Saturday, May 30, 2009

Din Tai Feng

Din Tai Fung 鼎泰豐
Din Tai Fung is the restaurant for soup dumplings (xiaolongbao 小籠湯包). The vendors and restaurants in Shanghai can't compare to the Din Tai Fung brand. The original shop is in Yunkang Street in Taipei, Taiwan. Unfortunately for mainland China but fortunately for Taiwan, most of the culinary masters of various Chinese cuisines flocked with the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi) before the 1949 Communist victory in mainland China. Xiaolongbao is a popular Shanghainese culinary masterpiece that differs from the Northern-style dumplings in that it's steamed rather than boiled in water and has a meat and broth filling. Instead of dipping the dumplings in soy sauce, you dip them in black vinegar with thinly sliced ginger.
Xiaolongbao 小籠湯包
Who knew that the founder, who was neither a chef by trade nor from Shanghai, could have established the world's most renowned xiaolongbao restaurant?
Din Tai Fung has since expanded its menu from its humble beginnings. Their chicken soup is known for the intensity of the broth.

Chicken Soup; Wonton Soup
You can do no wrong ordering the various steamed dumplings. The quality will always be top-notch.

Shrimp and Pork Dumplings; Fish Dumplings
A hidden plus to eating at Din Tai Fung on Yunkang Street is its proximity to the best dessert vendor in Taiwan-Ice Monster. Finishing off your meal of steaming soup dumplings with a chilly bowl of shaved ice, fresh mangos, mango ice cream and condensed milk will make your $1000 plane ticket to 100% humidity hell worthwhile.

Ice Monster

Mango Ice with Mango Ice Cream

Friday, May 29, 2009

Taste No Evil Muffin Co.

Taste No Evil Muffin Co.
Taste No Evil Muffin Co. is a natural and organic muffin-offering bus on S. Lamar. I'm not a fan of muffins because the overly sweet, greasy, cakey breakfast item from the grocery stores make me sick in the mornings. After reading about them from Tasty Touring's blog, I decided to give Taste No Evil a try. The Blackberry Peach and Strawberry Citrus Sunrise were just the muffins to help me overcome my fear of muffins. Indeed, not all muffins are evil! These muffins are light but packed with fruit. For a person with a strong savory breakfast bias, these muffins sure made a good impression. And for someone who finds grease highly repulsive, these muffins put me at ease because "[t]he butter in this [Strawberry Citrus Sunrise] recipe has been replaced with applesauce making it lower in fat than most muffins you typically encounter, but not less moist."

Blackberry Peach Muffin
Strawbery Citrus Sunrise

Trio Happy Hour

Trio Happy Hour with Fickle Foodie

Everytime Fickle Foodie and I make plans to visit Trio for its half-price happy hour treats, they always get thwarted by something unforeseen. We finally made it to celebrate my Lunar calendar birthday, which always happens on Duan Wu Jie (Dragon Boat Festival), the anniversary date of the suicide of a Chu kingdom official and poet, Qu Yuan. Qu Yuan opposed the Chu alliance with the rising Qin kingdom, and committed suicide when Qin turned against and conquered the Chu kingdom.

So what does this mean for Fickle Foodie and Food Dilettante? Time for us to visit Trio!

Happy Hour Menu (M-F 5PM-8PM half price)
In a perfect world, I would've ordered everything on the menu, but alas the purchasing power of a graduate student and a young career woman does not enable us to order as we please. We ordered happy hour dishes to fill up our bellies for dinner rather than treat them as a light happy hour hors d'oeuvres. We narrowed our choices down to the Smoked Shrimp Croquettes, Crispy Pork Belly, Lamb Sliders, Baked Gulf Oysters, and Crab Fondue. Then, because it's my Lunar birthday, we ordered desserts from the non-happy hour menu.

The Smoked Shrimp Croquettes were the night's stand out dish. When I popped the first one in my mouth and before I started chewing, a puff of the smoked shrimp aroma exuded from the pores of the croquette. I loved it before even biting into it.

Smoked Shrimp Croquettes

My next favorite was the Crispy Pork Belly. For some reason, the pork bellies I've had at every restaurant all have an Asian pallate of flavors, including this one. I found these on the salty side, but pork bellies tend to be served on the saltier side of the spectrum. The most famous and tastiest pork belly is Dongpo Rou (東坡肉), braised pork belly. Su Dongpo 蘇東坡 aka Su Shi 蘇軾 was a scholar-official and Renaissance man (Renaissance man is an ill-fitting term because Dongpo came way before the Italian China, literatus is the more appropriate term for learned men who paint, write poetry, calligraphy, historical essays, grand political strategies for the emperor, etc.) from the Song dynasty (960–1279). During one of his numerous exiles, Su Dongpo created recipes to deal with the limited edible resources available. His most famous recipe was for rotted pork meat, now made with FDA approved pork belly. Su Dongpo is fascinating, no? Back to Trio's pork belly. It tasted like a Japanese-Vietnamese take on pork belly with the pickled radishes and carrots. It felt like I was eating an extra salty baguette-less banh mi!

