01
Jun 16

Castagna: Playful Fine Dining in Portland

I love Portland. It is a magical land of eats, microcrews, hikes and no sales tax which activates the inner consumer in me. Stuff, for LESS? Yes, count me in.

There are many great deals in Portland, and one of them is at a New American restaurant called Castagna. Not many institutions there where there are of a white-cloth dining experience – it’s certainly more about the hipster casual – so Castagna naturally stands out from the crowd. With an offering of $98 or $155 tasting menus (the price varies based on number of courses you receive), I find it a steal. Hopefully this posts shows you why. **There will be many photos. Be ready to scroll.**

Let’s start off with snacks – which is arguably one of the best ways to ever start a meal. There are many of them that whetted my appetite. These delicious small bites made me sit back and think, “Wow if this is the way it’s beginning, I can only anticipate what will come…”

Beet chip with foie gras cream. Creamy and crunchy. Please sir, can i have some more?

Their house made bread comes with two spreads – smoked pork lard and butter. I enjoyed slathering these different spreads across the warm wheat rolls. As to which one was better? That’s a hard one (and still can’t answer that question).

This is what they described as an “adult version of a fruit roll-up“, which was very good and unfortunately did not note down what was in it. I’m ashamed, mostly because I can’t properly describe how tasty this was.

Oysters so beautifully plated, and tastefully balanced.

Now, we venture into the course section of the night:

Peas, agastache and goat’s butter served in a small porcelain cup and a mother-of-pearl spoon. Was it as delicious as described? Hell yes, and every bit as luxurious as you’d think too.

This egg-looking dish is actually centered around asparagus, reminding you of the spring time.

Okay, I know this isn’t the best photo of what a scallop is, but this is a marinated scallop indeed. A few bites, and wish I had a bit more to be able to evaluate my feelings for the dish; it was fresh and mildly sweet.

Beet with black garlic powder and maltaise (aka hollandaise sauce), which was one of my favorite dishes of the night. Not only did the beet feel meaty, but also melded with the sauces and dust.

Morels with fiddlehead fern, and a few other beautiful things. Earthy and rustic, a small bite of something slightly heavy easing into the next course.

Culotte with oyster leaf was sadly, the only point in the night where I wasn’t satisfied. The meat was chewy, but not in a very pleasant flavorful way, which took away from the other parts of the dish.

Another one of the most impressive dishes of the night was the frozen rhubarb with black olive and vanilla sitting underneath. The combination of these flavors and textures made me come alive, and wonder for the next 30 minutes how this exact dish was formulated…and I’m still wondering.

Toast with strawberries and milk makes the last official course of the night, and what more comforting than those ingredients. The sharp-edged milk shardes poking into the strawberry ice cream and toast crumbs left you feeling like you can sit back and relax in ease, like giving out the last hug of the night.

Chocolates rounded out the night, with hazelnuts and sea salt. Who could say no to that?

Castagna plays around with seasonal ingredients, using different textures and preparation methods to have you think twice about each dish. Each bite makes you ask more – the whys and whats – and that’s what I love to do when I eat. Let curiosity flow, and enjoy your full blown thoughtful dining experience there.

Castagna
1752 SE Hawthorne Blvd
Portland, OR 97214
Reservations


04
Apr 16

Lists: Where do I Foodjourney?

SF_Eats__To_Try_

Recently I’ve had a number of people ask me where I eat at or if I have recommendations to eat in certain cities, and…I’m awfully flattered! It’s great to hear that people value my perspective on food, drink, and the like. Below are lists on Foursquare (it’s really the easiest way to share places with my friends), with the exception of the Taipei, that may be helpful to you as you travel to these cities in the future.

If you’re interested in seeing more photos and foodjournies, follow me on Instagram and Twitter!

For those in San Francisco, please help me dwindle down my list. There’s currently over 75…:GASP:

San Francisco
The SF Musts
SF Places (To Try)

New York
New York Musts
NY Want to Try
NYC Cheap Eats

Taipei
Taipei Eats

Tokyo
Tokyo Eats

Portland
Portland (To Try)

Hawaii (Honolulu)
Hawaii Eats


08
Mar 16

Aster: It’s Magically Delicious

I generally stay away from anything that reminds me of “fusion”. An image of two foods singed together, unnaturally meshed, and creating a frankenstein dish makes me very uncomfortable. Why? Often times, I’ve actually pay a lot for this type of “cuisine” at restaurants and doesn’t taste good; it’s usually confusing and leaves my tastebuds in a disappointed state.

