Kapnos next door), who sadly was asked to "pack his knives" after this past Wednesday's episode of Top Chef Boston. Fear not, as there is still one more Last Chance Kitchen episode and the winner will be revealed next Wednesday and he will compete with the 3 other finalists in Mexico.....
G is a sandwich shop by day serving soups, salads and amazingly awesome sandwiches. On Wednesday-Sunday evenings there is only a tasting menu offered and for restaurant week it's $35.15 for four courses which are guaranteed to satisfy and satiate you.
We ordered a bottle of Hecht & Bannier Rousanne 2011 from Languedoc which is a nice flavorful dry wine that went superbly with our first two courses. Everyone receives the ANTIPASTI plate which is shared and consists of BUFFALO MOZZARELLA with Roasted BEETS, PISTACHIO & MINT. I am not a mint person, but this combination was truly spectacular making it the shining spot on this varied platter (served on a large stone slab). The dressing was excellent as well as was the accompanying EGGPLANT RELISH which really was like a cold caponata loaded with flavor. There were slices of PROSCIUTTO & Fennel SALUMI and also huge ARANCINI filled with Cauliflower as well as the rice and served on a divinely rich Lemon Ricotta sauce.
Samuel spotted the CHESTNUT RAVIOLI which was one of the choice for the Primi (next course) and we all decided on this, but Sam wanted just a large platter of this and nothing else. It was rich and awesome with small bits of Butternut Squash, Brown butter and Chives with a Celery Root "Pesto" that was more akin to a rich puree. I would have sworn there was cream in it, but our server Ben thought not. The other pasta which we did not try was a Pappardelle with Pork Bolognese & Marcona Almonds.
The secondi were a choice between Pan Roasted SALMON with Basil, Grilled Grapes and Pecans which Will enjoyed and the skin was crunchy crispy spectacular. I went for the BRAISED LAMB SHOULDER in Tomato Sauce with Roasted Potatoes & Gremolata. It was fall off the bone divine and I was indeed full. After dinner I told the staff and Chef Mike that it should be renamed "Osso Buco Isabella!" A glass of Negroamaro Cantele 2010 from Salice Salentino was perfect with the dish and indeed would go with anything that requires red. I was surprised that our wonderful server Ben recommended the lowest price wine by the glass, but it is a winner.
Samuel having fallen in love with his Chestnut Ravioli skipped both main courses and asked for another huge plate of ravioli!
Dessert was a choice between a CHOCOLATE MOUSSE CAKE with Caramel gelato & Ganache which Samuel ordered and the BUTTERNUT SQUASH MAPLE BROWNIE with Brown Butter gelato & Bourbon Caramel which Will &I chose.
Samuel decided that his dish was too "mousse-y" and asked to switch. He is more of a molten choco fiend, so I was happy to trade as both desserts were truly great.
We have loved Kapnos before and now also love G and as of this week Chef Isabella also has a new location in Arllington at Pepita in Ballston, and yet he was here last night! Wow, what a busy and amazing guy.
We will try them all and always return to his first Graffiato!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Chinese cuisine in China is indeed cool or Beijing NOT on a budget (Jan 5-7, 2015)

We stopped in Beijing for a 3 day stay in China on the way home from Singapore for a variety of reasons, and the one thing I must say is that the rumors of awful food in China we had heard over the years were completely dispelled.
After an exhausting day, we decided to dine right across the street from our hotel, the brand new and awesome Waldorf Astoria. The guy at the reception desk was from Washington (small world) and recommended XIAN LIANG HUI only a 1 minute walk across the street (although with nobody observing traffic laws, crossing the street could be deadly in Beijing!).
The Chinese don't eat late, so when we arrived at 830pm, the place was almost deserted and we were escorted to a beautiful private dining room with sliding doors and a huge round  table (which could have seated 8 or 9 folks) with a giant glass lazy susan in the center (I really felt like I was at some fancy Chinese place in the US!). The folks understood us fairly well and we perused the menu (thank goodness for pictures) and chose several items to share. There was a dank smell of smoke and we noticed several ashtrays filled with cigarette butts. When we asked to have these removed, no action was taken. We have to chalk it up as a misunderstanding or lack of communication. When Will got up to try and dump them (we have a private bathroom as well), he got the evil eye and quickly resumed eating. The service was fine and the food was pretty much all delicious.
CRABK & SQUASH SOUP was delicate, hot and very filling. We took to ordering many soups while in China as it was always below freezing by dinnertime, indeed the temperature hovered between 12-25 each night! Samuel & Will ordered the SWEET & SOUR PORK SOUP which was also good, but the meat had a bit to be desired.
The hit dish here was the SPICY SZECHUAN SHRIMP with scallions, peanuts, zucchini & red chilis. It packed a punch and was full of flavor.
Samuel declared the SLICED POTATO & CHINESE YELLOW MUSHROOMS his favorite and we agreed, especially since these delicious earthy yellow mushrooms were so akin to our decadent chanterelles.
STEWED CHINESE YAMS & PORK RIBS had superb almost white colored yams (less sweet than what we have at home) which were superb, but the pork ribs had tons of gristle and almost no meat. The dish came with something new for all of us in the form of LOTUS SEEDS which are a bean-like crunchy affair that we loved. Sliced ginger made the veggie portion just perfect, but the pork was almost putrid.
RICE NOODLES with DUCK was extremely rich and the duck was in tiny slivers. I would have preferred a less rich sauce, as this was almost like a foie gras sauce and the portion was quite large; sadly a lot was left as even the three of use could not eat that much.
I asked for the wine menu and almost had a heart attack when the starting prices were at over $100 for the cheapest mediocre wine, but then they brought over a small special wine list with discounts and I was relieved we could get something for $60 from Chile, but it seemed to be sold out, as were all the other wines but two. The server explained they were closing for renovations the next day and this was the reason the list was depleted, as indeed was the menu (many of our first choices were not available). We settled on a Penfolds Bin 128 SHIRAZ from Coonawara, Australia which rang in at about $90 and was excellent. This wine retails in the USA for about $25. When we asked for the check the wine did not show at the discount price on that mini-menu they sent me and the staff made a fuss. They wanted to charge me almost 35% more! They also had added some extras for the private room, which we never asked for. Ultimately, the bill was fixed and we went back to our hotel fairly happy with our first night in China, knowing that more was to come.
 