Crispy Pork Belly

The lamb sliders had a strong taste assisted by the generoud dollop of tzatziki. I would have liked it more if the oil from the lamb or butter on the bread and the tzatziki not have soaked through the bun. Perhaps if Trio served the tzatziki separately, they can avoid limp buns.

Lamb Sliders

I've managed to avoid consuming oysters for 25 years. On my 26th, I tried it for the first time with Trio's shrimp, bacon and shoestring potato topped gulf oysters. In my mind, I always thought oysters taste gross because of its slippery texture and weird innards. I'm glad I started with cooked oysters dressed in all sorts of goodies instead of raw with only horseradish and cocktail sauce. It's not bad...but it'll take a lot more oysters to ease them into my food consumption repertoire.

Baked Gulf Oysters
The crab fondue was a great disappointment. The toasts were so hard, I could barely bite down into them. The fondue lacked a kick. It was bland and boring. I appreciated the plentiful lumps of crab meat, but there's not enough to save this dish.
Crab Fondue

I knew I had to have the Blackberry Lemon Napoleon when I saw Boot's in the Oven's photo on flickr. I haven't had macarons since Paris 2006-2007. It's been 2 years. I lie. I had Fickle Foodie's delectable rose-lychee-raspberry macarons early 2008...but only a couple. I feel so deprived; it's near impossible to find macarons in Austin. Central Market sells teensy weensy ones for $1+ each. Yikes. No way would I shed that kind of money on normal chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry macarons. But a macaron Napoleon????? My prayers are answered! I gobbled up everything on the plate, and saved the little bitty blackberry macaron for my last bite. Poof! Light as air, and gone. The ephemeral quality of macarons makes my thirst for them ever more insatiable. I curse the day I laid eyes on them!

Fickle Foodie had the Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch, which she thoroughly enjoyed, but I will never stray from that Napoleon.
Blackberry Lemon Napoleon-sable breton, blackberry mousse, lemon vanilla cream, lemon frozen yogurt; Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch-peanut butter mousse, milk chocolate cremeux, grape fluid gel, milk shooter

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Casa Maria for Machacado con Huevo and El Pastor Taqueria for Al Pastor

My friend, Rachel, mentioned to me a while back that if a Mexican restaurant has its own Panaderia, then it should be good. I took heed of her advice, and haven't failed with Mi Tierra in San Antonio and Casa Maria here in Austin.

Casa Maria Restaurant y Panaderia
I've only visited Casa Maria for their breakfast tacos and pastries. The pastries come fresh out of the ovens every morning. The pineapple pastries are my favorite.

Casa Maria Panaderia; fruit filled pastries
I just can't pry myself away from their Machacado con Huevo breakfast taco. Whenever I come here, I always end up ordering that even during lunch hours (they serve breakfast tacos all day). I tried the Al Pastor, and quickly reverted back to the machacado. The al pastor lacked the pineapple flavor essential to al pastor. The tortillas are the softest and fluffiest I've had in Austin.

Casa Maria: Machacado con Huevo Breakfast Taco; Al Pastor
For a way better al pastor, stop by the El Pastor Taqueria taco stand on Riverside. Yes, the strip mall looks scary and deserted at times, but ignore the atmosphere and go straight to the window for the 5 for $5 al pastors during lunch hours. This is a good place to whip out your Spanish...I made a fool of myself by ordering in hard could it be? "dos al pastors con tortilla de harina." But when asked if I wanted cebollas (onions), I said "oui." Nice.
Oh make sure you get the creamy, spicy, green sauce for your al pastor.

EL Pastor Taqueria Taco Stand on Riverside
Al Pastor

Thai Kitchen

My brother's favorite restaurant in Austin is Thai Kitchen. Like Madam Mam's, Thai Kitchen has an extensive menu, but while Madam Mam's specializes in noodles, Thai Kitchen has a wider range of non-noodle dishes and has plating that's conducive to sharing.

The Gatee Thom Yum Gai soup is the best dish on the menu. The tartness of the lemongrass makes the chicken based broth refreshing. I also highly recommend the Kuai Tai Haeng with duck. This almost tastes Vietnamese to me in its gentler seasoning; it is a good contrast to the stronger, sharper taste of other Thai dishes.