Aster seems to make the combination of Asian and Western come together seamlessly, like a perfect magic trick. They were awarded one Michelin star this year – which isn’t the end-all-be-all per se – but at the same time, it’s catching the eyes of some critics. With a four course menu at $59, it’s a reasonably affordable meal where you will encounter interesting textures and beautifully made dishes.

We started with house-made sourdough bread with butter. As someone who loves bread, this couldn’t be any better – the butter was creamy enough to stand up to a sourdough. At the same time, the bread wasn’t too sour and finished nicely. YUM.

The first dish was beets with pomegranate, pistachio, cultured cream and arugula. Beautiful? Yes. As delicious as it is pretty? Oh yes!

Soft-cooked egg with crispy potato, ikura, and bacon vinaigrette, everything melded together – with its various textures and flavors – to create an umami boost of flavor. Not only is it fun to have the ikura pop in your mouth, but the potato made it crunchy, while the egg bounded each ingredient altogether.

 

The pork shoulder was cooked for hours and assembled layer by layer, with a crispy layer of skin, to be surrounded by carrots and satsuma mandarins, and shiitake furikake. It was like a well-done magic trick. In this case I’m not sure how umami, fat, and citrus can be brought into one dish, but it DID happen…and tasted really good too.

Lastly, the pink lady apple with broiche, sunflower seed, and bay laurel was the perfect ending to the meal. It was the just the right amount of sweet (just from the apple), along with the crumble and seeds, you still get nice bite even though the apple is soft.

The menu changes with the seasons, so that just means another visit is necessary. I’m looking forward to seeing more of the “magic” that comes out of that restaurant. Hopefully more solid and interesting dishes to come!

Aster
1001 Guerrero St
San Francisco, CA 94110
Opentable


18
Jan 16

Yakiniku Champion (焼肉チャンピオン): Premium Meats, Japanese Eats!

I’m starting off this new year with a post about a meal in 2015 because, well frankly, it was really delicious. It was one of my more memorable meals during my Asia trip; to no one’s surprise the meal was in Japan where the “average” restaurant would probably kill it in SF or NYC in terms of how it tastes (or at least presented!)

Shortly getting off my flight, my cousins who live in Taiwan enthusiastically laid out a number of options…

Cousin: “What do you want to eat?”
Me: “I don’t know…what is there to eat?”
Cousin: “Oh, well there’s ramen/udon/soba, sushi, tonkatsu, yakitori, shabu shabu…<trails off>”
Me: “Om-gee, I LOVE Japan.”

I decided on meat, and was quickly taken into a brightly-lit mall and headed to the 14th floor where we got seated immediately. After checking out their menu (and trusting my cousin to order), we were brought a series of appetizers to whet the appetite.

A series of pickled vegetables also came with as well, to help with adding some variety against the myriad of fatty meats (it helped me feel less guilty too).

And now…onto the MEATS!

Beef tongue, which was actually quite tasty; lean and flavorful, super easy to consume quickly.

Want to pour a raw egg over premium Wagyu beef? YES PLEASE. It was as delicious as it looked – not only was the meat perfectly fatty, where it melted in your mouth, but the egg helped with melding the flavors of the meat to sauce together. This is the stuff that dreams are made of, people!

On the grill, we also ordered tripe and…something else (more innards?) Deliciousness ensued.

We ended up a choice of noodles or rice, and I chose noodles – it was a nice end to a meal full of grilled meats – mostly since the broth was slightly tart.

Japan has a plethora of delicious restaurants given what they produce there is incredible. I won’t be inundating this blog with the other meals in Asia, though this was a great way to round out the year in 2015. Now into 2016, looking forward to more great meals!

