Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Dangerous Addiction: Crispy Pork

For this post, I decided to write about the 3 places I started visiting quite frequently or will be paying more visits to.  First, they are all different types of cuisines; Filipino, rustic North American, and Shanghainese.  Although they are all very different, all of these places have one thing in common, crispy fried pork, my most recent addiction.  If this trend keeps up, I'm going to have to hit the gym everyday or land myself in the hospital very soon.

Little Ongpin
It was 8 pm on a weekday and of course I was craving fried pork hock at Little Ongpin, a modest, friendly Filipino restaurant on No. 5 road.  The server informed us that they didn't have the small portion for the pork hock (which I wasn't sure why), but since the medium size is only a dollar more, sure! supersize me!  Sure enough, I regret eating it once I got home and crawled into bed.  But take a look at the glorious portion of the soft and tender pork hock with thick, extra crispy skin and extra thicker layers of fat.  The pork was served with a soya sauce with vinegar that gave a nice contrast to the fatty meat and makes you  eat them even more.
Another tasty dish at Little Ongpin is the chicken skewers with Java rice, or "yellow" rice.  The chicken skewers had a nice smoky and sweet flavour and were very tasty with the Java rice.  

Their pork belly combo for $5.98 was definitely a steal.  The slightly charred pieces of pork belly was served with rice and runny fried egg with a side of soup and salad.  Very impressive! It fills the stomach without hurting the wallet!

Little Ongpin on Urbanspoon

Meat & Bread
I've heard raved reviews for Meat & Bread and always wanted to try it.  Fortunately, it is located right across from my school and I've been able to go there for lunch as frequent as I want.  For my first visit, I brought along my classmate (and new amiga) *Johana (name has been changed to protect her true identity).  We ordered their famous Porchetta sandwich with salsa verde, $8, which kept flying out of the counter.  We seated down at a long table, cafeteria-style, and munched away.  It was pretty much drenched in grease, yet the hard, rustic ciabatta bread held together the thick crispy skin, the tender pieces of meat and fat and the refreshing tang of the salsa verde way too well. Make sure you grab a soda or a cup of soup as you're eating this to help you wash down the grease a little bit.  Of course it didn't taste at all healthy.  Nonetheless, if you want to indulge, you gotta do what you gotta do.

A typical lunch time, a never-ending lineup.
Porchetta sandwich $8 + soup of the day $4
I probably shouldn't eat this everyday, but I totally would.
 Johana loved this place so much that she went back home and spread the word to her friends and family back home.  Thus, we plan a weekly visit back to Meat & Bread with growing number of members with each visit.  The last time I went, I decided to try their daily special, a veal sandwich with mustard and pickles.  The veal was braised and I found it to be a bit too dry and chewy for my liking.  I will probably just stick to the porchetta next time around.  There was one thing that Johana noticed something and we were sort of turned off after the fact.  While the staff work as a assembly line to quickly process order, we didn't like the idea that the cashier handling cash was also touching and packaging our sandwiches with bare hands.  Umm....Who knows where those loonies have been?

Meat & Bread on Urbanspoon

Shanghai House Restaurant
I've been passing by Shanghai House almost everyday on the way to and from Richmond Brighouse train station on No.3 road, but never got a chance to visit until recently.  One afternoon, my sister complained she was hungry after a trip back from downtown and wanted to go check it out.  Of course it had to be right after I just had a "light lunch".  You know, with all the fried pork I've been eating, I was trying to be good and stay on the right track.  Nevertheless, I went with P just to keep her company and thinking I wouldn't order anything since I wasn't even hungry.

We were pleasantly surprised at how low their price point was. Their interior is fairly descent and definitely not a hole in the wall.  I let P do the ordering and she ordered the 3 main essentials; xiao long pao, spicy wonton, and spare ribs noodle in soup.    
Xiao long pao 
An order of xiao long pao came with 6 pieces of dumplings for  $4.50.  They were actually not bad, quite soupy and meaty, and their dough wasn't too thick either.  