Lunch was included in our tour the next two days and our guide Tim took us to XIAO WANG's HOME RESTAURANT(www.xiaowanghome.com) for our first lunch. It's in a historic house in the middle of a quaint park not far from the Forbidden City.
We were taken to the top floor where nobody else was seated for a very quiet and excellent lunch. The GREEN TEA here (we later found out how pricey it was) was awesome, and I wish I had more than 3 cups as it was refillable. SOUR & SPICY MULLET SOUP with Egg was a great soup here, but the mullet does have quite a fishy tastem so Sam was nixing that from the start. He did the HOT & SOUR SOUP and a huge platter of both Steamed & Fried PORK DUMPLINGS, one of his favorite Chinese foods! We all shared everything though. The DEEP FRIED GREEN BEANS with minced Pork were excellent, and always pack a punch with chilis at every Chinese place (think Szechuan String Beans back home). The KUNG PAO Chicken was nice with fried Chicken in Peanuts & Red Chilis, but this Kung Pao had little POW in spice for me. Will loved his Pork & Shrimp Dumplings and we all declared dessert was not possible as again, the portions were quite huge.
 
Dinner that night was at the classy 1949, just a couple of blocks from our hotel, and was easily the best meal we had during our stay. As we approached the small compound just off the main street, several guards came toward us looking as if they were bouncers. I said we had a reservation, and they parted to allow us in. Once inside, the décor was impressive with elegant place settings and lots of warm wood tones. Every staff member has an earplug and I felt as if the Chinese secret service must have been based here! We ordered a bottle of JUMILLA CRIANZA Juan Gil "Silver Label 2012, for about the same price as the night before, but this was a much better wine with chewy tannins that matched the complexity of the food.
Edith Piaf music played in the background and we felt as if we had been taken back to the years before Chairman Mao and the Communist takeover.....well, maybe.
We chose two starters, and while in China all dishes tend to come out willy-nilly, this was the one place that starters did arrive first.
WILD MUSHROOM in TOFU SKIN ROLLS was a modern take on the egg roll, but much healthier, not fried and with an awesome flavor to boot.
BROAD BEANS and Preserved Vegetables were tasty beans in a vegetable paste that had a bit of chili for flavor. There was a hot sauce on the table and I asked the server if it was "chili paste" to which she responded "egg sauce." I never did figure out what she said, but it was as spicy sauce that made the beans even better.
Samuel started with a BEEF BROTH with EGG WHITE (think beef egg drop soup) which he said was okay, but won no stars and then went on to an awesome DEEP FRIED CHICKEN with LEMON SAUCE. This may sound drab, but the chicken breast was wrapped in almonds and sesame coating and fried in slices and then a tangy almost preserved lemon-sauce was poured over it and the accompanying onion rings.
We ordered the FRIED VERMICELLI SINGAPORE STYLE which was one of the few "dry" noodles we got (most come in broth after being fried) and here with shrimp, pork and veggie slivers. The hot sauce made this dish divine.
The top winner for the night was the Stir Fried MONGOLIAN LAMB which was as tender a lamb dish I had ever had and served with scallions, peppers, fried garlic, fried ginger and clamshell shaped dough buns on the side to make "sandwiches" with.
We all decided on one dessert to split and taste and it was the perfect choice: CHILLED MANGO-SAGO CREAM with POMELO. It cleansed our palate and we decided that desserts of quality do indeed exist in China.
 