焼肉チャンピオン (池袋東武店)
東京都豊島区西池袋1-1-25
東武百貨店池袋店
レストラン街スパイス14F
http://www.yakiniku-champion.com/


31
Dec 15

Best Bites of 2015

As I reflect upon this year with big changes like moving to a new city (chime in “California love”), entering a new decade (“30s is the new 20s” according to Jay-Z), and starting a new job, I couldn’t help but come up with a list of my best bites for this year. It spans several cities and cuisines so take a nice scroll through, and enjoy!

San Francisco

  1. Stones Throw’s Puff Potato and Egg (Russian Hill)
  2. Nopa’s Cheeseburger (Hayes Valley)
  3. Hog Island Oyster’s Cioppino (Embarcadero)
  4. State Bird Provisions’s Burrata (Pac Heights)
  5. Liho Liho’s Tuna Poke (Tenderloin)
  6. Lazy Bear’s Whipped Scrambled Eggs (Mission)

New York

  1. Shuko’s Grilled Toro (East Village)
  2. O Ya’s Truffle and Potato Nigiri (Nomad)
  3. Upland’s Hen of Woods (Nomad)
  4. Tanoshi’s Uni and Ebi Sushi (Upper East Side)

Hawaii/Japan/Taiwan

  1. Izakaya Torae Torae’s Negi Otoro Ikura Don
  2. Yakiniku Champion’s Wagyu Beef with Egg 
  3. とんかつ まい泉’s Tonkatsu Set
  4. 8% ice Cream’s Strawberry Balsamic Cheese Soft Serve

Looking forward to more bites in the new year! (^_^)v


30
Nov 15

Lazy Bear: Listen and Learn

TL;DR – Lazy Bear is worth the money and very deserving of its Michelin star. This post captures meal is documented its entirety and in a detailed fashion.

I got schooled at Lazy Bear and I loved it. With notebooks and a pencil in hand – in fact, they give you these tools – all the chefs at Lazy Bear gave us one big tasty lesson. The “syllabus” includes talking about about what produce was in season, how to make the beautiful looking things on the plate (e.g. soak this in beef fat, soude vide that, etc.), and showcasing what is possible with thoughtful preparation. TEACH ME YOUR WAYS SENSEIS!

Naturally, you may ask how much does this “schooling” cost? Similar to a private university, it’s expensive; at anywhere between $145-$175 / person, it excludes tip and drinks. Wine pairings? Add another $85. Some old timers complain; yeah I know it used to cost something significantly less, reservations came easily, blah blah, but here we are today. It’s popular, hip, and oh-so-very delicious.

With my great note-taking skills still intact – it helps that I have occasional nightmares of getting a B in any class, thank you mom – get ready for a thorough journey through my meal.

Snacks

As a preview to the main dinner – or a great way to buy time as the next seating finishes up – they bring you to an upstairs area where you’re able to hang out, enjoy their delicious drinks, AND eat.

This started off the meal, and boy was it a strong start – whipped scramble eggs with Tennessee smoked bacon, maple and house made hot sauce. This is one of the night’s highlights; eaten with a spoon so you mix all the elements thoroughly, the eggs had a completely new texture on top of smoky and spicy taste.

The albacore tuna with a gel sheet of white grape and verjus, fresh crushed peanuts, and black olive was a small bite, refreshing and light.

On the light spectrum, the strawberry meringue is topped with with strawberry jelly, foie gras, and sorel packed a smooth yet flavorful bite.

They also handed over a plum and kuwat soda, fermented in-house with shiso which was awfully delicious, and I easily could have drank two of these.

The potato cannoli was a take on “sour cream and onion chip”; served with creme fraiche, whipped potatoes, caviar and chives it totally hit the mark.

Dinner

We broke bread together, and more specifically, with a spelt and rye dinner roll served with house-made cultured butter. Not only was the dinner roll served warm (plus points)  but the butter was silky and melded into the roll – slightly sour and soft (plus more points).

If you want to win over a crowd, bring in ribeye, avocado and tomatoes; the tomato panzanella with a carpaccio of Miyazaki ribeye covering avocado, padron conserva, and seaweed focaccia was a great bite. The focaccia was soaked in beef fat and olive oil; tomatoes were soaked in red wine vinegar to help with making this dish bright; the ribeye…well, that just speaks for itself.