Spicy wonton
The spicy wonton came in 10 small pieces, but for only $4.98. They were good; garlicy and had a lot of flavours.  The only downer was that the sauce wasn't spicy at all.  

Spare ribs noodle in soup


Warning: extremely crispy batter
Do you remember when I mentioned earlier that I was there mainly to hang out while my sister have lunch? Well, that didn't exactly happen.  I had a fair share of the first 2 dishes that arrived, but when the final dish came, I really broke the rules.  The battered pork was SO CRISPY!! I enjoyed it with a side of noodle soup, which I thought the soup was rather bland.  P disagreed and said that it balanced with the salty fried spare ribs.  The entire dish was only $5.98.

Shanghai House Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Edmonton ramen

There were a lot of confusions to what happened to Ramen Sanpachi that was supposed to open earlier this year.  It turned out that Sanpachi had pulled out and was replaced by Nomiya Sushi & Ramen instead.  There were also high hopes from ramen-deprived  Edmontonians that, perhaps, this place would be the first to offer authentic Japanese ramen in the city.  My Edmonton correspondent had informed me of their experience at Nomiya this passed weekend.  The prices for ramen all range to about $10, a little bit higher than in Vancouver.  The portion is a fair size.  The noodles used seemed to be instant rather than house-made, along with several slices of chasu pork, boiled egg and bean sprouts.  Overall, it definitely was ramen.
Shio ramen
For those who have never tried ramen before, the selections at Nomiya are not bad tasting.  However, those that have tasted the ramen in Vancouver would find that the Edmonton location is still far from being comparable.  Starting with the Shio ramen, while the ingredients were all there, the light broth was rather bland, and lacked the sweetness the pork bones which didn't exactly come through.

Spicy miso ramen
The spicy miso ramen offers a bit more body and bold flavours than the Shio. However, it wasn't exactly spicy either.  Again, it wasn't bad, but something was definitely missing.  The pork slices were fair in size with layers of fats in between.  To add more flavours to the soup, ask for a side of minced garlic and sesame oil.  Drop a spoonful of those in the soup and it definitely would make a huge difference to the taste. 

Sashimi salad
The sashimi salad consisted sashimi  on a bed of mixed greens drizzled with salad dressing and topped with finely sliced red onions.  This dish is reminiscent of the sashimi salad at Ebisu.  Overall, it was satisfactory, but there was hardly any other special quality to it.

Nomiya offers the typical variations of ramen, in which, if compared to everywhere else in Edmonton, it is probably the most authentic in the city.  However, compared to places like Santouka, Nomiya's ramen is still considered to be mediocre at best.  The key elements in differentiation may need to be slightly tweaked as they still don't quite match up to other big players.

Nomiya on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 25, 2011

Miyatake Tuna Shop at K Village, it's the real deal...

It was another hungry evening as my family and I roamed around Bangkok searching for a place to grab a bite for dinner.  Usually my sister and I would make the call, but that night, it was actually my dad's idea to try out a Japanese restaurant called Miyatake inside Gourmet Market situated at K Village on Sukhumvit road.  To be honest, I was more skeptical and less interested in trying out a sushi restaurant inside a supermarket and doubted that it would be any good.  Alas, hunger got the best of me and I obliged to give it a try.  The restaurant was fairly busy, to my surprise, and that was already a good sign.  The head chef/manager, who was Japanese, was overseeing the sushi stations, I wondered could this place really be authentic? I later learned that Miyatake is a chain Japanese restaurant from Japan with 3 branches opened in Bangkok; K-Village, MBK, and Isetan Patumwan.   The waitress handed us 2 menus, one for sushi and sashimi and one for robata.  We were more interested in the sushi, sashimi, and kaisendon (sashimi on rice) as it seemed to be what Miyatake specializes on.  The price range is comparable to the upper end Japanese restaurants in town (around 300 - 600 bath or $10 - $20 per dish).  Not too bad since they import all their fish from Japan.  

