Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Nijo Castle

39888 Balentine Dr
Newark, CA 94560
(510) 657-6456

One of my bosses from Delaware came to visit my team and I today. So the team went to Nijo Castle for dinner together. My boss who had been to Nijo Castle several time ordered omakase for each of us. It was a colorful and delcious meal.

We started with assorted pickled vegetable. The dish was very pretty and vibrant. I always thought Korean cuisine has the most pickled vegetables, but never realize there are so many kind of Japanese pickled vegetables also.

The waitress then served each of us a bowl of sushi rice with tobiko, ikura and uni in it or so to speak, flying fish roes, salmon roes and sea urchin. The roes are very salty but they go very well with the sweet sushi rice and toasty flavor of the seaweed and sesame. I'm not a sea urchin fan, so after a bite, I gave my uni away. It's too fishy for me.

After that, we were served with one of my favorite Japanese dishes--Hirame Sashimi!!! I love it because the hirame is a very sweet fish. The sashimi was sliced thinly and was paired with a ponzu sauce. Delicious! It takes skills to cut the fish so thin and transparent.

After the delicious hirame, we were served namako or sea cucumber sashimi. It looked very slimey. I never had raw sea cucumber before, and being adventurous, I decided to try one. The first couple bite was chewy, kind of like raw squid, then as I chewed, the texture got mushy and globby. The more I chewed, the fishier it got. It was quite disgusting in texture. I forced myself to swallow it. I don't think I'll try that again. I didn't have the acquired taste for it.

We were then served with oysters and sashimi! The presentation was very grand--the colorful fishes were served on a bowl made of ice, keeping the sashimi fresh and cool. I love how they gave us two different cuts of hamachi because the textures are different among the two. The sashimi was very fresh, colorful and delicious. None of them tasted fishy at all.

 Next, we had nigiri or sushi. Again, the presentation was really pretty and everything was really fresh. It was amazing how the fish on the rice all looked very uniformly cut! The only thing I dislike about it was the rice. It was a little too mushy for sushi.

After the raw part of the omakase, we were served with cooked food. I was pretty full by now, but cooked food sounded really good especially after eating all the cold raw fishes.

Several sushi rolls were served along with the bacon wrapped scallops topped with house special sauce and tobiko. I usually don't like bacon, but that tasted really good. It was better than steakhouse made bacon wrapped scallops. Like the raw food, the cooked items were also very colorful and nice in presentation.

A lot of the cooked items were deep fried, like the deep fried mushroom, which was also served with the house special sauce and tobiko. It was also orangy in color, but really great in flavor! I was really full at this point, but I wanted more of the mushroom after eating one.

The last dish before dessert was grilled salmon collar. It was flaky but it was a little bland after eating all fried food covered in the house special sauce. My coworkers and I couldn't finish it because we were stuffed!

We ended our dinner with green tea ice cream and many thanks to our bosses for the delicious meal!

The service was great and the food was delicious! I would definitely want to come back again and again, especially when I want some good quality and fresh fish.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Simple "Cool" Snack

It's summer and it's hot! Nothing like a ice cold snack after work to cool the rest of the day off. The mint lemon cocktail and the watermelon salad I had in mind was quick and easy, although a little preparation is needed ahead of time.

Start by grinding up some fresh mints and lemon juice in a food processor. Do not dilute the mixture with water. After that, freeze the mixture in a ice tray for several hours. They are ready to use after that. These juice ice cubes come in handy for any quick cocktails or mocktails. A lime and mint combination is great for a cocktail like mojito or a mocktail with cranberry juice.

When done, place several ice cubes in a martini or cocktail glass. X. Add a shot of my favorite gin, Hendrick, and fill the rest of the cup up with tonic water. Other gin or vodka works well too.

Since a cocktail is meant to be enjoyed slowly, so as the lemon ice cube melts, the flavor enhances.

To pair with this cocktail is a simple watermelon cucumber salad. The lemon, mint and watermelon combination is divine! And it's super simple to make.