Lunch on our next day was in the hills near the Great Wall and while yummy, not worth writing about, since I doubt you will ever get there.
Dinner was our guide Tim's choice as we told him we wanted to take him out to thank him, but that the restaurant should have the best Peking Duck. He chose DaDONG (http://www.dadongdadong.com/en/) famous for it's multi-starred chef and elegant setting. We loved the almost all white dining room and each table had a trolley next to it for the tableside prep of the famous dish. We chose the SAUTEED DUCK & CHESTNUTS in CRISPY NEST to start and these little mouthbite tidbits gave us a taste of the awesome duck that was to come.
Samuel ordered and adored the PUMPKIN & CHESTNUT SOUP as he is now a pumpkin & squash soup kinda guy.
Chef DaDong's SUPERLEAN ROAST PEKING DUCK was rolled over and a chef with a huge toque and awesome knives got every last piece of meat off the entire duck within 10 minutes. we received a plate of garnishes and sauces (plum sauce, radish, scallion, cucumber and pickled cucumber and radishes as well as garlic and yes, SUGAR!!) The crepe like paper thin pancakes arrived along with sesame buns as well. It was all tons of fun to make our own, and within 30 minutes the duck was GONE! Tender, crispy and flavorful; it was a treat. The BAKED CAULFILOWER with PORK BELLY was just as magnificent with chilis, onion and diced squash.
Only the exhorbitantly priced Chef Dong's Black PEPPER BEEF was a sad arrangement of about 1/3 pound of chewy beef with a pound of peppers and rang in at well over $100 the plate! UGH!
 
Our trip was over and we had indeed enjoyed most of the food. Happy to be back home now and looking forward to a homemade meal tonight of pasta and sausages!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

in Singapore try Tamil at BANANA LEAF APOLO (1-4-15)

 
We returned to Singapore at the end of our voyage and I wanted to relive an experience I had 25 years ago when I first visited that I have never forgotten.
We headed over to Little India and BANANA LEAF APOLO, where I had been for an amazing lunch ages ago in a restaurant that has been now open for over 40 years.
Back then, at lunchtime, the place was heaving with people going from station to station choosing their dishes and condiments and having it all served up on a giant banana leaf.
Today, it is table service, and while we ate at 4pm on Sunday, it was very quiet, although many Hindi people were enjoying the various Southern Indian cuisine (or Tamil) that they are famous for. Now, the menu also includes North India cuisine, so Samuel begged for Garlic Naan which he spotted on that menu, but it was  not as good as the naan we know from Northern Indian restaurants back home. He also chose two Tamil dishes: APOLO CHICKEN 65 and APOLO PEPPER CHICKEN.The former was a dry dish on the milder side spicewise, the latter a curry-like hot pepper chicken in a thick sauce. Everything is still served on a giant rectangular placemat-like banana  leaf. I knew my family would not go for the famous Fish Head Curry, so Will agreed to the FRIED FISH CURRY which was another sauce-laden and no super spicy dish.
Pappadam comes to quell the spice and while Will had a local beer, I drank plenty of water!
We ordered BIRYANI RICE & VEGETABLES which is also a great foil to the spice as the vegetables were pickled in a light curry flavor and actually also quelled the spice.
The spiciest dish was the Spicy MUTTON CURRY which I liked the best and declared the winner, but my experience was sadly not as memorable as it was back in my younger years.
Perhaps I shall return in another 25 years and it will be better. It just was not what I wanted it to be, and since Samuel is not a spice nut, he stuck with the lighter Chicken 65 (we never did find out what the number means). Perhaps my ancient memories are blurred.
Next stop-Beijing.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

magnificent Malaysian meals in Langkawi & Kuala Lumpur leave us loving it all(12-31-14 to 1-2-15)

We had two more ports in Malaysia as we cruised back south to Singapore and in deed at our first port on the small island of Langkawi, we had not even intended to stop for food. During our several hour mangrove swamp tour, stopped at a fish farm/restaurant just to see the local creatures. We were so enticed by the wide variety of novel and strange sea creatures that we ordered a plate of TIGER SNAIL with Spicy Green Mango salad which we snarfed down in our boat as we motored along the waterway laden with monkeys, eagles, poisonous vipers, bats and more.

While the snail was akin to conch, it was indeed a bit chewy, but very tasty and the spicy mango salad was the perfect seasoning foil. Needless to say, Sam took one small bite and refused any more.

 

Back on the mainland the next day we were in port about 60 minutes or so from Kuala Lumpur (referred to as "K.L") which actually means confluence of the muddy waters.

We had two day long tours with our guide Tony, who had introduced us to many wonderful flavors and tastes over a week before at our first port of Melaka. We started in the new administrative capital of Putrajaya which was built from nothing but oil palms just over a decade ago and now stands a gleaming example of modern ingenuity, albeit also an homage to the Islamic majority.

We stopped for a quick lunch on the huge man-made lake in the city center and ordered up. We begged Sam to have a noodle dish, but he chose a burger and fries, and he declared the meat pretty bad. Surprise, beef here is not a specialty, and definitely not a burger. Tony suggested the NASI GORENG KAMPUNG, and while Nasi Goreng is a familiar Indonesian/Malay dish to us of fried rice, the Kampung version is graced with small dried anchovies as well as calamari, shrimp, chicken our new favorite veggie water spinach (locally called kangkung--pronounced like the locals in Mexico call Can-cun), and of course red chillis. It was awesome as was the  ROTI JALA, a sort of noodle net (it literally means "bread net") made from noodle flour squeezed into a net-like pancake which you tear off pieces from and dip in to a curry, in this case with a little chicken. YUM, what a novel treat, and something f the that all the locals seems to eat everywhere. CUCUR UDANG are fried shrimp with two sauces, one a superb peanut sauce akin to what we get at home with satay, and the other a sweet chilli sauce. It was fun to dip the shrimp in either sauce, or even mix them for a third exciting flavor burst. The only bad choice was the Apple Asamboi which is a sour plum drink that was cloying, sour and salty at the same time. I pulled out one of the dried sour plums and it tasted like sour salt as I sucked on the weird dried tidbit. Sam would not touch his after the first sip and I couldn't blame him, but it was better than the durian treats we had tried in Melaka.

