My Mom is an Ant

By Tsz on October 22, 2009

If I had to categorize my mom as either an ant or a grasshopper in terms of grocery shopping, she’s definitely an ant. Whenever there’s a sale at Ralphs or Hows, she would load up on protein for the week (more like a month). There’s a neat system she runs each time too: she portions out the different meats and filed away the individual packets in their respective corners of the freezer, where they’re ready to be defrosted and cooked for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

It’s a highly proficient system and I’ve got to admit it’s genius. Just yesterday, when I was hankering for fish, there it was, a sandwich biggie of Tilapia was waiting for me patiently in the lower shelf.

Using just ingredients from our pantry and backyard, I created a simple, yet filling lunch. Here’s the recipe:

Cornmeal encrusted Tilapia filet with a caper garlic lime sauce and chickpea puree with roasted garlic

Tilapia Filet
1. Season Tilapia filet with S&P, then dredge in cornmeal
2. Pan fry in olive oil till crispy and cooked through (5 mins)

Chickpea Puree
1. Blend one can of chickpeas (drained) with S&P and olive oil. Mine was infused with mint, but extra virgin works great as well.
2. In a pan render out 2 Tb of chopped Salo (or bacon) till crispy.
3. Press 2 cloves of garlic in the pan and cook till soft
4. Add Salo and garlic with all the oil into the puree and mix well

Caper Garlic Lime Sauce
1. In the same pan that you fried the fish, add sliced garlic and capers
2. Add 1/4 cup of chicken broth, a squeeze of lime and cook till reduced
3. Turn off the heat before stirring in 1 Tb of butter to emulsify
To plate: add a healthy mount of puree on the plate, place filet on top, drizzle with the sauce and finish with lime zest and chiffonade basil.

Bon Appetit!


RH: Just Like New Glasses

By Tsz on October 15, 2009

For everyone who wears glasses: remember the first pair you ever got? After months (or in my case, over a year) of blurriness and haze, the moment that you put on your first pair of glasses might almost be classified as magical—at least it was for me.

After struggling with myopia for over a year in fourth grade, partially due to not knowing any better, but mostly because I didn’t want to be uncool (“four-eyes” was the insult du jour in school), I finally got the nerve to ask my parents to take me to see the optometrist.

Fast-forwarding all the boring bits, let me tell you the moment the optometrist opened the case and presented me with my new gold and lavender rimmed pair of glasses, my hand shook. I was entering the ranks of the “four-eyes,” but, holy moly, did the world look amazingly sharp. I saw the texture in the carpet, the sound-proof holes in the ceiling and the crater-sized pores sprinkled over my optometrist’s face (yes, I still remember to this day). It was exciting to see the world in a fresh new way.

My lunch at RH was a similar experience. Like glasses, I was avoiding RH because it was located within the Andaz Hotel (normally a tell-tale sign for boring, $ food at $$$ price). I was highly skeptical of the caliber of the kitchen, but, they had included duck confit and rum baba in their dineLA menu, both of which are some of my favorite foods, so off I went with my friend.

When we arrived, the host graciously seated us next to the kitchen, which was simply a work of art. There were no walls, just a wide marble counter and a cooking range that can comfortably fit 4 chefs and a garde manger station. Beyond the range was a floor-to-ceiling glass walk-in where the fresh foods were displayed like jewels.

They first started us off with a small loaf of sour-dough baguette—warm and crusty from the oven. The butter was also presented at the optimal temperature for spreadability and sprinkled with fresh ground pepper. My only critique was the butter could have used a grinding of salt as well, but that’s splitting hairs.

Next came the Prince Edward Island mussels, baked in a cast-iron plate with a sauvignon blanc cream sauce and bread crumbs. A balanced delight of briny mollusks tempered by the cream and crispy crumb topping.

As for my friend, he chose the shrimp ceviche, which was a solid combination of lime-cooked shrimps, and garden fresh vegetables—perfect for a summer day.

For the main attraction, both of us ordered the Petaluma duck confit, and it was stunning. Normally, hotel restaurants try to over-complicate food by adding foams, purees and other showmanship tricks to compensate for their prices, yet failing in capturing the true essence of the ingredients, but not so at RH. They provided a crystal clear flavor profile with a simply well-seasoned, well-confit duck leg with expertly crisped skin. The duck was then paired with a tasty mix of oven-roasted red potatoes, spring onions, earthy shitake mushrooms and caramelized shallots atop a light pan sauce. There was no garnish because the dish didn’t need any.

They really hit the ball out of park with my dessert, which was the rum baba topped with vanilla whipped cream and a fruit minestone soup. It was a play of tastes and textures with the almost-heavy rum soaked cake, sweet cream and the tart fruit compote.

My friend’s walnut cake wasn’t half bad either. Crispy on the outside, while soft and moist on the inside, it was paired with crunchy walnuts, caramel ribbons and vanilla bean ice cream. Aptly made, but lacked the extra something that the rum baba had, which was the play between the flavors. Something salty would add some interest, perhaps bacon and a light sprinkling of fleur de sel?

After the wonderful meal, I had a brief conversation with the executive chef, Sebastien Archambault. He shared his cooking philosophy, which was to cook with farm fresh ingredients and letting them shine and gave me a tour of his open-kitchen.

Having worked in a kitchen before, I asked if it is nerve-wrecking to cook in front of patrons just a few feet over, but Chef Archambault said it really teaches one to cook efficiently. Also, I asked what does he like to cook outside of the restaurant as it’s a fascination of mine to see what chefs eat. His answer was a fresh, simple caprese. Well, I look forward to going back and who knows, maybe I can sample a RH caprese… bet it would be delicious.


