Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Noodles and Waffles

In celebration of August Moon Day (that's right, look up at the sky tonight, and you'll see the best moon of the year), I thought I'd post another food outing from my Taiwan trip last month. Both Shandong Noodle House (山東家常麵館) and La Cuisine (香料廚房) are located a block down my street in my hometown of Danshui.

Danshui used to be a really quiet fisherman's town, but in the last 15 years or so, it's blown up into a major tourist spot thanks to its sunset views over the ocean and - why I am the way I am - its deeeeeelicious foods. I don't mind the tourists though, because they also bring business - aka, more food! Both Shandong Noodle House and La Cuisine opened up a few years ago, and they are indeed a welcome addition.

First up, lunch at Shandong Noodle House. It specializes in dishes from the area of Shandong, a province in northeast China. Yeah, I had to look it up, too.

It's tiny and doesn't look like much, but that's the hallmark of a great meal in Taiwan.

We started with a couple of cold appetizers, like this stewed egg and seaweed.

My mom prefers harder seaweed, but this soft seaweed was right up my alley.

Cold appetizer #2: dried anchovies with green chili.

I can't get enough of dried anchovies in life.

We also ordered a beef wrap: beef, cucumber, green onion, and plum sauce, all wrapped in Chinese flatbread.

You know I don't eat much beef, but this beef wrap was so good, I couldn't resist.

My mom's entree: beef noodle soup, aka, my cousin Scott's stairway to heaven.

These homemade noodles were incredible. One bite, and you know you're not in America anymore. Perfectly chewy and wonderful and fresh. The soup, which is often the test of how good the dish is, was deep and flavorful. Scott could eat this three times a day, which I'm sure he has.

My entree: zhajiang noodles.

Oh my lord. I could eat this dish all day, too. I would have preferred more pork mixture, as the ratio was a bit noodle-heavy. The mixture could have also used more bean paste. Then again, I guess no one makes zhajiang mian like my grandma. *grin* All in all, very enjoyable.

After this very filling lunch, we still needed dessert. So we stepped outside, turned left, and immediately next door was La Cuisine. It's a western-style restaurant, with lots of different spaghettis and other western things that the people of Taiwan love. I'm going to say up front that the food isn't very good at all, especially if you're a westerner. It's also expensive. But for me, the restaurant's charm is not in its food, but in its quaint appearance and atmosphere, exhibit A:

Who doesn't love to people watch out floor to ceiling windows while sipping on a cup of coffee?

Two levels on the inside.

Gotta love the pretty napkins, too.

My mom and I settled on waffles and fruit tea.

The fruit tea was too sweet for my taste, and seemed to be mostly juice with some fruit added to make it look pretty. Which it did.

The waffles, though nicely decorated with chocolate drizzle and tiny things of whip cream and sprinkles, were too dense/hard for anyone's taste. And not hot.

I asked for syrup, and they had none. Ah, sucks to be a westerner!
So yes, the food is a little less than mediocre, and the prices are way too high for what you get. Nonetheless, that won't stop people from visiting and enjoying the prettiness and ambiance of it all. Oh, and the air conditioning.

Happy August Moon Day!

Shandong Noodle House (山東家常麵館)
Danshui Old Street
63 Chug Chen Rd.
Danshui, Taipei County, Taiwan

La Cuisine (香料廚房)
Danshui Old Street
332-1 Chung Chen Rd.
Danshui, Taipei County, Taiwan

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Back to Basis: NYC Good Food Festival 2010

This weekend featured a series of foodie events, only one was affordable, so guess which one I hit up?

You bet I did.

The Good Food festival focuses upon locally grown, sustainable foods and features specialty tastings from 30 local farmers and top chefs to celebrate the season's harvest.  Ticket proceeds benefit the Feed Foundation's 30 Project, working to provide access to nutritious food for all people.  So not only are tickets reasonable, they also are for a good cause, a complete win win for everyone!