 

That afternoon when we stopped at the Batu Caves, a Hindu holy place outside K.L., we tasted some local munchies which we purchased to bring back to the ship for later. Some were like donuts, others like curried crunchy fried noodles and then one like a potato chip, but apparently tamarind flavored. There was a small unmarked restaurant in the open market area where we had delicious PULLED TEA (pretty much like chai) along with ROTI CANAI, the Indian fried bread served with a suace of curried lentils for dipping. Sam loved this and ate several platters and we tried a second version which had an egg added as the roti is pulled out in the kitchen (we got to watch) and then fried.

 

Since our tour included the evening boat tour of the rare fireflies on the Selangor River about 45 minutes from K.L., we stopped in Kuala Selangor (confluence of the Selangor River with the Straits of Melaka), one of the larger cities of Selangor state, we stopped for dinner on the river at KEDAI MAKANAN LAUT HUA HANG, an awesome Chinese seafood place where the entry way is filled with vats of water and fresh fish caught that morning. There were a couple of other white faces, but they seemed to come in only for a beer; we were here to dine like the locals. The place was heaving and we ordered the 25 ringgit multi-course meal (Sam was full from the roti canai and skipped eating here as he really does not like seafood) which costs under $7 apiece. We had an extra course of cockles, which are larger than the ones we have had in Europe, more akin to tiny clams, which a very hot chilli dipping sauce. It was hard to open some of these little guys, but Tony was there and showed us the tricks. Watermelon juice was nice, and Will had a Japanese beer. The food began to arrive and our table was laden with so many dishes:

FRIED RICE was on a plate alone piled high for enough to serve 8, BUTTER PRAWNS were indeed buttery and came with a less spicy sauce and the FRIED FISH with vegetables that was so tasty turned out to be SHARK!! A delicious plate of Chinese vegetables just like at home consisted of black Chinese trumpet mushrooms, bamboo shoots, pea pods and more in a sauce akin to what we would see anywhere in the USA. The highlight and purpose of the meal for me was the CHILLI CRABS, local crabs just a bit smaller than their Maryland kin were smeared with a mild chilli paste an cooked to perfection. It was indeed hard work cracking the shells with my hands and teeth to get out all the meat, but well worth the effort, although Samuel and Will would not even endeavor a bite. The sauce was amazing and worth the entire trip. Tony knew how much we had come to adore the kangkung, and ordered it as we had the first night in Singapore, with sambal belachan, the spicy prawn paste, but less spicy here, coating the water spinach or morning glory. It was great to see this local family-run effort, with kids cooking and serving and the older lady even cleaning and removing the stems from the kangkung at a nearby table!

Will grabbed a yummy coconut loaded with milk and then we enjoyed the meat itself as a dessert. The perfect palate cleanser to a superb meal.

 

 

On New Year's Day, Samuel decided to stay on board in the kid's club and let us have our way with more wonderful sights and many foods. Tony chose his favorite restaurant in K.L.'s Chinatown called LAI FOONG. To call it a restaurant is not really fair, as it is a large open room where the landlord leases small spaces for the various vendors to cook their dishes in each corner. We went to several vendors and filled our table again with many superb dishes:

CHINESE FRIED NOODLES (again, several types and widths) are a staple here and always served in a spicy broth with whatever condiments you choose to add from the vendor. We skipped the tripe and other innards and stuck with beef and beef balls, which Will actually thought were cow testicles. They were tiny whitish balls of ground meat almost the consistency of a dumpling, and I reminded Will that cow's don't have balls, bulls do, and they are much larger than these small 1/2 inch round treats.

We had eaten CHAR KUAY KEOW the first night in Singapore as well, but here in Malaysia at this spot the excellent dish includes chicken, calamari, shrimp, bean curd, tofu, bamboo shoots and tiny cockles in that divine chili garlic mix with fried noodles of multiple types.

The highlight of this meal was the BBQ PORK which is served off the bone with a lighter chilli glaze and a spicier chilli dipping sauce. The skin was so crunchy you just wanted to get more and more of it. This had to be the best ribs ever.

My drink was a Chinese can of JDB (or Jia Duo Bau) herbal iced tea that was very tasty and refreshing. Lunch was finished with the local KOPI Malay coffee with a dash of condensed milk for sweetness.

Total cost for three with drinks was 45 ringgits or under $13!!

 

As if this was not enough, Tony took us to his vendor friend in the open market for the best chicken curry pies and tiny sugared peanut paste treats, also cooked inside a small pastry shell the size of a peanut shell that were so good we wanted to buy a ton, but refrained knowing we could not bring them home with us.

 

What an amazing taste of Malaysia our last three days on land here were.