Tuna and samon roll with avocado was much larger than expected and I had to eat it in 2 (big) bites.  Everything was at a perfect harmony; the amount of rice, the cuts of the tuna and salmon, the creaminess from the mayonnaise and avocado, the texture of the sesame seeds.  It was scrumptious and quite filling.  

This variation of rainbow roll (was stuffed with sweet egg rather than tempura that I'm used to in Canada.  Although I'm not a big fan of the egg in general, but it was actually good and I enjoyed it. We couldn't get over how delicious their salmon and tuna sashimi were; fresh, with tender textures.  
Best chirashi I've had since Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo
Initially when I saw the size of the chirashi don, I thought, "Where's the rest of it?".  Looks can be deceiving, and in this case, it was one of those small dishes with a bottomless pit.  Every single component about this dish, most especially the sweet, melt-in-your-mouth sashimi, really transported me back to Japan.  Even the mackerel, which I usually find too fishy for my liking, was actually smoky and without the strong pungent taste.  I normally never finish the sushi rice once the sashimi is gone, but not this time! I finished everything.  Their rice was perfectly seasoned and had this incredibly nice chewy texture that wasn't too hard or too soft. Needless to say, we left extremely satisfied and I was pleasantly surprised.

From just the first visit, Miyatake is probably one of few restaurants that serves the freshest sashimi I've had outside of Japan.  There are many Japanese restaurants out there that focus too much on the decor, presentations and high pricing while neglected the quality and grade of the sashimi.  This hidden gem does the opposite and keeps it simple while their quality is outstanding and the price is reasonable.  Now, it is on my go-to places in Bangkok and I highly recommend a visit.   Although Miyatake is not exactly high profile in Bangkok's most raved about in the dining scene, it's definitely rapidly gaining popularity from food bloggers in Thailand.  So for now, it's one of those places for sushi lovers in the know.   For more delicious photos and reviews, stop by, and Hungry in Bangkok.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Fried chicken and noodle soup at Liu's Taiwanese Restaurant

As a fried chicken lover, I have to thank my friend Renee for introducing me to Liu's over 7 years ago.  After getting hooked on their fried chicken legs like crack, I've been coming to Liu's almost every trip to Vancouver since.  

This past January, before I headed off for Thailand, my sister and I stopped by Liu's for the first time in almost 2 years.  Located on Capstan Way in Richmond, I could hardly recognize the new face of Liu's Taiwanese restaurant as I walked in.  Since it has been renovated from last summer, the new Liu's now looks nothing like the old, but more like a fully decked out karaoke lounge with  modern designs, multi colour lighting on wall panels, and flat screen tv's.  According to my observant sister, it always looks like it's night time in there now.  Though staring at the still lights and the wavy walls make me dizzy, I still find it to be a refreshing change.  When we looked at the menu, (even though I already knew what I would be getting), we expected the price to go up to compensate for the reno.


Nonetheless, the price stayed about the same as I remembered.  The only combo I ever get, fried chicken legs + noodle soup + jasmine tea for $8.50 still stands.  Yes!  Still, I couldn't help but wonder if their fried chicken are still just as good..fingers crossed!

After I got my jasmine tea, I wondered why I didn't come back here for so long.  I've tried searching for a comparably delicious jasmine tea elsewhere, but I haven't found anywhere that makes them just as good or better than Liu's.  It is not too sweet, very fragrant, refreshing, and good with or without whipped cream. I took T to Liu's for the first time not too long ago and he loved it so much that he would go back there just to pick up the jasmine tea.


I was super stoked when my combo arrived and immediately dove in to find that the chicken were still just as crispy, and covered with delicious sweet sauce.  I love how the cook slightly separated the meat off the bone so that they are better marinated, cooks faster, and easier to eat.  The noodles were thinner and flatter than udon noodles.  It came with bok choi, pickled vegetables, had had a light broth that would otherwise be bland on its own.  Yet, it was comforting and paired amazingly well with the fried chicken.  I prefer this over rice any day, especially during a cold rainy day in Vancouver.  