The festival featured tiered levels of tastes with the lowest level of 4 tastings = $20, 8 tastings = $35, and so on.  Since it was just me by my lonesome, I rocked the 4 tastings.  Restaurants such as Craft, Gramercy Tavern and others were all present, but this is what I ate:

Pecan shortbread tasting made with special flour
Dinosaur BBQ pork shoulder slider
I have always wanted to try Dinosaur BBQ, since it is noted as one of the better NYC BBQ spots, and while the meat was moist and tender, I wasn't exactly swoonin' over it.  The sauce was plain and ordinary - no real zip or tang.  I think the pulled pork woulda been a better choice with the burnty skin (Mmm, burnty skin!).
Hipsters eating Dinosaur BBQ tastings

While I was eating the BBQ slider, these two older ladies sat by me and shared a sample of Colicchio & Son's grilled pizza.  They were having a complete Harry Met Sally orgasmic moment.  So naturally, I beelined to that station the very next moment.
Grilled pizza with greenmarket veggies: mushrooms, arugula and caramelized onions.  The flatbread was doused in olive oil and had just a tiny sprinkling of cheese, but was a beautiful display of flavors and textures from the chewy mushrooms to the charred, crisp bite of the crust.  No sauce.  Just olive oil, fresh veggies and thin crust.  I want to eat this simple number every day.
Colicchio, I think you know your stuff.
Minetta Tavern's oyster & sausage ball combo.  The oyster was deeeelish.
I think the sausage and oyster's flavors worked together, but who really knows.  I like sausage and oysters so much I could eat them together with just about anything.  The sausage ball was plain, not extraordinary.  The freshly shucked on-site oysters were the real star though.  I could eat buckets of them.
I was tempted to try this as my dessert: apple cake with a butternut squash mousse, but not to be gross, it looks like a giant pile of ... on top of a brownie, and I just couldn't quite get over that image in my head so...
I tried out Ample Hills' ice cream as my dessert
Sea salt caramel ice cream (bottom) and a taste of their Elvis ice cream special: peanut butter banana ice cream mixed with bits of candied bacon
And you know what?  That peanut butter banana ice cream was really great.  The sea salt caramel, though good, was super rich and indulgent, but the banana ice cream was much lighter.  And the bacon added a nice element of texture and flavor.  It wasn't overpowering or too smokey or too much of anything.  It was just right.  A definite recommend for any bacon lover out there (should be everybody, but whatever :).

All in all, a lovely event!  It was small, but had many options, and the area, Gansevoort Plaza is just a neat place to host a wholesome event like this one.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Authentic Thai at Sripraphai

If you ever look up "authentic Thai" or "best Thai restaurant NYC," your search will always lead you to Sripraphai.  It is known as the "go-to" place for great Thai food.  Unfortunately it's located in Queens, but with Anne's handy car, we made the trek across the bridge to check out how authentic this place is, especially with our Thai native,Thanan, in tow. 

Whenever you eat at a restaurant that is of someone's culture, tradition is that said person must order the meal for everyone in the native tongue.  And that is what Thanan did. 

Here's what he picked for us:

Papaya salad with crispy catfish meat.  Not a fan of ripe papaya, I must say I am a new fan of  this raw, tender Thai papaya, especially when tossed in the light fish sauce vinaigrette.  The fried golden mass to the right of the picture is the crispy catfish meat. Yeah.  I know.  Resembles nothing like catfish anymore but still has the taste!  Those wily Thais!

Tom yum soup.  I thought it tasted fine, but Thanan was pretty adamant that this was not authentic because of two reasons: 1) it had tomatoes, and 2) it was too sweet.  True tom yum soup has no tomatoes and tastes really sour.  However, despite the sketchy authenticity, I enjoyed it.

Whole fried red snapper topped with green mango sauce.  Strands of raw mango tossed in a fish sauce was served atop a beautiful, dinner plate length red snapper.

I love eating whole fish among friends!  The sauce was terrific; we liked mixing it with our rice.