MYANMAR munching -many miraculous meals or bravos for Burmese food(Dec 27-29, 2014)

We just spent three days in MYANMAR (aka Burma) and it was an awesome experience. I was completely blown away by the beauty of the people, the country and the food.
We started our trip with a quick Fried Noodle Lunch at the Scott Market in Yangon (aka Rangoon), which is the largest indoor market in country with hundreds and hundreds of vendors and I could not possibly tell you the name of the place we ate at. The guy who ran the shop was a riot as he kept kissing Sam and making the funniest of comments.
The food was a preview of what was to come. I believe the four dishes (three of us and our guide) cost under $15.00!
That night in our hotel, The BAGAN LODGE we had a set dinner which was quite filling and pretty decent starting with a Chinese Style Roast DUCK Salad with Bell "Peppre" & Chilli Sauce; English spelling here is not a forte, but the food was very good, if a bid blander than what we had been having on land for the past week. SPICY SEAFOOD SOUP with Sesame Oil followed and this was delicious and truly satisfied my spice tooth, if there is such a thing. Samuel chose the HOT & SOUR SOUP which he declared to be hot and spicy on all terms, but still very good.
Wine can be ordered by the bottle here, and there are several also by the glass, including some local wines, which truly surprised us. We asked the server if we could taste the two Myanmar reds by the glass and the lesser priced was much more to our liking so we ordered the $25 bottle AYTHAYA SHIRAZ-CABERNET from the Inle Lake region, 2013 Dornfelder Cuvee from Myanmar 1st Vineyard Estate which was full-bodied with some slight tannins and was a wine we knew would work with spice. The other Red Mountain Estate Shiraz-Tempranillo from Southern Shan State was less exciting.
When the CHINESE BLACK PEPPER (spelled correctly here) BEEF with woked fried Vegetables arrived, we declared it the most bland dish ever and immediately asked for hot sauce and a small bowl of vinegar with sliced garlic and lots of sliced red chili arrived which did just the trick.
Dessert was SAGO with Coconut Milk which is very akin to tapioca and had balls of melon & papaya as well. The flavors were superb and again, like so many desserts we have had, very refreshing after the spice.
Off to bed early for a 5am wake up call as we had a hot air balloon ride at sunrise over Bagan and its 3000+ temples dating back over 1000 years!
 
On Sunday we spent the day touring all of Bagan, which is about 200+ miles north of Yangon and had a superb lunch at EDEN BBB (we never did find out what this stood for) Restaurant very close to all the pagodas and temples. It was a very quiet place with the tourists in the courtyard and the drivers up front :-)). We all (save for Sam) declared the fish toast (think shrimp toast back in US Chinese restaurants, but here more fishy) to be the best ever. First came Curried Vegetable soup with the biggest of curry leaves and lots of okra and tomato. Okra is a big veggie in this area and is always tasty and seems to never have that gooey consistency it can have at home.
All the dishes then arrived together and we dug into TOMATO SALAD that had gorgeous fresh red tomatoes from the Inle Lake region (about 100+ miles to the east) as well as cabbage slaw and red onions in a peanut dressing. Braised PUMPKIN was another tasty dish as was the Veggies & Tofu plate with cauliflower, pea pods, bok choy and much more. Our guide, May, explained one of the vegetables is called leaf of the gods in Burmese and it is akin to spinach, but very flavorful. The entrees were Fish or Pork Curries (of course with mounds of rice)which were also delicious and a bit more flavorful than the night before. May explained that less spice is used in the north and ordered up that vinegar-chili-onion-garlic mix which packs a punch and is called BEICHIH (and sounds almost like "bitchy"!!).
Dessert was watermelon, honeydew & papaya served on ice cold plates.
Will declared the Myanmar Beer to be a hit as well.
 
Dinner was a special event with a meal catered by WELCOME LOCAL RESTAURANT for just the four of us at the foot of one of the temples lit by dozens and dozens of small oil votive lamps as we were led down palm mats from the car to a beautiful traditionally set table with torch bearing men surrounding us. There were dancers and a musician who performed all through dinner and it was hard to decide whether to eat or watch them. It was one of the most memorable dining experiences of our lives as we watched the floodlit pagodas all around. No alcohol is allowed on the holy grounds, so we did with water or sodas. Instead of fish or shrimp toast, here we had onion toast which was amazing, and Samuel did like this flavor and we all gobbled up pieces of the crispy white chips. LENTIL SOUP started the meal and Samuel declared this his new favorite soup, but alas only in the Burmese style which is loaded with lentils and veggies and not super-thick.
All the mains and sides arrived and there was no room on the table at all with FRIED FISH CURRY, CHICKEN CURRY, Fried Noodles, Vegetables and gorgeous whole PRAWNS butterflied and grilled with superb and not too spicy seasoning. Of course, there was beichih and we finished with delicious and crispy (and not greasy) fried BANANAS with honey drizzle and fruit. The tea was also quite nice and relazing.
I must mention that the fruit is amazing everywhere and Samuel has taken a liking to dragonfruit while I like the rambutans we purchased in Thailand. I think we all adore Mangosteens the best.
 
Our final day in Bagan also included a stop at a Lacquer Factory, where I think we bought everything in site, but were treated to tea, drinks and some snacks as well. Here we adored the local "number on snack" which is called LEPHET TOKE. It is presented in a separated bowl with four sections containing the components which are combined as one desires for each spoonful. TEA LEAF SALAD is ground tea leaves which are in a paste and have healing qualities to boot. DRIED SHRIMP have a spice an gie much flavor to the dish, A mixture of peanuts, garlic and sesame seeds (ground together) form a paste that keeps everything together, and then there is a shredded ginger salad to top the whole spoon with. I need to try and recreate this awesome combination as it was so delish I ate almost 5 spoonfuls!
 