Make sure the watermelon and cucumber are cold. Cube some watermelon, and thinly slice some cucumber and chop some mint. Stack the watermelon and cucumber together and drizzle some balsamic vinegar over it. Lastly sprinkle some chopped mints. Serve while it's still cold.

Try taking a bite with both watermelon and cucumber, and try to take sips of the lemon mint cocktail with it. The lemon would enhance the watermleon and cucumber flavor.

Time to chill-lax!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Happy Birthday Mei!

My friend Mei is turning 30 this year and to celebrate her prime in coming, she is hosting a Roaring 30 party based on the roaring 1920 theme. She asked me to make her birthday cake, and I was more than happy to. She gave me my full control and creativity of the cake, since all she said was "surpise me!"

To start, I wanted to make her cake based on the color theme of the party, pearl black and red. Then I want to make something elegant yet fun. A month before her birthday, I ordered all the ingredients and decorations I needed.

I also decided to incorporate the color them into the cake too! So for the bottom tier, I am going to make a chocolate cake with mocha buttercream to match the black theme, and for the top tier, a red velvet with cream cheese frosting to match the red theme.

Chocolate cake with mocha buttercream
 To make it elegant, I used lace ribbon and edible diamonds. To make it more fun, I added some ostrich feathers and a big 30.

I wish I had more time. I made the cake after work one day, then frosted it and decorated after work the next day. I didn't want to frost it too early because I want to keep everything fresh. Even though it didn't turn out as perfect as I want it, it was super fun making it. I am super happy I got it done on time and that Mei loved it!

Let the party begins!!


Happy Birthday Mei!!

Foreign Cinema

2534 Mission St
(between 21st St & 22nd St)
San Francisco, CA 94110

I had heard so much about Foreign Cinema before I tried it myself. Movie screen, modern decor and delicious food that can perfect a night at a restaurant. Upon entering the restaurant, a tall man in Charlie Chaplin's style of suit directed me to the table. Then the waitress immediately arrived after that and made great suggestions in wine as well as food.

The night was still young with natural sun light and with the warmth from the heating lamp, I did not hestitate to order a glass of Chardonnay. Shortly after followed by appetitizers, entrees and desserts.

For appetitzer, I ordered the tuna tartare tostadas, garden cucumber, shell bean puree, wasabi tobiko. The tostadas balanced the mushiness of the fish; and the cucumber added a very fresh and refreshing taste to the fish. I really like it!

Tuna Tostada

For entree, my friend Victor ordered the sesame fried chicken. The sesame made the coating crunchier and toastier. It's by far one of the best fried chickens I had.

Sesame Coated Fried Chicken
I ordered the seafood cioppino. The sauce was very watery, and it tasted pretty fishy. I would not recommend it.

Seafood Cioppino

For dessert, we had the creme brulee. It was nothing special, very typical, rich and creamy.

Creme Brulee
I definitely would go back to this place for the atmosphere, movie and fried chicken!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sotto Mare

552 Green St
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 398-3181

Came here for lunch with my girlfriends on a weekend. There were four of us girls, and we didn't make any reservation. Two of us arrived first, and it was quite empty on a Saturday afternoon. We sat down and looked at the menu while waiting for the other. There were two waitresses, and one of them didn't look pleased that we were taking up a table and waiting even though the dinning room was quite empty. Nevertheless, she gave us our water, bread and butter, and came to check on us occasionally.

After my other two friends arrived, we ordered a bowl of clam chowder, the Famous Crab Ciopinno, Pesto Linguine, Linguine with Manila Clams, and the Risotto with Chef's Choice of Seafood.

The chowder was okay, it wasn't anything different. Creamy and clams and bacon-filled! Their pesto was unique, it was very pretty in the green color, and it was on the creamier side. It had a lot of basil but it didn't have much garlic.

The linguine with clam was very thick and creamy, a little overwhelming with the cream, and again, lacked garlic flavor. The risotto wasn't that good. The rice was very thick and not creamy at all, it was chunky. The flavor was just odd from all the seafood.

