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American Nouveau/ dinner/ travels

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

dinner/ Japanese/ travels

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/

nyc/ San Francisco/ travels

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

Breakfast/ dinner/ lunch/ Taiwanese/ travels

Taiwan: Foodie Heaven Pt. 3 – Delicious Meals

If you haven’t noticed already, Taiwan is full of food and frankly I have too many pictures to show for it.  Because Taiwan is full of street stands, it’s hard to tell you where half of where these dishes are found.  Just know that this tiny island right next to China is truly a heaven for those who love food and want to be surrounded by it constantly.

And now…onto the food porn!

Typical breakfast – soy milk with fried culler.

Scallion pancake with egg. I really would like to eat this everyday for breakfast!

Tofu with cilantro and sauce. Light and tender.

Tomato beef noodle soup. Delicious…perfect for any occasion!

Minced pork with sauce noodles, right by Taiwan National University.  Very solid and hearty.

Hand-pulled pancake. It’s crispy and light, not oily, and perfect with some soup!

Oyster vermicelli noodles.

Rice ball stuffed with fried culler, pork, and pickled vegetables. SO good to eat in the mornings.

One of my most favorite noodles – yi mian. Every single time I go back, I MUST EAT THIS.

Taiwan has some nice pastries too!

Peanut milk shaved ice. It tastes like peanut butter!

Alright so I think I’ve made all of us hungry, but hopefully this just shows you how tasty Taiwan is so make sure you visit! If you do, let me know when you’re there so I can make some food recommendations!

 

dessert/ lunch/ Taiwanese/ travels

Taiwan: Foodie Heaven Pt. 2 – Honey Toast

One of the latest dessert crazes in Taipei right now would be for an item called honey toast.  It comes in different flavors and from my understanding, is made popular by Dazzling Cafe.  Located in one of the younger trendy areas in Taipei, it is fair to say that getting a table is hard, (try fighting through all those girls and claim a place on line for a table before opening time).  However, it’s worth trying it out and at least staying at this place for lunch if you’ve waited for a while on a line.

This is the pan-fried duck breast spaghetti served with a cream sauce.  As a pasta fiend, it was actually acceptable as a pasta; the spaghetti was al dente and the duck breast helped with providing a savory flavor to the dish.

I got the scallop and crab meat spaghetti with olive oil, which is light and refreshing.  I didn’t really taste too much seafood, sadly enough, but it was lightly tossed with olive oil, tomatoes, and broccoli.  Always good to get those greens in!

 And now…onto DESSERT!

Pictured is the inside of the banana chocolate honey toast.  You can see that they hollow out this large piece of toast and fill it with deliciousness: vanilla ice cream, chocolate, cashews, sugar coated fried pieces of toast, and topped with whipped cream.  Of course you can’t forget the banana pieces on the side as well.  It’s a box of sweet toast intensity.

Yup, a close-up of that vanilla bean ice cream with cashews.  Delicious.

It is worth a trip to this place if: (1) you’re a huge dessert fiend, (2) willing to wait (even before opening time), and (3) willing to spend above average amount for a meal / dessert.

Dazzling Cafe Pink
台北市忠孝東路四段205巷7弄11號1樓
02-8773-9238
Facebook 

Chinese/ lunch/ Taiwanese/ travels

Taiwan: Foodie Heaven Pt. 1 – Minced Pork Rice

It’s been a while, but I am back and ready to blog about all these food journeys that I’ve gone through in the past 3 months!  I’ve been working on lots of food pictures so there will be more posts to come (woo hoo!).  Anyway, in December I went to Taiwan, one of the best places to eat-your-heart-out, and I felt like I was home; all I did was eat, shop, and eat some more.  You’ll see what I mean with my pictures.

One of the places I must talk about is 天然紅豆腐, where I ate one of the best minced pork rice (滷肉飯) in my life.  The rice glistened as it was topped with marinated minced pork belly.  Not only did it have the perfect ratio of meat to fat, but it was perfectly salty and the red bits on the side gave it a slightly sweet flavor.  I quickly gobbled up my bowl and wished I had some more. Delicious.

They are also known for their pork blood soup (豬血湯).  Texture-wise it is not like anything you can get in New York; the pig’s blood pieces were soft and tender, paired with a clear soup that was seasoned with scallion made the soup easy to finish.

For those who are thinking about taking a trip to Taiwan, this is definitely a place I would recommend you go to for minced pork rice and pork blood soup.  You will not be disappointed.  In fact, you will want to bring friends and spread the joy of minced pork!

Restaurant Name: 天然紅豆腐
Address: 台北市吉林路319號
Telephone: (02) 2586-2201
Hours: 10AM~10PM
Breakfast/ dessert/ dinner/ Mexican/ Seafood/ travels

Cancun: Tropical Paradise Ready for Tourists

Paradise: clear waters, beautiful beaches, lots of sunshine…why did I leave again? This trip was a great break from the snowy winter. Reading about Cancun,all the guides talked about fresh seafood, Mayan foods, and alcohol in the forms of magaritas, pina colodas, and Mexican beers. Of course it is also known as a spring break destination. This post is about highlighting the dishes that I ate during my trip at my hotel, downtown Cancun, Isla Mujeres, and Chichen Itza.

One of the first stops was at a really touristy restaurant called La Parrilla. They come with English menus prepared, a guy that goes around taking photos of you, and large alcoholic drinks. Pictured above is the five taco appetizer which has one of each: pastor (pork), sausage, grilled chicken, grilled steak, and tilapia. They were okay but nothing really stood out.

This is a traditional Mayan dish – Cochinita Pibil. Basically it is marinated pork meat in citrus juice with annatto seed. They roast pork meat while it is wrapped in banana leaf underneath the ground for a long period of time. The result? Fall-off-the-bone meat that is nicely spiced and flavored. Clearly the Mayans knew what they were doing when it came to pork.

