Sunday, November 28, 2010

Food aversions

So many people recently have said that I'm picky, well my pickiness stems mainly from my avoidance of food I used to be allergic to (although new allergies keep popping up all the time it seems, like raw and grilled eggplant most recently). Things I don't eat include:

1. Eggs. No egg dishes, and I pick out large pieces of fried egg from pad thai, but eggs in baked goods are ok, but not overly-eggy custards, but in general I like custards and flan  
2. Mayonnaise. It contains eggs. I don't like eggs. Also would rather not eat the calories associated with mayonnaise.  
3. Shellfish. I think I was deathly allergic to them when I was younger but now I just don't care for them. So no shrimp, lobster or crab for me
4. Mollusks and bivalves. I LOVE LOVE LOVE mussels. Scallops, clams, oysters and others can go elsewhere. As in not in my tummy
5. Certain kinds of fish. I am deathly allergic to sturgeon, so much so that I have an epi-pen. I once went to the hospital after eating a tiny piece of smoked sturgeon (the Russians love it). Because of this, I approach new fish I have never tried cautiously. But for the most part, I eat all other fish including arctic char, salmon, sea bream, turbot, bass, etc etc. I will not eat Chilean Sea Bass for ethical reasons. But I will eat red snapper, which I love, but only in Mexico. Yes, I am a hypocrite. What can I say.  
6. Sushi. I don't like raw fish. I am also allergic to random fish (see above). But I do like sushi restaurants. I order cucumber-avocado rolls. Rice on the outside, please. And add some sesame seeds. Thanks.  
7. Black caviar. See above, deathly allergy to sturgeon. Plus you'll thank me at the dinner table when you don't have to share your caviar. I don't eat red caviar either though.  
8. Celery. I can't stand the taste. I've tried it multiple times and I just don't like it. I can stomach celeriac though, but it's not my favorite
9. Innards + offal + sweetbreads. Tried some and its more a texture thing. That and I just don't want to. Plus I have awful memories of fried liver when I was little.  
10. Foie gras. Both ethical and taste reasons. And the point above about innards. But if you eat it I won't judge. I eat baby cows after all. Mmmm, veal...  
11. Aspic. Another popular Russian food but no thanks, I don't like meat encased in jello. Nor do I like the Russian mayo-based salads. See mayo-hating reason above.  
12. Peanut butter. Blasphemy, I know. But I didn't grow up with it and I'd rather not eat too much of it because I'm afraid I'll start liking it and I most definitely don't need those extra calories. This include Reese's.  
13. Pumpkin pie. I think not ever having a good one has prevented me from trying more. I like pumpkin (and squash in general). I like pie. Just not pumpkin pie.
14. Milk. Don't do milk. Never liked it. Once in kindergarten they tried to force me to drink my milk and I refused. I do like my cereal to be completely soaked in milk though. But I don't eat cereal too often.  
15. Nacho cheese. It's not normal. Just please, NO. Kraft Singles...that's another story. You can't have a cheeseburger without a Kraft Single. It's just not American. But then again, so is not eating peanut butter...or pumpkin pie...  
16. Blue cheese. No a fan, that's all. But I like pretty much any other kind of cheese.  
17. Oatmeal. Tastes like old people food. Not that I don't like old people.  
18. Bell peppers. Used to be allergic, but now I just don't like them. But any other pepper I will eat. Jalapenos, serranos, habaneros...  
19. Olives. Love me a good olive oil. Can't stand the taste of olives. 
20. Root beer. Reminds me of this medicine I used to have to take when I was little. Also along the same lines, salted licorice. Gross.
21. Honey. Again, allergies. Honey in stuff, sure. But not a huge fan of honey by itself or honey drizzled over something. For this I have maple syrup. But not pancake syrup. NEVER pancake syrup.
22. Coffee. Love coffee-flavored everything, dislike coffee. I find it too bitter for me. Plus not drinking it means I won't stain my teeth - that's what red wine is for.

