Monday, August 25, 2008

Some Wedding Pics

Photos by Jerry Yoon


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Dollars and Cents

After paging through some old posts, I realized that in the course of this blog's lifetime (almost 3 years if you include xanga days) my restaurant "reviews" have greatly evolved. The largest factor is definitely value. This comes to mind mostly after watching David Chang's interview with Charlie Rose (shown here), but after surpassing the novelty of the "food scene," value has become increasingly important to me. I haven't eaten at every restaurant in existence, but I've had my fair share of meals around the bay, which gives me an idea of what food can be. When a dish falls short and I'm paying big bucks for it, of course I'm not going to be happy. I work in a restaurant, so I understand that things happen, but as a diner that doesn't mean I will necessarily want to spend my money there again. Consistency also plays a part, but I won't get into that. With prices rising in every aspect of our lives, my wallet is not as carefree as it was three years ago.

So yes, if you read my posts and wonder why I always talk about money, it's not just because of the Chinese in me (although that may be a factor as well ha).


Monday, August 18, 2008

Catching Up

Here's a list of places I've gone to in the last few months but just haven't gotten around to posting about.

- Red Crane
- Beretta
- Q
- Spruce
- Fresca
- Koi palace
- Umbria
- Lobster shack
- House of Prime Rib

Brief "reviews" after the jump! (Useless yelp-style?)

Beretta: Italian in the Mission
Like SPQR, this new restaurant got a "blow job" by Michael Bauer (my old pastry chef's exact words). And just like SPQR, this Italian joint was just OK for me. I definitely enjoyed my meal there... but it was also quite forgettable. Pizzas are aiight, apps are decent, drinks are whatevs.

Q: Diner/Comfort Food in Inner Richmond
Slightly upscale diner food - add blue cheese to the burger and it's not even close to the Spotted Pig's, but it's still satisfying. Eat all the accompanying garlic fries and you'll definitely pass out. Definitely a must if you like tater tots.

Spruce: Contemporary American Fine Dining in Laurel Heights
Really upscale for the neighborhood - who would've known! Very pricey for what it was. Had the charcuterie, fries, lobster, some kind of med fish, and palmiers for dessert. Those heart-shaped cookies should NOT be on the menu. They have a side-bakery so I don't see the point in wasting a menu spot with those. We only got them because we didn't realize what they were. Doh!

Fresca: Peruvian in Lower Pac Heights (there are other locations too)
Why did I eat Peruvian right after coming back from Peru? Honestly, I didn't know until I got there. My friend invited me to join her double date (5th wheel!) and I just went in blind. I like Limon better, but honestly... it's hard for me to even think of spending $35 on a meal that would be less than $5 in Peru!

Red Crane: Japanese Asian Fusion in Cupertino
Despite its identity crisis of a location, this restaurant actually has very very good food. Although the sashimi plate (pictured to the right) looks very impressive, it isn't worth it. However, every single other dish we got was fantastic. The only drawback is the location - very Asian suburbia....

Koi palace: Dim Sum in Daly City
If you want to know where all the Chinese people eat, wake up at 9am to get here by 10am on a Saturday morning.

Umbria: Italian in SOMA
bsze wanted to bid SF adieu by going to Baron Davis's favorite restaurant. Olive Garden anyone?

Lobster shack: Seafood in North Beach
$20 sandwiches? (pictured at the top) They do leave you pretty comatose. They actually weren't very big, but they were generous with the lobster meat. I don't think I like lobster enough to justify the cost though.

House of Prime Rib: MEAT in Nob Hill
Four years ago HOPR used to be $30 total... those were they days.


New Order

I was "hired" this weekend to make cupcakes for a birthday party. I've been asked to do paid events before, but I usually don't have the time or energy. This time, however, the request was just a simple batch of cupcakes. I pulled out some aces from previous weddings, and tada! In a few hours I was done. Look how my piping skills have improved! Cold weather also helps. Please excuse my poor quality photos - I was in a rush!

Red Velvet + Cream Cheese, Matcha + White Chocolate Cream Cheese (I tried doing a little Sprinkles action for the frosting, but mine don't look nearly as good!)

Lavender + Lemon, the common favorite


Monday, August 11, 2008

Apple and Banana!

I just saw some of Tiffany and Kyle's wedding pictures and this is by far my favorite. Not just because the couple looks so cute, but mostly because Cynthia is in the background, so obviously trying to not be in the picture but so completely in it hahahahahahaha


Sunday, August 10, 2008

An Ad Hoc Saturday

6476 Washington St, Yountville
(707) 944-2487

Californian Comfort Food in Napa

People are sometimes surprised when I say that I've never been to Napa, aside from my visit to French Laundry. They're even more surprised when I say that I'm not into wine. I like food, so I must like wine, right?? Uh not necessarily. They're two completely different worlds, the oenophile world being a bit too expensive and time-consuming for me to explore right now. Also, anything palatable is so subjective, and I think it's even more so for wine.