My sister tried out something new which  I believe was the kung pow chicken.  The chicken was tender and well seasoned, but there were way too many peanuts.  I've tried other dishes on the menu before and none of them really stuck except for the fried chicken.  So if you love fried chicken as much as I do, check out Liu's if you haven't already.  They are consistently tasty and good for value. 

Liu's Taiwanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Reasons why I'll never set foot back in Empire Seafood Restaurant

I've been to enough Chinese restaurants to expect a certain level of service.  Normally, there is more focus on the speed and turnovers, which I am completely fine with as long as I am getting my order.  Since king crab season has just started, several friends and I set out to fill our bellies with the ginormous crustacean.  Unfortunately, my dining experience at Empire Seafood Restaurant on Alexandra road in Richmond was one of the worst I had in years.

Our spirits were high as we sat down and chitchat before ordering some food.  The restaurant was fairly busy with constant turnovers and most tables ordering the Alaskan king crab.  We decided to order 4 dishes: the crab, fried rice, stir-fry vegetables, and chicken.  Time passed and we were getting hungrier.  As we looked around we noticed that many tables that came and ordered after us were already getting their first dish.  As my friend joked that we must've felt hungrier now because everyone else around us were eating but us.  But as more time passed, and we were still the only table that had not gotten one single dish, it wasn't funny anymore.

"Where is our food?"
T politely asked the server that to check up on our order since it was taking longer than normal.  The server reassured us that the kitchen was busy and that it was coming.  More time passed and we still did not get any dishes.  We asked again, and again, they reassured us that it was coming in 20 minutes.  After almost an hour, and still no single dish as we watched other tables that came after us feasting and finishing their meals already.  The longer we waited, our frustrations grew.  No one was checking on our order anymore and we wondered if they forgot about it.  Finally, we decided we would like to speak to the manager so he could tell us what was going on with our order.  One server literally walked into the kitchen and ignored us completely.  So, I got off my chair and went around the restaurant looking for the manager to come see us.  Another employee looked at me perplexed, "Which manager would you like to speak to? The GM? The assistant?" I told her I didn't care, I needed to speak to A manager right away.

Meet the GM
Finally, the general manager, Benjamin, arrived at our table.  We explained to him that we had been waiting for almost an hour with no food arriving when everyone else has gotten theirs.  A simple concern which could've been resolved with an apology, and checking up on our food.  Instead, Benjamin was on the defence stating that that is how long the king crab takes to cook.  While we were asking him why other tables already got theirs and we had not even received a side dish, he simply said that is the way it is.  I was even more infuriated by his unapologetic and indifferent response more than our food arriving late.  Benjamin was quite indifferent and showed us that he really could care less if we were to stay or leave.  After that first conversation, I was ready to get up and leave, but the rest of my party decided they had waited long enough and too hungry to go elsewhere.  Benjamin could not careless whether we stayed or left and it truly really reflects how much the restaurant  does not value its customers. When asked if he was going to do anything about it he said, "Nothing here is free, if you leave now then you don't have to pay." At this point, I'm still not sure why we were still sitting there.  Alas, he promised to take off 2 side dishes off the bill.  Unfortunately, I was already full from the wrath we had all been fed and didn't have anymore appetite to enjoy the king crab dishes that eventually arrived.

After the conversation with Benjamin, the table next to us actually came up and shared their complaint (which Benjamin was also unresponsive to) with us.  Apparently the crab that arrived was much smaller than what they initially saw when the server brought it to them live and should be less than the price that they were paying for.  This is a common issue with several Chinese seafood restaurants serving Alaskan king crab.  Like us, they were unhappy with how their complaint was also dismissed and said that they would not return again.

"Where's the tip?"
Obviously we did not leave any tip, and will not be returning to this restaurant ever again.  As we were leaving, a waiter came up to us and said "Where's the tip? Didn't you tip?".  I remember that gratuity is earned based on the quality of service and dining experience, not mandatory.  Based on our whole dining experience, I could not believe someone from this restaurant had the audacity to come up to us and demanded gratuity.  