Water morning glory.  Thanan says this vegetable is hard to cook just right; it needs to be crunchy at first but tender after the first bite.  And Sripraphai did it just right!  Thanan ordered it spicy, so they put in Thai green chilis throughout the dish.  You had to really look at what you ate, as Anne unfortunately found out after chewing an entire green chili.  Again: those wily Thais!

Sauteed pork in garlic.  This dish was definitely the worst of the bunch.   It had the texture of pork but not the flavor of it.  It's like the pork was just cooked in a veil of ambiguous garlic and sauce.  I don't even know how to describe it.  I just want to say don't order this and leave it at that.

Shrimp pad thai.  Purely standard, borderline blah.  Wouldn't recommend. 

Dessert #1: egg yolks soaked in sugar syrup.  There are whole egg yolks and then shredded egg yolks on the right.  We eat took one tiny bite and immediately fell into a coma: it was that sweet.  Over 3/4 of the container was left after dinner, which Thanan had no problem finishing himself for breakfast the next day.  A bowl of sugary cholesterol: the true breakfast of champions.

Sticky black rice with coconut milk and taro.  This was so much more our style - lusciously sticky and drenched in delicious coconut milk

Mango with sticky rice.  Always a sure winner
Afterwards, Thanan gave Sriphraphai his seal of approval.  And that's all you can really ask for (as Thanan would have you believe).

64-13 39th ave
Queens, NY 11377
(718) 899-9599
Sripraphai on Urbanspoon

Tanuja Time: Saravanaas & Chikalicious

Okay.  This post is going to be sad because I have a terrible memory, but I want to share it anyway because the food was really good.  So bear with me:

Tanuja and I met for dinner at Saravanaas, a spot Greeshma and I had tried months ago, loved and I wanted to relive.  I hope Greeshma reads this post and corrects all my food guesses here. 

Channa batura: HUGE fried puffy bread served with channa masala which was so creamy and delicious.  The bread was the size of Diana and my heads combined (which is just mindboggling), an airy fried creation that is a giant pocket of air; Tanuja and I made some good damage on it but ultimately could not finish it.

Tanuja's chapathi (total guess here) - basically two toasted slider buns that I found so adorable

I ordered the kara dosa, a spicy thin rice crepe stuffed with spices, onions and potatoes.

It comes with lentil soup which is so delicious; I think I dip everything in it.

Inside of the kara dosa: hopefully you can make out the orange potato stuffing which is just so spicy for me, but I love every nose-dripping minute.  (Greeshma would call it mild though.)

Then we grabbed dessert at Chikalicious, an adorable spot near St. Marks area.  I agree, Chikalicious is not a place with the most amazing desserts ever, but the whole experience is just so charming that you end up loving everything all the same.  You receive three mini-courses of dessert with the option of a wine pairing:

Amuse bouche with gelee, creme and blueberries

Great start - I just love gelee cubes

Tanuja opted for the chocolate tart which is available year-round.  Most of the menu changes seasonally.  The chocolate tart is a melted mess once you break into it, but Tanuja had no problem cleaning her plate up!  The tart is accompanied by pink peppercorn ice cream which sounds weird but tastes spicy and amazing.

I ordered a corn-based pound cake accompanied by ice cream swimming in a light cherry sauce.

The cherry sauce was lightly sweetened and refreshing

Tanuja with her chocolate tart and moscato d'asti pairing (so good!!)

After our 'main course,' they serve us a plate of petit fours

Including some wild basil chocolate truffle which was "interesting" for a basil lover as myself
The best thing about Chikalicious is that you leave with your sweet tooth satisfied but you do not feel like guilty because everything is small and tastes great; that ultimately is the best feeling: satiation without the indulgence.  Then we walked home and felt awesome because I'm sure we totally burned off those super tiny calories.

'Till next time!

81 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10016
 Saravanaa Bhavan (Vegetarian) on Urbanspoon

204 E 10th st
New York, NY 10003
(212) 995-9511
ChikaLicious Dessert Bar on Urbanspoon