The next morning we rose early again for our flight back to Yangon and more touring of the large and overcrowded city. Lunch was at MONSOON Restaurant where there is a bar and many locals downstairs, but white linens and white folk upstairs :-)).
Only the guides and servers upstairs were local, and sadly the service was not that fine. Will & Sam had melon coolers with watermelon and lime while I went the healthier route with a Veggie Pineapple drink made from cucumber, pineapple and ginger. May said her lime soda was very bitter, even after adding a carafe of sugar water!
Sam wanted two starters and gobbled up a huge bowl of Penilay Kyarzan Hincho, that lentil soup he now loves as well as a huge plate of Por Pia Thod, Thai Veggie spring rolls.
Again, as is the local custom, all the starters and mains arrived togther and we dug into Nga Phe Thoke, a fish cake salad which actually was shredded fish cakes with the salad mix that packed a punch. Tha Kwar Thee Pazun Sake Thoke (thoke is salad I think) was a refreshing shrimp, cucumber and lime salad.
The Kyether Kalathar Chet is called Bachelor's Chicken & Gourd Curry in English and sadly some of the pieces were more bone than meat, but this very traditional local curry was loaded with flavor in the sauce and the gourd was cooked perfectly and had a pear flavor as well, which while odd, was delicious.
Wetther Phone Yay was not a dish declaring the virtues of the telephone, but a Pork in Black Soy Bean Paste Curry that I loved. It was even better when the Beichih arrived (after asking for it 3 times).
Stir fried Morning Glory (the veggie we had the first night in Singapore) was here translated as watercress, but it is still closer to bok choy or spinach(could this be leaf of the gods in Burmese?) and came with chilies in an oyster sauce that was sublime.
We skipped dessert as we were full and ultimately headed back to the ship knowing that Burmese food is now on the list of must do again!
 
 
 

Thai treats at the relaxing RIMTANG@CHALONG - creative cuisine with power in Phuket, Thailand (12-25-14)

On our days in Malaysia on the cruise we had awesome local food such as LAKSA NONYA which was even spicier than that in Singapore....plus we had an amazing PENANG CURRY on that island that will remain memorable for its stingray, squid and spice.

On our day in Phuket, Thailand's famous sea resort, we made it clear to our guide that we wanted local authentic and yes, spicy, cusine. She chose well with the RIMTANG@CHALONG, Lakeside Wine Bar & Restaurant just a block from the Wat Chalong, the most revered and famous Buddhist temple on the island.
The setting is serene, on a small pond and the decor very elegant with teak tables on the terrace with lots of sections so you fell as if you are almost alone. Even the bathrooms were clean, spotless and air conditioned.
Samuel has decided that spicy is not his thing, and chose the Spring Rolls as well as a Noodle Soup with Pork. He would not touch the spring rolls as even though vegetarian, he declared them too fishy. This is his new ploy to avoid dishes; insisting they have shrimp!
We ordered up some yummy sweet Thai Iced Coffees, very refreshing with the spicy food and in the 84 degree heat. We decided to share several dishes and all were excellent:
TOM YAM KOONG was a very spicy shrimp soup with the chili-coconut broth loaded with ginger, lemongrass. In the heat it might seem odd, but it is really the best kind of food in this temperature.
SPICY SQUID SALAD was chilled and refreshing but again loaded with those tasty red Thai chilis.
FRIED RICE was excellent with loads of chunky crab meat. Who could ask for more?
Jo suggested the whole SEA BASS STEAMED IN SOY SAUCE with Ginger & Garlic which was the mildest of the dishes and we easily let her filet the yummy fleshy fish that was so fresh, it must have been caught that morning.
Easily my favorite dish was the CRISPY SOFT SHELL CRABS with Spicy Green Mango Salad. This dish was loaded with flavor and the large pieces of crab were almost as good as what we get back in DC each summer. The salad was again loaded with those tasty red chilis and we all marveled at while the spice was intense, it did not burn or last in your mouth at all.
Next stop--MYANMAR where we shall disembark the ship for 3 days and have no internet, so expect more on Burmese food closer to the end of the year!
HAPPY NEW YEAR!


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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Singapore's BLUE GINGER more Peranakan in paradise (12-21-14)