Things I do eat that you might not:  
1. Tongue. Mmmm, giant cow tongue = deliciousness. Just don't overcook it.  
2. Beets. I am a sucker for beets in any preparation. Except in mayonnaise.  
3. Lentils. I made things with red lentils. I love lentils de puy with some pork. And at Indian restaurants I can't not order daal. Can I have some more?  
4. Beans. Any kind of beans in general.  
5. Eggplant. Yes, I am allergic to raw and grilled but braised or especially with black bean sauce, just get in my belly. Thanks.
6. Fried farmer's cheese. If you tried it, you'd like it too.  
7. Sour cream. I can eat it by the spoonful. I guess the calories I don't consume by not eating peanut butter get canceled out here...
8. Buckwheat. Poor Russian farmer food. Delicious with lots of butter.  
9. Grains and couscous. Love them. Don't cook enough of them. Freekeh, bulgur, israeli couscous, polenta, whatever. Indifferent to quinoa though.
10. Matcha. I can handle the really intense matcha. Love the bitterness of it in desserts. Also love the smokiness of Hojicha.  
11. Brussels sprouts. Hopefully you try them with bacon before you hate on these
12. Root vegetables. Rutabagas, parsnip, turnip, give me. Beets already mentioned above. Minus celeriac.  
13. Goat cheese. Preferably warm, on toast, accompanied with a salad with bacon.  
14. Jamaica. Although you'd probably like it too if you try. Plus its not really for eating so much as drinking. And please, drink it with some good dark rum.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Aki Boulangerie

I wanted so badly for things from Aki Boulangerie to taste delicious but unfortunately, everything kind of fell flat. 

The top of the matcha muffin, which had a subtle matcha flavor, had a pleasant crispy bite to it but the rest of the muffin was too dry. The matcha croissant was flaky but the herbal bitterness of the matcha wasn't really discernible and the walnuts took away from what would otherwise have been a pretty good croissant, even with its lack of green tea flavor. From now on, if I want a green tea fix, I'll head over to the Sadaharu Aoki stand in the Galeries Lafayette.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Le Loir dans la Théière

Carb overload. Delicious carb overload which should've happened a long time ago. Le Loir dans la Théière is the perfect lunch/brunch spot is less than a 5 minute walk from me. The name, which is taken from Alice in Wonderland, refers to the doormouse in the teapot during the Mad Hatter's tea party. The inside is warm and cozy, with mismatched chairs (I even noticed an old-style school desk with the little table/armrest).

With a line out the door, we waited 30 minutes on Sunday to sit down to a "Parisian-style" brunch aka a formule (although you could order a la carte which included tartes salees, club sandwich and some pasta). We got lucky and were seated on the super comfortable old leather couch and chairs. Being swayed by the majority, we all ordered the formule (€20) which came with a choice of fresh-squeezed juice (orange, grapefruit or carrot), hot beverage (tea, coffee or hot chocolate), yogurt and applesauce (delicious by the way), toast and viennoiserie (croissant and pain au chocolat), and eggs (scrambled, poached, etc.). 

Usually I order a la carte for brunch because I don't like eggs but I was more than happy with all the carb-y things and let the others eat the eggs I ordered.

But the main attraction here is their home-made pies, cakes, and tarts. And oh my are they delicious. Towering lemon meringue, tarte tatin, latticed fruit jam tarts, cheesecakes...there was a good dozen to pick from and they rotate their selection daily. So even before we sat down to the toasts and the croissants and the pain au chocolat, I made it perfectly clear that everyone was to get dessert. And, happy to say, we all followed through!

Latticed raspberry jam tart where the dough tasted like good-old American pie crust to me, a barely sweet mascarpone and red fruit cheesecake with a crumbly base, chocolate banana pie which had a pleasantly fudgy layer of chocolate on top, and a ridiculously delicious (props EM for picking this one) pear chibouste tart that had that burnt-caramel aftertaste I adore.

It's a disgrace that I have not come here sooner but I will most definitely come again, perhaps after 16h when you can get dessert and a hot beverage for €8. But it will have to be at 16h on the dot - I hear they run out of pie!

Monday, November 22, 2010

El Nopal - best Mexican (food) in Paris?

Finally, what I've been craving in Paris - good, simple Mexican street food. None of that fancy-schmancy Anahuacalli stuff (which, wasn't that good) and none of that tex-mex like Fajitas (which I must admit is pretty tasty). El Nopal, on the Canal Saint Martin, is pretty much a hole-in-the-wall but a very bright and colorful one.

The chef-owner was cooking the day we went, with some help from his mother-in-law. Chef, originally from Monterrey (totally didn't get his name but he was very friendly and great to talk to), did some time in the kitchens of New York before he moved to Paris with his French-Colombian wife about 3 years ago. He opened up his taqueria in September and is pretty much a one-man show. The menu is basic Mexican street food including tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and tortas, which a choice of either (a) piccadillo which is ground beef with some tomatoes and onions (b) chicken cooked a la plancha with some bell peppers (c) carne asada or (b) pork, which we didn't try because it hadn't finished marinading yet.