Making vegetables taste good and somewhat interesting takes great skill, and in this case what a success – the legumes included summer squash (cooked in chicken stock, lemon juice), snap peas, bell pepper, fennel and saffron nage (made from fish, spices, and added chicken stock).

Ever thought about making a dish centered on one vegetable? Oh they did, and chose a vegetable I’ve never heard of – celtuce (used commonly in Chinese cuisine, a mesh between romaine and celery). Its stem was braised in butter and garlic, stalk pureed with almond milk, oil, and butter, and leaves dehydrated to take away bitter notes, along with chicken skin bits, and toasted almond.

Transform an American staple? Check box on that too; they took corn and made fresh corn grits, which were very sweet, and topped it with smoked ham. Yes sir, I’d want some more!

The grilled berkshire pork shoulder (glazed and finished with peach juice) was served with grilled peach, turnip, succulents (e.g. sea lettuce, beans, New Zealand spinach), and stone fruit tare. Sweet, savory, soft, and juicy, what more can you ask for?

This was their take on “beef and tomatoes” – sous vide Miyazaki ribeye cap, seared tomato, black garlic, and pureed eggplant. Nicely marbled and meat juices flowed in your mouth as you chomped down, with the addition of the sweet and tart tomatoes. Heavenly.

Dessert

White sesame “gomatofu”, iced green melon, sake lees, rose geranium was light, and a perfect palate cleanser.

Blue corn ice cream with blueberry whiskey puree, blueberry spongecake, and whiskey pudding was the perfect representation for what was in season at the time; not to mention, it was texturally interesting (spongecake, pudding, and ice cream!) and easy to devour.

Treats

The semifreddo vietnamese cookie was light and sweet, with bits of chocolate and pate de fruits.

Another sweet bite – the caramelized apricot with hazelnut and milk chocolate truffle melted in the mouth and was a delicious treat.

Last of them, the red velvet with red berries was my favorite. Moist, sweet and tart in one whole bite; easily wanted two or three of these after every meal.

I am on the Lazy Bear bandwagon; I absolutely love this place. Everything is well thought-out – from the interior design, the food/drinks and even the chefs (they actually come up and talk to you when you’re waiting for your seating). This is the kind of schooling I’m willing to pay for.

Lazy Bear
3416 19th St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
Tickets


25
Oct 15

What’s On My Plate: New + Home

For my plates, I’ve been wanting to make something that either:

  1. Incorporates an ingredient I’ve never cooked before
  2. Reminds me of home aka. Taiwanese food

There’s both on this plate, which makes it an A+ in my book: Chinese tea egg (茶葉蛋) and trumpet mushrooms. If you’re wondering how it tasted, it was delicious (obviously since I made it right?) Sautéed mushrooms with tomatoes and onions gave it a good bite; while the tea egg was fragrant and perfect amount of salt. The strawberries ended things off on a naturally sweet note. It’s vegetarian friendly, and a great way to start the day!

As always, the list of farms where ingredients are from:


14
Oct 15

Lord Stanley: Not My Neighborhood Joint

As someone who is passionate about food (aka one who constantly thinks about their next meal as they are eating their current one), I have been assessing the SF food scene and comparing it to what I know – New York. Friends from the East and West coast want to know where I stand, and I am always so torn. It’s as if I need to choose between Biggie or Tupac, and we all know that is a really tough choice. Then I see this article from Bon Appetit, “San Francisco Is the Best Food City in the Country Right Now” pop up on my Facebook feed. HOLY CRAP, someone answered for me! Thank you Andrew Knowlton!

This is the best gif I could find to represent my excitement…

Luckily, I have friends who are as excited about food as I am (see my foodie definition above) and want to check out these spots. Glancing through the list of restaurants in the article, there are restaurants that I have thoroughly enjoyed listed – Lazy Bear, Mourad, The Progress – alongside ones I’m not familiar with. I figured these unknown restaurants are potential gems, and I will be an early adopter! In under a day that I re-posted this article on my Facebook feed, reservations were made (thank you friends). We are going to Lord Stanley.