The ciopinno on the other hand, was huge! It came in a pot, which my friends and I did not expect, considering how much food we ordered for four girls! The ciopinno was about $30, and it could feed 2-3 people. I also did not expect that it came with penne pasta at the bottom since it wasn't described on the menu. It was a delightful eat since I had a great time digging through the pot-filled of seafood. Along with the penne, the aromatic ciopinno contained crab, mussels, clams, fish, and calamari. To me, the best thing in that pot of ciopinno was the sauce! My friend couldn't stop dipping bread into it, and I couldn't stop eating the penne that was in it since it was drenched with sauce!

Overall Sotto Mare's food was good. I think I would come back, and I would probably only order the ciopinno to share.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


My boyfriend went to Switzerland for business for a month, and he brought with him some nice souveniors and an experience of a popular dish from Switzerland called raclette.

Raclette is a type of semi-soft cheese from Switzerland made with cow milk. It is also a dish made with the raclette cheese. The raclette cheese is usually placed on a holder and is melted near a fire or on a grill, and then scraped off the holder onto food such as potato or cured meat.

Shortly after my boyfriend returned, he ordered a raclette grill made by Swissmar on Amazon.com. The one he ordered allowed us to grill the meat on top while melting the cheese underneath, which is super convenient considering we don't have to cook our meat with a skillet beforehand. You can order the same grill here.

Materials for serving a meal of delicious raclette:
A raclette grill or a holder for holding the cheese
Raclette cheese or any semi-soft cheese like Emmentaler
Yellow potato, pre-boiled
Dry cured meat or steak
Chili powder and black pepper

Grill the cheese until it's soft and melted. Scrap the cheese onto the halved potato or meat. Sprinkle some chili powder and black pepper to taste.

I broke my bacon into pieces and placed it on top of the cheese and potato. The smokey flavor of bacon went very well with the creamy rich cheese and mild flavor of the starchy potato.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

First Awakenings Cafe

125 Ocean View Blvd, Ste 105
Pacific Grove, CA 93950
(831) 372-1125

On a sunny winter day in Monterey, my friends and I went to First Awakenings Cafe for lunch after spending some time at the Monterey Aquarium. The cafe was pretty big with both indoor and outdoor seating. The outdoor seating consists of round picnic tables with large umbrellas.
I hungrily ordered the Greek Omelette without olives, and my friends ordered the cafe's specialty--pancakes! One of them ordered the Blueberry one, and another ordered the All That Razz one. 

Greek Omelette with Homestyle Potatoes and English Muffin

 My omelette came with a huge portion of homestyle potatoes and English muffin. My egg was nicely cooked, but it was not the type of omelettes that I like. Instead of incorporating the ingredients within the omelette while the egg was yolky during the cooking process. The cafe cooked the egg until it was almost well done, and then added in the ingredients, thus the ingredients is not glued to the eggs and fall off when I try to lift it. Nonetheless, the omelette was delicious and hearty! The potato was really good. I don't remember I ever finish as much potatoes as I did at First Awakening. It was nicely seasoned.

Blueberry Pancake

My friends' pancakes were the fluffliest and largest pancakes I ever seen. The blueberry one was very light and just enough sweetness. The All That Razz one contained raspberry, coconut and granola, which gave the pancake more texture. The raspberry was a bit sour and the coconut taste was massed by the berries. I didn't like it as much since I prefer my pancake fluffy and soft.

I would definitely come back to this place when I visit Monterey again, especially on a sunny bright day.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

In the Past Five Hours

Moto Restaurant
945 W. Fulton Market
Chicago, Illinois 60607
(312) 491-0058

There are a few restaurants that I really wanted to try in Chicago. Admiring the art of food, both in presentation and taste, I wanted to try the three Michelin starred restaurants, Alinea and L2O. And amazed with molecular gastronomy, I also wanted to try the molecular gastronomy restaurant, Moto. I decided to start with Moto first since it seemed very fun to cook with science!