With that said, there's no point in talking about the day's wine-tasting, because frankly, I was just down for sweet (Riesling anyone?) and free. Four wineries later, we (I?) stumbled into Keller's no longer temporary comfort-Californian restaurant that I've been waiting ~2 years to go to, since I heard of its inception.

I knew what to expect from Ad Hoc and I'm all about Californian comfort food, but I was still a bit underwhelmed. The food was solid, except for Jess's opt-out salmon since she doesn't like lamb. It was this tiny dried-out piece of fish that looked so incredibly unappetizing... I felt so bad that she had to share the $60/person price tag. Salmon aside, here's the food:

Beef skewers w/ leeks and beets, quinoa and carrot "stew" on the side of the Colorado rack of lamb pictured above

Nettle-covered St. Pat cheese course w/ red pepper jelly (sorry it's crooked!), Jess and her sad, sad piece of fish

Not pictured but what I thought was one of the highlights: Parfait with fig jam, "yogurt" (seemed to be whipped creme fraiche + buttermilk + cream), honey sunflower seed granola, and nectarines. So simple but the fattiness of the yogurt added so much flavor, yet it was so light and airy. Yum!

The red pepper jelly was also a highlight - sweet and savory with a kick, it went so perfectly with the cheese and buttered toast. Plus, the jar was just so cute!

I would definitely go here again, depending what's on their changing menu that day. Their fried chicken is supposed to be good, but I think you have to go on a weekday for that! If only I had that much time.


TOP 5 Ways to Serve Potatoes & Corn, Peruvian Style

1. Causas @ La Mar: mashed potatoes filled with different types of seafood cocktail. This was so amazing and rich... I'm excited for the new cebicheria to open up here!
2. Boiled in soup! Nothing beats simple and hot soup on a cold day in the Andes, especially when it's less than $1! I never saw a soup without potatoes.
3. Pancha Manca in Lima: charred via underground oven, we had sweet and savory potatoes that were better than BBQ!

4. Pan-fried papitas (french fries), soaked with pollo a la brasa juice and fat from Norky's. So amazing, pollo a la brasa is basically like rotisserie chicken, except Norky's is so much better than any you can find here.
5. Chips! Especially of the yuca variety (not quite a potato, but close enough)

Corn's TOP 5 and other delicious food after the jump!

1. Sweet corn tamales: nothing new here, but we had these with our pancha manca meal and they were so light, and a satisfying end to lunch.
2. Big kernels ("teeth") in ceviche. Pictured below are the two ceviches we got from La Mar, both amazing, and the large white corn kernels really add neutral texture and flavor to all the chewy-ness and acidity.
3. Pancha: like in Ecuador, toasted corn is just such a great salty snack!(pictured as a bar snack in the background of the Strawberry Pisco Sour on the right)

4. Chicha Morada/de Jora: A drink made from fermented corn, Chicha de Jora was... not kind to our palates. It is definitely an acquired taste. Chicha Morada, however, is made from purple corn, and is almost like soda/punch.
5. Oatmeal-like drink: I don't remember what this is called, but while we were camping, we needed this for energy the morning of our day of literally nonstop uphill climbing through the mountains.

We had a lot of other typical food too, like cuy (pretty much a similar experience as in Ecuador), alpaca, lots of trucha cooked every which way (trout), milaneza de pollo (chicken nuggets! jk), lomo saltado... etc etc. The list goes on and on!

In the Andes, it was very popular to drink coca tea to prevent altitude sickness. No, you can't really get cocaine from them unless you have maybe like 3 houses full of leaves (which, according to a guide in Puno, would yield about 1 kilo of cocaine). In the south jungle, Brazil nuts were everywhere. It requires so much effort to get them all out! No wonder why they're so expensive at Berkeley Bowl! Rocota rellena (stuffed peppers) was also very popular in canyon country. Yummy!

And of course, the sweets! Alfajores were everywhere, and very different than how I've seen them here in the bay area. They were much bigger, and the cookies were more cakey and crumbly... not quite the shortbread that most use here. Also, they really loaded up the dulce de leche! I could only take a bit or two of these... so sweet!

Most desserts involved milk, condensed or evaporated (we didn't see fresh milk anywhere), like arroz con leche, leche flan, many varieties of dulce de leche pastries, etc etc. There were a lot of breads and buns and such too. Korey struck gold when he stumbled upon Casinos, oreo-type filled cookie sandwiches, in mint. Not quite thin mints, but equally satisfying. We found other types that didn't really compare.

We also stumbled upon "Cusco Coffee" in Arequipa, not Cusco. It was pretty much a Starbucks clone, with Starbucks prices - very uncharacteristic of Peru! I still gave in and ordered a frap. If you look closely at the circular logo, it's Machu Picchu in a coffee cup! Now THAT you won't see at your local Starbucks.