I saw this place having a lot of potential. I could become a regular if this was really good since it’s located about 4 blocks away from my apartment. The waitstaff would know me by first name, the host would seat me before people who had reservations, and I could order dishes only OLD-TIMERS would know about; as you can see, my imagination runs wild. Lord Stanley describes itself as serving European influence cuisine in a casual environment. They are so European where they adopted their way of billing – service is included in the final bill. No need to do math after you’ve stuffed yourself silly. Check, check and check!

Excited and hungry, we all ordered the tasting menu while two friends added the wine pairing. It was about six courses for $83. Not horribly expensive but not cheap.

Food Breakdown

Poached oyster, horseradish and buttermilk – Overly garnished with herbs, oysters fell by the wayside.

Chilled squash with ricotta and mint – Delicious house-made ricotta, and the squash had a good bite – refreshing.

Sea bass with bouillabaisse jus – The fish was nicely cooked, though the roasted red pepper felt a bit random. Any chance we could get more jus in there?

Grilled Wagyu beef with Matsutake mushrooms – Beef was cooked medium-rare and juicy, with mushrooms that added a nice earthy and spicy flavor.

Strawberry “Eton Mess” – Crispy and light piece of meringue served with fresh seasonal strawberries made a great combination.

I had the same feeling walking out of this restaurant as I did after watching Avengers: Age of Ultron – continuously disappointed and frustrated. I wanted to like the storyline, the characters, but nothing really made sense. Same goes for Lord Stanley: the food was everywhere, with no central theme or taste that combines it together; the service missed details that were hard to ignore – not explaining what the first wine was, not asking which type of water that’s in your cup before filling it incorrectly, double charging a credit card, etc.; the pace of the meal was confusing, first items coming out quickly and the last parts coming out very slowly where the entire meal ended up being three hours.

Why have you failed me Bon Appetit? I raise my fists to the heavens in rage. Looks like my search for my dream local restaurant ensues (SIGH).

Lord Stanley
2065 Polk St (and Broadway)
San Francisco, CA 94109


06
Oct 15

What’s on My Plate: “Californian Breakfast”

Special service announcement everyone…I cook, sometimes! One of the key benefits to living in California is that this state is full of great farms that turn out incredible produce. On the weekends, you can find me at a farmer’s market asking questions like, “how do you cook cranberry beans (side note: they do not taste like cranberries)? What is a pluot? (If you ever get one, it’s worth it.) Luckily I have an unabashed attitude, or one that comes across as completely unaware, so when I ask my questions strangers happily answer. Thank God for genuinely nice people!

This picture was taken a long time ago, and I was barely able to contain my desire to eat this homemade lasagna. After cooking this, I didn’t cook anything else for a long time…

Is this challenging? Yes. Fun? Absolutely.

In the spirit of trying something new, from time to time I’ll be sharing what I make with a series called “What’s on My Plate.” I want to highlight what I’m eating, and the farms where these ingredients came from (insert promo to support local farmers). If there’s a request to provide a recipe, I’ll be happy to write about it – just let me know e.g. leave a comment, write me an email, send me a tweet…pick one!

This plate is my “Californian breakfast” because it well represents Cali (touches of Asian with American, with a heavy dash of farm) – the classic American Sunny Side Up egg with sautéed tomatoes. and traditional Chinese sticky rice (carbs are my friends) topped with Momofuku’s ginger scallion sauce. Flavorful, delicious, and tasty.

This plate includes ingredients from:


30
Sep 15

The MINA Test Kitchen: Tasty Experiments, Sign Me Up!

People are big fans of Michael Mina, and I totally get it. He started his culinary empire in San Francisco and has played a major role in building the restaurant scene to where it is today. Think Pablo Escobar, and replace the cocaine with food and power hungry vengeance for zen-like philosophies (Warning: There may be many references in this post to this highly addictive Netflix show – I am obsessed). There is no doubt that his restaurants do insanely well (see here for awards, it will take you a solid 2 minutes to scroll through the page) and his restaurant group extends across the US with 20 restaurants. There’s barely enough room on the website to list them all:

MINATESTKITCHEN_COMOkay so he’s pretty badass. Pablo Escobar level badass. However, the more accolades one chef or restaurant receives, the more side-eye skeptical I get…which doesn’t really make much sense but bear with me here. It becomes a personal mission to figure it out – if the food is actually delicious, and restaurant worth going to – in addition to having the perfect excuse to eat out (“See Mom, there’s a reason bigger than me that requires me to eat out and spend money for it. I need to make sure people know if the restaurant IS really good or not...”)