Moto's menu consists of a choice of either the 10 courses, which costs $135 and lasts at least 2 hours, or the 20 courses, which costs $195 and lasts at least 4 hours. My friend Kathy and I decided to go with the 20 since we're rarely in Chicago, and we're technically paying for the food and a "show". The hostess took our order when she gave me my confirmation call the day before. She said it was not neccessary to order right during the confirmation call but I gave her my order anyways, considering it would help the chefs with their prepping.

The restaurant was located on the West side of Chicago in the meat packing district. The restaurant was pretty hidden considering the area was very quiet and filled with delivery trucks. But once through the door of Moto, the dim lighting, the plain but modern decor, the fancy opened wine bottles, the well dressed hostess, waiters and waitresses await. The restaurant was very spacious and the dim lighting certainly made me use my senses to feel and taste the food more.

Once seated, the waitress brought out Kathy's and my edible menu that was a bruschetta. It was interesting even though it was just edible ink printed on a thin edible film which was "glued" to a piece of thin crispy slice of bread with string bean salsa on the side. Even though it was simple, it was eye-opening and exciting because no other restaurants does this. It immediately got me thinking about the food and the way we can serve it.

Throughout the night, we were served different small dishes that had at least one molecular gastronomy element, be it cooking with liquid nitrogen, working with foam or using chemical such as sodium alginate. Every plate gets the diner thinking if not focusing on the great taste!

Here are some of the memorable courses:
Fried Chicken Fettucine

The Fried Chicken Fettucine is a fresh pasta covered with dehydrated fried chicken powder and topped with a fried chicken skin and creamy cheese sauce. As much as I dislike fried food, the fried chicken skin tasted delicious when crumbled onto the pasta. The chicken powder was to die for. It was very, very rich in chicken favor, way better than the dried chicken esscence with MSG.

Baseball Snack

Baseball Snack consists of a thick slice of quail on top of a sweet and tangy raspberry reduction. It also consists of some honey roasted peanuts over a bed of popcorn powder, and happily topped with the surprise: an edible cracker jack wrapper. The quail was very juicy and tender. The sauce was too tangy for my taste though. I love peanuts, so I definitely ate those really fast. Asked for the popcorn powder, it was buttery and cheesey but lacked corn flavor. The berry flavored cracker jack wrapper was definitely fun and cute to look at, but the berry taste was very mild.

Cigar with Ashtray     [photo courtesy of Kathy T.]

This is by far one of my favorite entrees. This cigar is actually a deep fried shredded pork sandwich that was wrapped with chard and dipped with roasted red pepper sauce. The ash was made with finely ground black and white sesame seeds. The favor was so strong and the chili sauce just tied everything together. It reminded me of a carnita burrito but less heavy. I can eat a bunch of these cigars any day!

After we sat down, the waitress brought out our menu with a lit candle. This candle was pretty cool because later in the courses, the food server poured the "wax" over our plate of chicken. This candle was actually made out of beef fat and butter. Awesome! Perfect way to make the most out of what we have. I wish I asked the server if I can buy a few from them.

Venison and Alium

Later into the course, there was Venison and Alium, which consists of slices of perfectly sous-vide venison and alium in many ways. Alium is the genus for flowering plants like onions. So beneath the vension, the chef placed some pickled whole small onions, and then on top of the venison, he placed fried onion strings. There was also onion chips that was like the Funion chip. The onions tasted really good with the vension. The fried onion strings also added texture to the tender chewy vension. The sauces that were made with onion was really delicious also. I couldn't stop spreading them onto the vension before I eat it.

Fourteen appetizers and entrees later, the meal progressed into the dessert courses! I know, not just just one dessert course but six!!

The Breakfast

The first dessert that was served was The Breakfast. It consisted of yogurt which was presented like Dip in Dots ice cream, mini cinnamon crackers and a yolk of mango and passionfruit juice. The mango and passion fruit juice was thick and delicious! It was made with sodium alginate and calcium chloride via reverse spherification. This tiny dessert was sweet and juicy from the yolk and crunchy and spicy from the toast, and then it was milky and cold from the yogurt ice cream. It was small but real good!