Our last evening in Singapore before the cruise today (we will return here at the end of the cruise) took us to another Peranakan cuisine hideaway that has the highest ratings in town for this rare cuisine found only on the Malay Peninsula. The BLUE GINGER (www.theblueginger.com) is an assuming spot that belies its
hidden talents. We arrived and came through the door to see a crowded small room with only locals. After we checked in the hostess told us to head through a door and up the steps. Our joke to ourselves was, "oh, they stick the tourists upstairs." WRONG! On the second floor was another room, a bit less crowded and not one Westerner in sight. We were taken to a nice table looking out over the street, but seconds later asked to move to an alcove to make room for a larger group. No problem. I marveled at the paper napkins on the tables, as linens are only found at the rare fine dining establishments or fancy hotels. Only one of the employees, clearly the manager or such, spoke decent English, but the bi-lingual menu helped us to try and make some decisions.
We ordered a bottle of wine from the very short list and again agreed on the Sauvignon Blanc, this time Black Cottage from New Zealand, as this usually works well with the intense local spices.
A note on the menu said that $2,50 (1.65$US) is charged per person for rice, pickles and Sambal Belachan, that spicy chili-shrimp paste that we are in love with.
In the end they only charged the adults, which was fine. The pickles are yummy with spice and a bit sweet and sour, as well as a hint of peanut (a la Thai). They were crunchy and made up of carrots, cabbage and much more that we couldn't decipher.
Sam ordered the Crispy Chicken Bites (think nuggets) with Asian chilli dipping sauce, and devoured them quickly but without the sauce. I tasted and decalred the sauce divine. Will ordered KUEH PIE TEE or shredded bamboo shoots and turnips in a pie tee cup with a mini-shrimp garnish. It was a tasty simple dish with four little pastry-like cups that you popped into your mouth and got lots of different flavors. I went for the OTAK OTAK or Fish Cake as I do love the Thai version. Well, these are completely different as they are made with turmeric, galangal, chilli, candlenuts and that lovable shrimp paste then cooked in lime leaves a la tamales. They even have the same consistency but tons more flavor and of course are fish-based.

Main courses included Sam's simple SATAY BABI or fried pork satay which really were slices rather than skewers. Will chose the AYAM PANGGANG 'BLUE GINGER' which was made with dark chicken meat, coconut milk and spices. Each is served family style and the server comes with a huge rice basket which is served to each person in massive portions on your plate which you then add the various dishes o along with condiments. I could not decide between two Tiger Prawn dishes and the guy who spoke English said the UDANG NONYA was spicier and drier rather than the UDANG MASAK ASSAM GULAI which had a tamarind gravy. I chose the NONYA with preserved bean paste, fresh garlic, chilli and spring onions. These Tiger Prawns are not huge but the portion of five with heads and tails on dressed in chili paste filled me up fast. The spice was just right and I had to suck the superb sauce off each head.

A trip to the WC gave us the non air conditioned section with no paper towels, but it was clean, as almost everything is in Singapore.
 
Dessert for me was Soursop over Shaved Ice which was divinely refreshing. I had this fruit recently in the Turks & Caicos and adore it now. Will chose the GULA MELAKA which is chilled sago (think barley bubbles) with honey sea coconut. I was too full to taste, but he said it was also quite refreshing and light.

Off to bed and wishing we could just eat more of the great food.
At least the hotel breakfast here at the Fullerton Bay Hotel offers many superb local dishes from chicken curry to sweet pork buns, spring rolls, wontons, dumplings and more which change each day. We avoided the congee, but loved the variety of Eastern & Western delights!

Slinging around in Singapore; yummy hawker food and so much more...(12/20&21/14)

Our two days in Singapore have been spent with our guide Phil who really knows local food well. The first day he pulled his car right up to a storefront and we sat ourselves on small stools at a table by the road for DUCK/RICE. Now every Eastern Asian meal has rice, so many of the meals are called simply duck/rice, fish/rice or the most famous chicken/rice; each vendor of course has his or her own recipe.
This was the most delicious one in town for sure and came with pickled cabbage (like sauerkraut), tofu, and the most yummy cooked peanuts with slices of duck breast all over a mound of rice in a rich duck sauce. It was divine and all for $4.50 Singapore per portion (that's about $3.35US each monster-sized place) which is amazing. Of course, chili-prawn paste and garlic-lime sauce were on the side; I could use these every day. The drinks we chose were A&W root beer for Sam and a superb aloe-vera tea-like drink loaded with chunks of aloe fruit at the bottom, which were sweet and reminded me of lychee.

Today our lunch was at the Maxwell Hawker's Stalls which is a covered hawkers' center with what must have been hundreds of storefronts in four rows or so of an indoor market. Many were closed as it was Sunday, but the selection was still amazing. Samuel migrated immediately to the steamed and fried dumpling stand and Phil and I headed to the CHICKEN/RICE, but you must choose from almost a dozen of these. Phil explained the long line was for a place that Gordon Ramsey and Anthony Bourdain had both declared the best in town, but that the chef there had since left and opened his own stall 3 doors down (where many news articles graced the stand declaring 'CHICKEN WARS' in Singapore between the two vendors)...so that's where we headed. There are sauces and clear chicken broth as well with each dish and while it was nice, it was not an historic dining moment. The egg & oyster omelet was good, although Will did not like its slightly slimy consistency. The hit dish was Hokkein Noodles with shrimp & calamari. A fried banana was had for dessert and then we headed to the smoothie stand where dragonfruit/passionfruit smoothies were in store for Sam & I and Will chose the drangonfruit/yoghurt smoothie as it proclaimed to help with weight loss and memory recall!
It was a yummy two days in Singapore for sure....and we shall return here after our cruise for more tasty local tidbits.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Singapore's CLIFFORD PIER proves perfect for Peranakan Cuisine (12-20-14)