For my friend’s birthday (Happy Birthday HARRY), we all went to the latest Michael Mina venture – Mina’s Test Kitchen, located in the Marina. He pairs up with chefs to create a pop-up kitchen; essentially, they can cook whatever they want. Successful dishes move on and graduate to his other restaurants. What’s great is that the cuisine is themed (the current one being Eastern Mediterranean) and changes every few months (next one being Italian). You buy tickets to secure your seat and payment of the meal. Easy peasy.

His philosophy to cooking – to focus on achieving balance and harmony – is in-line with what I look for in food, so we are starting on a good foot here. Tip: There were many terms I have to look up looking at the menu, so you might be interested in brushing up on your Mediterranean / Greek, or just have your iPhone handy.

The Greet

We started off with the palette cleanser, a limonata popsicle with basil, sea salt and peach with olive oil drizzled on top. Refreshing and a cute bite to begin the meal.

Laffa

This course was so good, to the point where I could be happy eating a few more and call it a night. What made is particularly tasty was the laffa; it was soft, doughy, warm, and perfectly encased everything else (berbere-spiced ahi tuna, baba ghanoush, crispy spring onions, and pickled hot peppers). It tasted as good as it sounds, trust me.

Salatim

The Saganaki-style helloumi (which sounds Japanese, but in fact is a Greek dish) reminded me of paneer, except this was pan-fried and was saltier. The marinated heirloom tomatoes, toasted sesame seeds, madjool dates, and watercress all played nice, contributing to the simultaneously sweet, tart, and nutty flavors. Taste explosions? YES OH MY.

For all the avocado lovers out there, this dish was made for you. No toast needed to show you what this avocado is all about *insert feisty sideways snap*; served with pickled hot peppers and summer vegetables, fried walnuts, kataifi (those crispy-looking things on top), schug (a chile relish) it made for a very well spiced, crunchy and creamy dish.

The grilled stone fruit fattoush, shaved cauliflower, radish persian cucumber, crunchy pita, chilies, and mint oil was a crunch-fest, and delicious to boot. Easy to eat, light, and just a solid tasting dish. Let those vegetables and fruit shine!

Hummus

Want some more oomph? Oh yes, there’s more. Hummus made of spicy lamb ragu, toasted pine nuts, pomegranate, crispy zucchini, and espelette pepper served with WARM was delightful. Yes, the pita was warm. They had a small heat device underneath the basket to ensure it arrives warm to you. Now if every place can serve warm pitas, the world would be a happier place.

Mains and Veggies

If you can’t tell, this harissa-marinated roasted chicken was tendy, juicy, and flavorful. It came with smashed and fried fingerling potatoes, soaking up any oils from the chicken and the fryer. YUM-MY.

Sides included swiss chard with oil-cured black olives, toasted garlic, red grapes and a slow-cooked brisket with yemenite-spiced basmati, chick peas, and lentils (supplement of $10). The brisket was good but, I would venture to say, okay missing out on and saving yourself the extra moo-lah.

Anything with corn will win me over and this is no exception. Moroccan street corn with chemoula yogurt, feta, cayenne pepper, orange zest, mint, and green onions reminded me of New York Cafe Havana’s grilled corn (but just a tad fit “fancier), as it has similar and basic elements: corn, cheese, spice.

Sweets

Rounding out the meal was the watermelon granita that sat above rose water cream, toasted pistachio, and basil. After a full meal of spice and intense flavors, this was refreshing and slightly sweet, closing the night perfectly.

The restaurant is well thought-out; the waitstaff is attentive, food is tasty down to the smallest components, and runs like a well oiled machine…just like Pablo Escobar’s crack business. Whatever Michael Mina and his team are putting into their dishes, I definitely want and need some more; it is THAT good.

The MINA Test Kitchen
2120 Greenwich St.
San Francisco, CA 94123
minatestkitchen.com