The Land of Milk and Honey

By Tsz on October 11, 2009

It may come as a surprise to those who know me, but my Sunday routine as a kid largely surrounded the church. I would wake up at an ungodly hour of 8a (on a weekend!), gobble down a quick breakfast, followed by hours of bible school, then a trip to the church buffet (where I learned the wonders of Hawaiian punch and baked egg), and lastly, 4 more hours of choir.

That ended as I entered my teenage rebellion years. I took a strong stand by sleeping in on Sundays, therefore effectively ending my spotless record of church attendance.

Although I’ve now been church-free for quite a few years, many bible stories stayed with me, especially the adventures of Moses. Being a natural-born foodie, that story has been my favorite because of all the miracles surrounding food. Falling sweet manna from the sky, the quest to find “the land flowing with milk and honey” (aka Israel)—nothing else tops it for me.

So, during my recent trip to New York, I too, went on a pilgrimage to the land of milk and honey. In this case, it’s the top-secret bar with the same name. Highly recommended by my friend and pastry chef extraordinaire, M&H is a intimate, speakeasy that focuses on cocktails and nothing else.

Getting in is a mission in itself as the bar is a members-only establishment—the other alternative is to be referred by a member. Fortunately in my case, I fall under the latter category and the chef took care of it all.

At the time of my reservation, my friends and I arrived on time in front of a nondescript door on a quiet (sketchy) street. The only marker that let me know I was at the right place was the discreet M&H sticker—and a couple was there quietly bargaining with the hostess. They had no reservations but still wanted to go in, to which the hostess politely referred them “to a bar down the street with a star on the door.” Ouch.

As the rejected couple slumped away, the hostess looked over expectantly and I barely managed to squeak out my name. Her demeanor changed immediately and warmly directed my party and I to a leather booth where a server promptly asked us what were our spirit of choice and favorite taste profile. That’s right, there are no menus—every libation is customized to each patron. *Also, a note for vodka lovers: M&H unfortunately do not serve vodka, sorry.

I ordered St. Germain and super fruity and as for my friends: aged rum and smokey; gin and tart; and gin and sweet. As we waited for our drinks, we surveyed the establishment. The space is narrow and long, with several leather booths and small candle lit bar where a lone bartender furiously shook cocktails through the night. In the bathrooms, there is a framed rules of conduct to keep things classy. Overall, the atmosphere was relaxed and refreshingly not crowded—a welcomed change to the hustle and bustle of New York.

Our server came back later with our cocktails and we were in heaven. My drink tasted like a fresh strawberry field with a slight flowery aftertaste and my friends’ drinks all tasted exactly like their requests.

What’s particularly notable is the attention to the ice cubes used in all our prospective concoctions. In my case, I wanted something light, so mine came in a towering cup of little cubes which, as they melted, maintained the perfect alcohol level and taste. As for my friend, his drink incorporates a deep rum, so the bartender used one big ice cube that barely melted but kept his drink nice and cold.

We stayed for one more impeccable round of refreshments before calling it a night. And what a night it was.


Ippudo > Daikokuya

By Tsz on October 10, 2009

As much as I hate to admit this being a devoted Angeleno and all, NY has better ramen than LA. I’ve scoured my entire hometown too for the best: Santouka for their succulent cha shu; Shin-Sen-Gumi for their rich, customizable broth and noodles; and Daikokuya for overall best-in-show. I thought I got it all figured out… until I tried the wondrous brew that is the Ippudo Akamaru Modern.

I have my friend in New York to thank for this stunting revelation. He took me there during my visit to The Big Apple and told me this was simply the best. I scoffed at first, but after seeing the intense line out front, I kept my mouth shut and followed his lead and in turn had the greatest ramen to date. I took detailed notes and here are the golden rules to follow for the best possible experience at Ippudo.

Rule No. 1
Go during odd hours during weekdays—unless you derive pleasure from waiting in long lines. Excellent times are early lunch and during the golden period called “Linner.” If you must go at peak hours, don’t wait outside like the uninformed, but enjoy a cold one at their ramen covered bar instead.

Rule No. 2
Once you get seated, order their pork belly buns as an appetizer and share with a friend—you won’t regret this. Now, they say Momofuku has the best pork buns in the biz, but I beg to differ. Although theirs is stellar, Ippudo’s buns are even better.

Reason is that they’re more generous with their pork. Sandwiched between delicate steamed buns are hefty slices of unctuous, tender hog belly bathed in a sweet and spicy sauce. On top is just the right amount of crisp lettuce for texture and a dab of mayo. That, my friends, makes for the perfect sandwich.

Rule No. 3
Get the Akamaru Modern and enjoy. No need to scour their lengthy menu, because this is king. The AM has the original soup base, but they spiked it with a spoonful of what I like to call, “MSG NOS.” The reason being is that no one knows for sure what’s in this paste other than miso and roasted garlic, but that is what gives the AM its superstar status.

And oh yes, don’t forget to ask for garlic. Raw cloves comes with a press—put one in your ramen and let it steep for a minute. It adds a different dimension to the ramen.

The AM hits you like an expensive perfume with clear top and base notes. First, you can taste the fresh scallions, springy noodles (made in-house no less) and crisp wood ear mushrooms. Then you really taste the pork, both in its material form and its essence in the soup. It’s strong, yet delicate at the same time with no greasy aftertaste, unlike Santouka brew. Daikokuya’s soup is flavorful, but it lacks that balance that Ippudo is so skillful in accomplishing. Also, Daikokuya also use milk in their soup, which always gives me a stomachache afterwards (I’m cursed with lactose intolerance). It’s so good I went back on my own a week later just before my flight home.

Now you know the rules… get a plane ticket and start eating!

Side note: Saw this in the Native American exhibit in The Natural History Museum… could that be they they have experience ramen?