Last but not least, when I was in the parking lot, I spotted a giant rat roaming around.  I can only hope the rodents did not find their way in the restaurant.  There is just too many things wrong with this place.  So if you are thinking about going there, please proceed with caution.

Empire Seafood Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Biggest disappointment of 2011 (thus far): Le Cafe Siam

I don't usually write negative posts about a restaurant unless it was absolutely appalling.  And regrettably, after a long awaited visit to Le Cafe Siam, my experience was nothing short of the biggest let down I've encountered at fine dining restaurants.  Situated in Sathorn area of Bangkok, the location of the restaurant is somewhat hidden from the main road and could be tricky to find if you are not familiar with the area.  Our night was off to a rough start after driving in circles trying to locate the restaurant and running late for our reservation.  After half hour, we finally reached the restaurant and walked in with a positive attitude.  We were warmly greeted by the staff as we were seated at the table.  As mentioned in my previous post, after watching the video clip and reading several positive reviews about the restaurant, I was thrilled and looked forward to tasting head chef and owner, Paul Anthony Quarchioni's creations.  The prices are definitely on the high spectrum, which to me, should reflect the quality and presentation suitable of fine dining.

We started with an amuse bouche of salmon tartar drizzled with lime or kaffir lime oil.  It was very fragrant, and not overly salty, but lacked the hint of citrus tang.

Seared scallops with mushroom risotto. Scallops were well cooked, while the risotto was creamy and chewy.  After a few bites, it began to taste a bit too starchy.

John Dory with lobster bisque.  The fish had a very soft, buttery texture, while the lobster bisque was seasoned with way too much salt.

Can I get a cleaver to go with the duck confit??
I looked forward to try out the "imported" duck confit, which turned out to be a total abomination.  The renounced duck confit was absolutely overcooked to the point that it was tough, super dry, and impenetrable.  I had to ask twice for a proper knife to use to cut through the impermeable block of brick sitting on my plate.  The first time he returned with the same knife, a salad knife.  Maybe he thought this blade would be sharper. Bless his soul.  But I had asked for a steak knife! My fingers were getting sore from holding the knife at the blade just to cut through its thick skin!  This is unacceptable and I couldn't take it anymore.  I don't need to eat too many duck confit to know that the meat should have been simmered long enough that it would be tender enough to be able to cut through easily. 

I actually preferred the sides of green beans and scalloped potatoes over the duck confit itself.

Are you kidding me??
While the servers were extremely polite and knowledgeable of the menu, they never asked us how we were doing with the food.  I saw head chef having a smoke outside the restaurant and popping in and out of the dining area, but he never once came around to ask how his customers were doing either (unlike in the video! I guess that was all for show).  This was another point that infuriated me about this restaurant. Both the server and the chef were quite unapologetic and unresponsive to my complaint, as if I just didn't know how to appreciate French cuisine and that my opinion did not matter. The servers looked absolutely clueless as I stared into their blank faces as though they were saying "What? You DON'T love our food? Deal with it."  For the price that we pay, and as customers, we DO expect our concerns to be heard.  Instead, we were left completely unattended and neglected with a pile of salty, overcooked food.  

(Not So) Inspiration Set 

Baked eggplants with goat cheese balsamic reduction. This dish had a bitter aftertaste and it definitely isn't for everybody.  I personally didn't mind it, but could do without the bitterness.  

The mushroom soup was only satisfactory.  The taste didn't stand out and was comparable to any random mushroom soup you can find everywhere.  

Grilled sea bass with meuniere sauce.  Though the seasoning was tasty, the overall dish was way too oily.  As sea bass already has a lot of fat, adding too much buttery oil to it definitely took away from the taste and the texture.  

The last to arrive was crepe suzette.  It was quite light, and refreshing.  I apologize but this was best picture out of the bunch.