After ordering some chips (bagged) and guac (homemade but could use some more salt/lime), AB went with the quesadillas which came with cheese, chorizo, pork (ham? bacon?) and I want to say nopales but I don't remember...

I went with a carne asada torta with had a really tasty refried black bean spread, nicely marinaded tender meat (it didn't taste spicy to me actually), lettuce, avocado, tomato and some kind of special sauce (I assume it had crema in it since it was creamy). I opted out of the pickled jalapenos but how could I not add some spicy salsa to it? MMMMM, the spicy salsa is yum.

And then we were easily persuaded to get some more food so we got tacos, which came 3 to an order. Chef was super accommodating and let us have different fillings - two were piccadillo and one was pollo. More salsa! More deliciousness! The coolest thing is that he makes his own corn tortillas! I'm impressed as there's nothing quite like a freshly made corn tortilla - it definitely makes a huge difference over the store-bought packaged ones (which I am actually quite partial to).

To finish? His mother-in-law makes desserts. Sometimes they have coconut flan, sometimes she makes something else I didn't quite catch but today it was a coffee-flavored dessert made of alternating layers of what tasted like petit beurre cookies and coffee-flavored condensed milk (maybe dulce de leche flavored with coffee extract/liqueur?), topped with some hazelnuts. A sweet ending to a sweet meal.

Chef also mentioned that he likes to change the menu around so its not the same all the time. There will be tostadas in the near future and something like it with two soft tortillas (totally missed the name but he might've said sincronizada). He is also searching for a good seafood supplier to make fish and shrimp tacos (to serve that expat California population perhaps?). Might I mention that huaraches, sopes and tamales would also all be welcome in my tummy?

Drinks are the standard Mexican beers (Dos Equis, Negra Modelo, Sol, and I may or may not have seen a Tecate as well) and some sodas (Fanta, Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite). No Jarritos unfortunately (he tried contacting them but they were fairly unresponsive) but sometimes he has agua de jamaica and horchata (he said in the summer he had sandia and melon)! Although as a personal thing, I prefer agua de tamarindo. He's also trying to get a liquor license so he can serve margaritas, blood orange margaritas!

Can't wait to go back and try some other stuff on the menu sometime soon. And while I wait, please go there and check it out. Sure, it's tiny with two stools and little counter space but while we were finishing up, 6 or 7 teenagers piled in and they seemed to be happy and cozy. So eat your tacos standing while pretending you're in a real taqueria in Mexico until you look outside and realize that no, you're still in Paris but at least you can now get authentically yummy Mexican food somewhere.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

London - Tea at The Wallace Collection

On a recommendation, we booked tea at The Wallace Collection. Good company with AG and JF, good tea, pretty good sandwiches, cakes and scones (although more yeasty than crumbly), atrocious service. 

We arrived (3:00pm) and not only did they completely forget to seat us (3:10pm) even though we had reservations but it took forever to take our order (3:25pm) and then even longer to bring it out (4:15pm), all the while others seated after us had already begun drinking their tea. We were assured that it would only be a few more minutes as the scones were about to come out of the oven all the while plates of scones were being brought to tables seated after us. Huh. Interesting. It's tea. I'm sure your water is boiled, your sandwiches are already made and fine, maybe your scones need some reheating but please, it does not take 50 minutes for a teapot and some pastries to arrive. 

Conclusion? It's good but not worth it unless you are really patient, not hungry and don't mind sitting around waiting.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

London - Hakkasan

It felt like walking into a club - on an otherwise dark and empty street, a bouncer and a girl with a clipboard stand outside the restaurant, seeing if your name is on the list. Then proceeding down the stairs, doors are opened, reservations checked again, coats taken and finally you are led to your table. The interior has an amazing design blending Chinese motifs (think cut-out lattice panels instead of walls) with trendy back-lit walls in blue and purple tones. The space seems larger than what it probably is, thanks to the panels, and yet somehow doesn't reach that deafening loudness of some restaurants.

AG and I had decided the previous night at Amaya that we would stick to ordering cocktails at Hakkasan as well. As always, I don't remember what they were but I tend to order ones that are rum or tequila based. The first one had pear and tequila and the second one that I ordered was a take on a pina colada but AG and I actually swapped cocktails and I ended up with a cocktail that had vodka and muddled grapes. Regardless, they were all delicious.

Again the small-plates trend (which I really do so love) continued. We started with the jasmine-tea smoked organic pork ribs - sticky sweet fall-off-the-bone tender deliciousness melting in your mouth. The serving size, four babyback ribs per person, was much larger than we thought it would be. After we commented between ourselves that that wetnaps would be welcome, we were given two bowls of water with lemon, and a hot towel. They think of everything here!