Thai Coffee and Thai Tea without milk

Gatee Thom Yum Gai-chicken soup with coconut milk, lemon grass, markroot, Thai hot pepper, cilantro, green onion, mushrooms, lemon juice and chili in oil; Beef Satay

Sauteed Vegetables with Shrimp; Tofu Curry-tofu with Thai hot-tot red curry and coconut milk

Ba Mi Num Egg Noodle Soup-with green onion, cilantro, bean sprouts, and duck; Thai Dried Noodles (Kuai Tiao Haeng)-with green onion, cilantro, bean sprouts, ground peanuts, and duck

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Les Chevaliers

Les Chevaliers (Beaune, France)

The heartiest meal and certainly one of the best I had in France was in Beaune in the Bourgogne (Burgundy) region. Les Chevaliers (3, Petite Place Carnot - 21200 Beaune Tél: 03 80 22 32 26) has a tiny first floor with only a couple of 2 to 4 person tables. The rest of the dining area is located in the basement that appears to have been a cellar.

The lunch 3 course prix-fixe on the chalkboard looked promising and as affordable as a decent meal in France gets.

I think they offer the largest portions in the country. I was flabbergasted when my first dish, haricot vert salad with ham and cornichons, came. Remember, I ordered a 3 course prix-fixe. My first course looked like it would fill me up before the main course comes. Good thing my mom's first course was only a tiny dish of escargots. She eagerly took to my offer of sharing my delectable salad.

Haricot Vert Salad with Jellied Ham and Cornichons; Escargots
Because we were in Bourgogne, I had to order the Boeuf Bourguignon, while mom ordered another dish that I desperately wanted to try, magret de canard with pears, wild mushrooms, and a berry sauce. The portions were big even for American standards. The beef was so rich and thick. The meat and tendons melted in my mouth. It was like eating meat chocolate. The duck breast was juicy from sitting on berry juice and soaking the oil from the sauteed mushrooms. I would be fat but happy if I ate like this everyday.

Boeuf Bourguignon and Magret de Canard with wild mushrooms, pear, and berry sauce
Ah yes, the main course came with a side of scalloped potatoes. Pile on the carbs!

The only photo I have of the potatoes
Because it was a prix-fixe, we had to persevere on and eat dessert. Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever denied myself dessert in France. The tarte aux fruits was thicker than other tarts I've had in France, making it a complete hearty meal.
Tarte aux Fruits

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

KG Sushi Train

The first time I dined at a kaiten-zushi restaurant was in the basement of a huge department store in Seoul....Seoul Train! Har har.

This works when you know you'll have a lot of customers during the lunch rush or when the restaurant caters to a constant but small stream of customers like in Seoul with only 8 bar stools. Although it's fast food sushi, the prices aren't necessarily better because they cut down on the portions per plate and each plate is priced according to its color code (the rim of the plate). For example, when you order a maki roll at a regular sushi restaurant, you can expect at least 5 cuts of the roll. I got only 2 pieces at half the price of a normal 5-piece roll at the sushi train in Seoul.

Conveyor Belt Sushi in a Seoul Department Store cafeteria
Maki and Ebi Sushi (Seoul)

I visited Austin's KG Sushi Train (part of Korea Garden) during its grand opening week (January 2009) with its special of $1.50 per plate, and I haven't been back now that prices have normalized...Perhaps I'll revisit one of these lazy summer days.

KG Sushi Train
Korea Garden is located north of the UT campus and thus can't expect to capture the power lunch clientele of downtown Austin. There were only 6 people at the train bar when I got there for the grand opening special. Disregarding the minor start up kinks (the long time lapse between each variety of plates to come out), I could see that the train could be problematic for Korea Garden. How fresh can the sushi be rotating for who knows how long? This wasn't a problem for me when I went because I went right when they opened for lunch, but I noticed quite a few old plates still making the rounds when I paid my bill and new customers arrived. However, if KG cuts down on the number of plates circulating on the conveyor belt, they may end up lacking variety.

Of course, no one expects to get authentic Japanese cuisine in a Korean restaurant, but like with Chinese food in any mall's food court, it is a guilty pleasure. The sushi offerings at KG are tasty and fun. I get excited as new dishes appear at the beginning of the belt and curse customers under my breath when they get the ones I want. It's almost more a "thing to do" in Austin than a "place to eat."

**Must-Haves***Korean Chilled Sweet Potato Noodles; Baked Green Lipped Mussels

California Roll and Spider Roll

Unagi Avocado Roll and Seared Salmon Roll

Salmon Sushi and Tamagoyaki Sushi

**Skip These** Tempura Salmon Roll and Stuffed Mushrooms