The verdict? Hells to the NO!
There are many other humble French restaurants that make genuinely rustic and delicious French fare without coming across as being this pretentious. Our party was not only disappointed in the quality of food, but the entire experience had set us back. Aside from the colonial decor and slightly infused version of traditional French cuisine, the quality of the food we received fell quite a far distance from what the restaurant claims for itself.  Food presentation was as basic and lacked elegance.  There was no evidence of effort put into each dish.   After peeling away the exterior layers of a beautiful setting and an expensive list sophisticated dishes, we were left with simple bistro fare barely garnished and tagged as "fine dining".  It was as though you thought you were going to see Elvis but turned out it was just an impersonator performing instead.

Unmemorable, and not worth the price.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Chicken Massaman curry

Massaman curry is a southern Thai curry with Muslim influence.  The spices used in the curry paste include turmeric, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves which makes the curry very aromatic.  A great massaman curry has a balance of sweet and savoury, and it is normally consisted of beef or chicken, peanuts, onions and potatoes.  It can be eaten with rice or toasts, and it is one of my favourite curries!

Using fresh ingredients...
Wow making a batch of delicious, authentic Thai curry is truly hard work.  While I was in Thailand, I learned how to make this dish almost from scratch.  Fresh ingredients are key and they are reflected in the overall taste of the finished product.  Of course, some ingredients may not be readily available, or you don't always have that many hours to spare for cooking.  So here are the ingredients we originally used, and suggested shortcuts if you can't find the exact same form at the grocery store.
We actually had to squeeze the milk out of the coconut and strain it several times until the meat was completely dried out.  That alone took forever.  Nonetheless, I definitely tasted a huge difference in the freshness between canned and fresh coconut milk, so it was worth the effort.  As a time saver, you can settle for a canned coconut milk though the flavour won't be as divine (though it will save you about at least 45 minutes).
Open and go!
Next up, to get the tangy flavour of the tamarind juice, we had to boil tamarind in water and let simmer for another half an hour.
Can't find tamarind? Substitute with tamarind powder where you can just dilute with water.  

The only component that was pre-made was the massamun curry paste that we purchased from the local market which was made fresh without preservatives.  It is also more concentrated than the packaged ones.  Mae Ploy brand is quite good for Thai curry pastes and they keep for quite some time especially in the refrigerator or freezer.
Massaman curry paste 
 Kapi is basically a strong smelling shrimp paste used in many Thai dishes and is essential in Thai cooking.  A word of warning, if you fry this in your house without a fan on or window opened, you will definitely regret it as your house will wreak for days.  It can be extremely overwhelming.  Therefore, I suggested it be optional or use only small amount to add extra fragrant.
Fresh kapi
Tra Chang brand shrimp paste
Last but not least, different type of sugar is used to season different curry.  Palm sugar is used for Massaman as it gives the curry a nice, caramelized sweetness.  These guys are also yummy on their own,  I try not to eat them like fudge bars :P

Palm sugar
So without further ado, here is the direction of making chicken massaman curry!

2 cups coconut milk (cream and milk separated)
1/2 cup Massacurry paste
2 chicken legs 2 chicken thighs
1 cup onion
1.5 cup potatoes 
1/2 cup roasted peanuts
2.5 tbsp. palm sugar
1 cup tamarind juice
1 tbsp. kapi (optional)
2 tbsp. fish sauce (to taste)

Peel and cut potatoes into big chunks (2" wide).  In a pot, stir fry massaman curry paste with coconut cream (the thicker layer of coconut milk that usually floats on top).  Stir fry until the mixtures blend in well together and start to simmer for about 5 minutes.  Add chicken and keep stir frying, covering the chicken meat with curry paste until the meat starts to cook.  Add the rest of the coconut milk and stir well.  Bring to boil before adding potatoes, peanuts and onions.  If the curry is too thick or dry, add some water.  Season with palm sugar, fish sauce, and kapi. Cover the pot and let simmer until the oil starts to separate from the curry.  The longer the curry simmers, the better it will taste!