Next was the vegetarian dim sum and each of us got 4 pieces of whatever vegetable goodness was in there (the only thing we didn't really like was the bean curd used to wrap one of the pieces). These were really delicate and I remember liking the one with the green skin best. I was kinda dreamily thinking about these for a long long time afterward.

No more small plates! Now came the mains. We couldn't do without a veggie dish so we got the braised tofu, aubergine and shiitake mushroom claypot in blackbean sauce. We left the tofu and just feasted on the eggplant and shiitake mushrooms, of which there were definitely not enough of. They should take the tofu away and double the amount of veggies in this dish - we would have gladly ate (and paid) more for it if they had done that.

The Peking duck-style stir fry with veggies didn't really taste like duck...could've been pork for all I knew. We might've been better getting the duck and mango or the crispy duck rolls off the small plates section if we wanted duck but this still was pretty good.
On a last-minute whim I decided I wanted one more dish so we ordered the double-cooked slices of Berkshire pork belly with cabbage and firm tofu. This dish was the most disappointing with overly dry slices of meat but the cabbage and sauce were redeeming. I think we would've been upset had we not had so much other delicious food.

We finished our meal with an overly-sweet yuzu posset with blackberry compote which was their take on a lemon meringue pie. 

And then the waitress came over with the bill, which we asked to split, and then she got confused and left, and so we figured out how much half of the bill was and told her when she came back, and then she got confused again and left and another guy came to charge our cards. WHEW. And then we went to meet up with AP (JPs brother) whose birthday was the next week!

Now having been here, I kinda wish JP and I had made it over to the Miami Hakkasan location. Next time. And note to self: their veggies and small plates are much better than the mains so stick to those.

Friday, November 19, 2010

London - Borough Market

What kind of Food Ninja (a term coined by some Americans living in stinky-cheese land) would I be if I did not make an obligatory stop to this London food mecca? Saturday morning, after being thwarted by not only engineering works on the tube, but also the City of London Lord Mayor inauguration (or something like that), we made it to Borough Market at the respectable hour of noon (yours truly was thinking about getting there around 11am so we actually did quite well!).

Samples galore! Cheeses, jams, spreads, chocolates...mmmm. Here are a few snapshots of that afternoon:

We weren't just freeloaders - we did manage to buy some things, like the German Cheesecake (above) which was not very good - dense and with a cake-like base - and as such, half of it ended up in the trash can. We also got some brambleberry jam and some kind of cheddar from Neal's Yard Dairy, which I intend to use in my Thanksgiving cornbread.

More importantly, we got a chelsea bun (below, upper right) from Flour Station.

It's essentially a dense, yeasty cinnamon-raisin roll but less so on the cinnamon. I'm glad we didn't eat it on the spot - warmed up in a microwave the next day and spread with some salted Bordier butter it was something else entirely.

We were actually super full from all the sampling and eating that we didn't even try everything that was recommended by various sources. I guess that'll give me good reason to return next time...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

London - Amaya

Michelin-stared Indian restaurant? And it serves small plates?! Um, yes please! There's really none of that curry-heavy cooking at Amaya. This is primarily tandoori-based, which is great when you either (a) are nervous about Indian food or (b) you don't want to have an Indian food baby in your tummy after your dinner. I was the latter.

Cocktails were in order as neither AG nor I could imagine drinking wine at this restaurant - sleek, modern and glitzy. Me gusta! I rarely remember which cocktails I order but they were good. One of mine had tequila and lychee and the other one was a passionfruit caipirinha.

We stuck to only small plates (no biryani) and it was fairly easy deciding what we wanted from the veggie dishes (although it was difficult to limit ourselves). But we had difficulty in the fish/poultry/meat section. Do you get the chicken tandoori lollipops? Or lamb grilled on a skewer? Or how about some chicken chops? Or does one pick scallops (no because I don't eat them) or an actual fish? Luckily, our waitress gave us fantastic recommentations. We hadn't even thought of ordering the tandoori-spiced monkfish but this may have been the best part of the evening - two meaty pieces of fish on a mini-skewer, rubbed in spices and grilled. I've heard that monkfish is easy to overcook but this was perfection. And it's not as scary looking here as when it's whole.

The second recommendation from our waitress was to get the chicken or lamb chop. I think we picked wisely. The two fat golden-brown lamb chops came with a surprise - they were stuffed with spiced minced lamb! Genius and delicious. And if you're wondering whether they always give two to an order when you order the "small plate" version, the answer is no. AG had gone to Amaya with her parents and they gave them three pieces on a plate, which is actually very thoughtful because it's always awkward when there's not enough pieces for everyone.