While staying here in Singapore for a couple of days before our cruise we are having the opportunity to taste many types of amazing Asian cuisine. Our first night, we were exhausted from the long flights, so we dined in our hotel at the Clifford Pier which is a huge 1933 pier over the water on Marina Bay which has been lovingly restored to great colonial grandeur with modern décor. The huge arched steel ceiling is awesome as are the massive chandeliers. The chairs are lushly upholstered in silver and there are banquettes curved with tons of pillows that give "casbah" feel. Sam settled into his corner of the banquette and quickly drifted off to sleep missing dinner completely!
We loved the fact that the sparkling water was our favorite, Badoit from France. A bottle of Yalumbia "The Y Series" 2013 Viognier was extremely rich and a wonderful match to our rich and spicy seafood dishes.
At first the service was slow; we had to turn around multiple times to get someone to bring a wine list and take our order, despite the fact that the room was swarming with servers with earpieces, looking very Asian CIA.
First came a starter of UNI GLASS NOODLE, a true modern take on Pernakan (the mélange of Malay/Singapore and other local cultures) noodle dish served cold with Sea Urchin, Salted Egg, Salmon Roe, a tiny black fish roe (smaller than most caviars) in a truffle sauce with shaved truffles. Decadent, yes, but awesome flavors that exploded in your mouth.
We shared two very traditional Pernakan main courses. I ordered the CHAR KWAY TEON, fried mixed noodles (there were several different sizes), prawns, squid, Chinese sausage, chives, egg in a sweet chilli soy sauce. There is also pork in the dish and it is traditionally fried in lard for extra flavor. This one was excitement in the mouth and my favorite dish of the night. Will loved his dish more which was LAKSA, a soup of prawn, rice, vermicelli, quail eggs, fried bean curd puffs, and bean sprouts in a spicy coconut broth.
A side of KANGKONG BELACHAN (not related to King Kong:-)), but a stir fried green veggie akin to a bok choy/string bean/spinach cross but called Morning Glory here in a spicy chilli sauce with dried shrimp Belachan. The belachan is the shrimp chilli paste used here for everything which I adore and the dried shrimp are like bacon bits in it.
Speaking of dried...there were fish toasts on the table when we sat with four sauces(no one ever told us what they were), and one sported dried softened peanuts and small dried anchovy like fish which was yummy as could be.
Will ordered the Feh Tariq Ice cream which was like a coffee/honey flavor and served with gooey yummy Honey Comb Crunch....even though Samuel had just woken up, his braces could never have gotten through this delicious treat.
We rolled back to our room to head to sleep, looking forward to another day of new food discoveries.


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Tuesday, December 09, 2014

BENOIT in NYC is the bistro for brunch (12-7-14)

On Sunday I had a good amount of spare time for brunch prior to a 4 hour opera performance and really wanted to fuel up. I chose BENOIT (www.benoitny.com) located at 60 W 55th Street, just off 6th Avenue and very central to everything.
I arrived early at 1145am and the dining room was quiet, when I left at 130pm, it was jammed with a line waiting for tables, so always reserve.
BENOIT is the baby of French uber-Michelin starred chef Alain Ducasse, but this is basic French bistro at its best, nothing over the top, not even the prices.
The room has a beautiful faux ceiling of blue skies with clouds and lots of B&W period French photos from the mid-20th century and earlier. There are those large bistro posters and lots of French staff, so you feel truly in a classy French bistro with lots of blonde wood tones, crisp linens and red velvet.
My server was French-born with a truly wonderful accent to boot and the pumped music is simple French chansons of all types, but never loud.
The menu is simple with starters, soups & salad, fish, meats and breakfast type brunch items, which I usually avoid, although the little girl next to me ordered the French toast and it looked awesome piled high with marinated fresh fruits.
I was greeted with a small plate of piping hot crispy cheese gougeres which were so welcome on one of the coldest days of the year so far.
The bread came slightly warmed in a cloth basket to keep it warm and was sliced baguette as well as brown country. The butter was nice, but it was not the quality of good French butter.
Due to that cold I started with the French ONION SOUP which arrived steaming and covered with a gooey stringy browned Gruyere that was the best I have ever tasted outside of France. The soup was scalding hot and again I welcomed this on the bitter cold day as I warmed up so fast. I had asked my server to hold off bringing my main course and he was spot on with his timing. The magnificent plate of Hand Chopped PRIME BEEF TARTARE with a Watercress Salad on the side. The meat was speckled with salty capers and used mustard and pepper well for spice. Small baguette crisps sliced thin and crispy were on the side for crunch and shmearing. The Dijonnaise vinaigrette on the salad had the requisite mustard and reminded me oh so much of my time in cooking school in Dijon, France decades ago. The glass of GIVRY 1er Cru 2010 (not 2007 as listed on the wine list) "Clos Saint Pierre" from Thenard was ideal with the tartare and I was in no mood for a chilled wine with the bitter wind outside.
I looked around at the many varied dishes and the portions were large (even the side and main salads), as mine was, and everyone seemed to be VERY happy with their choices from burgers, to charcuterie to omelets. Only the brunch drinks (at $12+ each) seemed to come in small chintzy glasses....stick to wine.
I ordered some coffee and was way too full for dessert, but then the manager brought over two slices of marble pound cake that was the most buttery I have ever tasted. He said that the pastry chef makes him a loaf to eat for breakfast each week.
I was thrilled he offered me a taste of this  simple yet divine creation.
We return to NYC as a family in March, and I think Benoit beckons for dinner or another brunch!