So that was the gist of my trip. I'm getting hungry! Oh yes, the Pisco Sour pictured towards the top was from a bar/restaurant in Miraflores called Bruja de Cachiche that my Peruvian friend recommended to me as where to get the best Pisco Sours. It was really good, but it was also my first time having one, so I wouldn't know anyway!


Sunday, August 03, 2008

Spago: Money Not Well Spent

176 North Canon Rd.
(310) 385-0880

Contemporary American in Beverly Hills (not as swanky as it sounds)

As nubes to the world that is LA, my sister/Joe really only have resources like yelp and Michelin/Zagat to help them out with where to eat in socal so far. I could post a lengthy rant about these kinds of guides, but it's not worth my time.

Nevertheless, Michelin gave Spago 2 stars, which seemed promising since it's also Wolfgang Puck's (probably) most famous restaurant. Why shouldn't we try this acclaimed, chic 90120 restaurant just off of Rodeo? It HAS to be fabulous... right??

Uhh... fabulous, it was not. Far from it. The food was decent, but way overpriced ($40-50 for mediocre entrees?). My turbot was fishy and the basil-basil-basil sauces had almost no flavor. The duck had a generous portion, but also lacked flavor. The halibut was very nice, and my "beet layer cake" was simple with impressive presentation. Aside from those two dishes, everything our party of 6 ate was forgettable.

Food aside, the decor and ambiance were surprisingly not very bougie. There was a mix of suits, some people in casual summer dresses, and amazingly rowdy tables of barely-clothed cougars (bachelorette parties perhaps?). An interesting mix, to say the least. Oh, LA.


Elements Kitchen

107 S Fair Oaks
(626) 440-0100

Cafe in Old Town Pasadena

Had a nice summer lunch at another of my sister's favorite neighborhood eateries which serves local/fresh/organic ingredient-focused dishes. We started off with a refreshing mushroom mousse, complimentary of the chef. Their popular truffled mac n cheese is ok but nothing amazing - on the light side since they used really (too?) mild cheese. I really enjoyed my pesto-pear-brie sandwich... nice and fresh, unlike my weeks and weeks of potatoes!

Very cute, tiny, and accommodating. Great for the ridiculously hot LA weather!


Tre Venezie

119 W Green St
(626) 795-4455

Italian in Old Town Pasadena

The staff here know my sister and brother-in-law as regulars, despite the fact that they just moved to LA maybe one month ago! This tiny Michelin-rated restaurant brings a different spin on my understanding of Italian cuisine.

- wagyu carpaccio: ok... although the meat itself was nicely marbled, the parmigiano reggiano was just too strong for an accompaniment, and completely overpowered the delicate flavor of the meat
- bollito... freddo? I forget what it's called, but it's basically a plate of cold meats. Not quite a charcuterie, but almost like Chinese banquet cold cuts! It was good, filling, and flavorful
- cjalzone (sp?)... at first I thought it was going to be a calzone (I know, I'm an idiot) but it was like ravioli, ie filled pasta. The interesting draw was that it was filled with a bunch of random stuff like corn, chocolate... ?? Strange sweet-savory combo, but it brought a new and different holistic flavor. It was so strange/interesting I can't even describe it!

Bollito Misto, cjalzone things
- Bollito Misto: a bunch of tender(boiled? braised?) meats like beef tongue, pork, etc served with potent flavorings like a pesto, horseradish, fruit gelee, etc. My sister's favorite by far
- Chicken liver and onion pasta: tastes like it sounds. Salty, rich, and the epitome of sautee. Unhealthy but tasty!
- Braised tripe: ok... not filling at all though

Dessert: I don't always get dessert at restaurants, but their saffron flan and cardamom-rose gelato both piqued my interest. The latter worked very well together, creating an entirely new flavor, whereas the flan was a bit lacking in both texture and saffron-ness.

Gelato, Chicken liver pasta


Saturday, August 02, 2008

Auntie Em's Kitchen

4614 Eagle Rock Blvd. LA
(323) 255-0800

Cafe/Bakery in LA's Eagle Rock

Located in Eagle Rock, this cafe is supposedly known for their cupcakes, which get Magnolia-like comparisons. Well, let me just say that I don't like Magnolia. It's normal cake with purely sugar icing. Sorry to those fans out there, but it's just way too sweet for me! At Auntie Em's, I tried their coconut and red velvet minis, and they were... normal cupcakes. Nothing special. Sorry! Red velvet should be a cross between vanilla and chocolate, and theirs tasted like yellow cake, except colored super bright red.

Cupcakes aside, I really enjoyed my lunch here. A fresh heirloom tomato-mozzarella-pesto sandwich on olive bread with a mango-avocado-tomato salad was the perfect first Californian meal I've had in a long time!