Following our meat dishes were the dal, which while quite plain in and of itself, was livened up by the set of spices (coriander, salted peanut, masala and plum sauce) that accompanies the meal and a raita. It would've made more sense had they served us the raita at the very beginning as we would've like to have tried it on the lamb but regardless, it helped elevate some of the less-interesting dishes. The least interesting was probably the little cakes made of spinach and fig. I didn't detect any fig in there and these were so uninspiring that I forgot we ate them until I came across the picture.

We had almost forgotten to order the simple broccoli dressed with yogurt (and our only "large plate") but so glad we remembered as this was the standout vegetarian dish that night. The other veggie dish, smoky grilled aubergines at first fell flat but once livened up with the (pomegranate?) raita were actually somehow addicting!

Ending our meal was probably the stand-out dessert of the week - an eaton mess. Typically British, it's essentially pieces of meringue, some whipped cream and red berries. The juice from the berries softens the meringue, which in turn adds a pleasant sweetness and the cream adds a hint of richness.

This was most definitely my favorite meal of the weekend and I'd go back and eat there again any day. As long as I can have the broccoli.  

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

London - Tendido Cero

Unfortunately overshadowed by the other meals that week, Tendido Cero was nonetheless delicious tapas in a romantic setting (as most tapas places should be!). It was also the first time I attempted to take the bus, but failed (as happens quite often it seems) and took a cab. It really wasn't my fault - the bus that is supposed to come every 10-12 minutes didn't come for 30 and I was already late.

AG and I apparently both love Rioja so instead of picking the cheapest, we picked the second cheapest (we're so classy like that but I mean really, we don't know that much about wine except for what we like). The waiter kinda scrunched his face up when we ordered the wine and recommended the one for £9 more. Meh, sure, whatever! So we went with the waiter's recommendation and it was pretty good!

You know what else was pretty good? The most amazingly awesome Serrano and cheese croquettes that we ordered. These were little fried balls of melty-cheesy goodness. I didn't really detect that much ham in there but at least I saw it so it was definitely there.  We also ordered the pan con tomate y jamon Serrano. I like my pan to be toasted and rubbed with garlic. Unfortunately, they didn't toast the bread and it turned soggy from the tomato spread much faster than we would have liked it to. Did we care? No, not really, it was still delicious!

We also ordered a stew of white beans with chorizo (on second thought, maybe the spicy chorizo cooked in cider would've been better but we didn't want it to be too oily), and some crunchy (read: breaded and fried) Arzua cheese with sweet tomato marmalade, which we both agreed would have worked better towards the end of the meal since the marmalade was overwhelmingly sweet.

Lastly, the piquillo peppers stuffed with oxtail  was meh because the texture was just off, with both the peppers and the oxtail (which was actually quite flavorless) both being mushy. An then we can an unremarkable crema catalana, which is like a creme brulee but ours had cinnamon sugar on top.

It kinda sounds like our meal sucked but no, it was quite good but just not as good as it could've been. And much better than the La Tasca chain for tapas (errr...that's a not-so-nice dig from me...sorry if you ever read this AP!)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

London - Ottolenghi

Ottolenghi, you deserve your own, lengthy post. I can sing praises all day. Everything in your store screams "eat me!" Butternut squash, roasted aubergines, chili-laced broccoli, glazed god, if I had one of these near me I'd never eat elsewhere nor would I cook! Screw the meat, this is vegetarian paradise. So since there's no Ottolenghi in the U.S., the next best thing is the cookbook. You know, the holidays are coming up, hint hint.

(They had a no-photo policy but I managed to sneak a quick one of the pastry section from the hallway leading up to the store)
AG left work early and stopped by Ottolenghi for takeout dinner before I got there. Vinegared beets with apples, broccoli with chili and garlic, glazed roasted carrots, potatoes and grain salad and sugar snap peas and green beans, and a pear and sultana tart that tasted like fall...I knew I wanted more.

Wandering over the next morning, I picked out the flourless lemon polenta cake for breakfast, which was moist and studded with candied fruit. The icing of top (delicious and ridiculously sweet in its own right by the way) gave the cake the right not-overwhelming amount of sweetness. It was really hard to leave half the cake...good thing I cut it in half before taking a huge forkful. 

And I couldn't not go back again so on Sunday morning, we dropped by to pick up £25 worth of veggies for me to take back to Paris. Mmmm...gonna be waiting for that cookbook. But in the meantime, I might pick up some broccoli or aubergines.