Banana Split

Another one of my favorite was the Banana Split. It looked nothing like an average banana split but it consisted of every ingredients that are in one. Whipped cream was placed at the bottom of the bowl and topped with frozen banana ice cream mixture. Lastly three pipettes filled with milk chocolate sauce, maraschino cherry syrup and caramel! This dessert give the diner the option of adding however much sauces he or she wants. It was a fun dessert.

Another one of my favorite one of the night was the ACME Bomb! It was a s'more in one bite, an explosion in the mouth. The bomb was made with a graham cracker and milk mixture covered with dark chocolate. The server set the bomb on fire by torching it. He instructed us that we should eat it all in one bite after the fire goes out. It was like a truffle with a liquid center. It was so good, I wish the server would brought me some more.

Soda du jour

The last of our dessert was Soda du jour. It was a cream soda liked drink topped with an edible coconut flavor packaging peanut. The packaging peanut was a statement and a bright idea that the genius chefs at Moto have. Instead of using styroform packaging peanuts that take years to degrade, why not make some that are able to withstand the impact of mailing, and are able to be degraded by eating. The coconut flavor was subtle, but it didn't taste bad either. I wouldn't mind eating more of those  in my packages. It would definitely make getting packages more exciting!

In the middle of the night, chef Cantu came out to check on the diners and conversed with them. It was nice for him to take some time out of his busy kitchen to come say hi. To end the night, I asked the server if I could have a tour of the kitchen. They were happy to show Kathy and I around and did not rush us through the busy kitchen at all. The exercutive chef Homaro Cantu and exercutive pastry chef Ben Roche were both there. I felt like I was seeing celebrities! It was interesting seeing all these instruments that I would normally see in the lab I worked at--flasks, centrifuge, sonicator, etc.

Kathy and I left Moto quite tired but with discussion of the innovative and tasty dishes we had in the past five hours. It was definitely an experience that was worth trying.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Giordano's Restaurant & Pizzeria

56 E Superior St
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 951-0747

I love pizza but I like them deep dish style. So when I got to Chicago, deep dish pizza was on top of the priority list. Getting lost on the street of Chicago, my friend Kathy and I came upon groups of hungry people waiting to get seated outside Giordano's. We immediately decided that this is the place to try!

The hostess adviced us that we should order after 45 mins of waiting. Hungrily, after 45 mins, my friend and I ordered the Antipasto Salad and a smallest size pizza, 10 inches stuffed spinach pizza. After that, we waited another half an hour, which meant we waited an hour and half for pizza. Starving as I walked to the table, I thought to myself, this better be good!

The Antipasto Salad came with imported ham, Genoa salami, Provolone cheese, black olives, red onion, pepperocini peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, served on a crisp bed of Romaine lettuce. The meat on the salad was delicious. I chowed down my whole salad in matter of minutes.

The pizza came shortly. The waiter placed a huge slice onto each of our plate. I sprinkled some red pepper flakes and dived into the gooey cheesy pizza. I took a big bite--it was hot! Different pizzeria makes their pizza differently. At Giordano's, they made their stuffed spinach ones with thin layer of spinach on top of the crust, then covered by a thick mixture of shredded mozzarella and parmesean cheese. Lastly, they spread a very thin layer of tomato sauce on top of it all.

The pizza was very, very heavy with cheese. It was gooey when I was chewy the pizza, and cheese was all I could taste. I didn't like it much because I wanted more tomato sauce. I wanted that tang. The crust on the edge was nicely brown and flakey. I couldn't help but use it to add some texture to the gooey cheese.

Giordano's stuffed pizza was not one of my favorite, but it wasn't bad either. I supposed everyone has his or her own preference and favorite stuffed pizza in Chicago. Ask for me, Giordano's was not my slice of pizza. Maybe I should try something with meat in it next time.