A very typical dish in Mexico – seafood ceviche. I got to eat this right by the water on the Isla Mujeres right after snorkeling. It was very refreshing and the seafood tasted very fresh. They add lime which added a slight citrus tang and helped highlight the flavors of the shrimp, octopus, and fish.

Grilled shrimp with vegetable rice, lettuce, tomato, and lime was very good. It was simply cooked and nicely cleaned (no shrimp vein!). It’s great island food and definitely a pleasure to eat. The shells came off very easily and paired nicely with the tortillas they provided along with the meal.

A whole fried fish served with vegetable rice, lettuce, tomato, and lime is pictured above. Unfortunately I’m not sure what type of fish this was, but it was very easy to eat because it was lightly fried. It had a crunchy exterior to the soft white meat, and not oily at all. I certainly wouldn’t mind eating some whole fried fish again.

The last savory dish is comprised of two fried eggs, cheese, ham, peas, tomato sauce served on an English muffin. It was served fried plantains. It felt like a brunch dish I would eat at a Mexican brunch in New York. I devoured the whole plate because it was so good. The combination of runny eggs with ham lightly sprinkled with cheese gave this dish a two thumbs up.

And onto dessert! Churros are always good – crispy outside, soft inside, lightly coated with sugar. They weren’t very big but just enough to end the meal.

Maquesitas are thin waffle crepes, a easy dessert to eat whilst walking around. I ordered the banana with nutella and caramel. Oh, it is as good as it sounds. I would definitely order a few of these at once if I had the chance in New York.

Last but not least, a picture of a huge margarita. Mexicans definitely take pride in making tequila (shots, shots, shots) and fun tropical drinks i.e. pina colada, margaritas. It was pretty intense but all in the spirit of Mexico!

Cancun isn’t a culinary capital and many dishes are often overpriced, but at least you can enjoy the beautiful beaches and sunshine. It was a great to leave the cold, enjoy some fresh seafood, and see Chichen Itza.

Breakfast/ brunch/ Chinese/ lunch/ travels

A Taste of Chinese Comfort Food: A&J Restaurant

It’s hard to find good authentic Chinese breakfast / lunch food these days. As a Manhattanite, I find myself frustrated with the limited options of this city. In a city full of Chinese people, generations and generations of us, I have yet to find solid comfort Chinese breakfast. Where did I end up? Not Flushing or Brooklyn. Instead I was brought to a place in Virginia called A&J Restaurant.

What kind of name is that? Don’t ask me. All I know is that there were a healthy number of clientele at this place, where steaming bowls of noodle soup and fresh soybean milk (豆漿) were served. Can’t stop drooling? Okay, onto the pictures!

Bean curd with mustard greens and soy beans (毛豆百葉) was a nice starter to whet our appetites. Not too oily and the bamboo was nicely crisp.

Pan fried pork dumplings (鮮肉鍋貼) was perfectly soft yet crunchy at the same time. They had a nice thin dumpling skin while maintaining a fair ratio of meat.

Szechuan Style spicy wonton with hot sauce (紅油抄手) is one of my favorite dishes in general. Granted, the ones in Taiwan I had are still the best I’ve ever had in my life, but their version surely was not forgettable. Though there might have been too much sauce provided for these wontons, they still proved to be a scrumptious bite of spice and savory, with the delicate wonton skin to wrap this delicious package.

Oh yes beef noodle soup (紅燒牛筋麵) is one of my ultimate comfort foods. The intense and steaming beef broth was brought out along with thick noodles and greens. How much more comfort can you get from a beef noodle soup? Yum.

Shredded pork and mustard green noodle soup (雪菜牛絲綿) had a clear broth, possibly a chicken-based stock, which made it easy to slurp and consume without feeling guilty about ingesting oils. We got a Shanghainese style noodle (thin) and went very well with this dish.

Needless to say, I had an amazing time – warm food prepared in the upmost traditional methods to provide the Chinese breakfast food I was craving. My stomach was very satisfied and happy, yearning for more after returning to New York. Perhaps my next mission is to find another place like this in Manhattan. Feel free to mention any places you have encountered like this in the city!

A&J Restaurant
4316 Markham St
Annandale, VA 22003
(703) 813-8181

American Traditional/ Baked Goods/ Breakfast/ travels

Break From the Big City: Snow Goose Bed & Breakfast

Sometimes you need some time to get away from it all, look at some pretty trees and leaves, and breathe in the fresh crisp air. I’ve decided to make this an annual trip – seeing fall foliage in the Northeast – and drove up to the Adirondacks, upstate New York. I stayed at a wonderful bed and breakfast inn called the Snow Goose Bed and Breakfast. They’re located in Keene Valley, about 30 minutes away from Lake Placid. So if you ever think about going to this area, this B&B is definitely the way to go.

To focus on the food, the breakfasts were always really good. Amy and Wayne (the innkeepers) managed to accommodate to my late mornings and kept the food warm. Everything always comes with coffee and a juice! Below are the foods they served:

Turkey sausage is always welcomed in the morning. It was nicely cooked and not too salty.

Parmesan potato hash was certainly interesting, more so than the average potato has you get in diners. It was both soft and crunchy too.

Tomato Asparagus Quiche. It was nicely baked – soft and eggy on the inside with a crisp exterior. I devoured this in a matter of seconds and went for a second round.

The second morning they had another round of delicious food:

Poached pears topped with yogurt. They came out warm and the pears just melted in your mouth. The yogurt was a nice contrast in providing a slightly tart taste against the sweet cinnamon flavors of the pear.

Blueberry Cream Cheese French Toast. It’s as good as it looks. They used a nice thick bread to soak the batter and topped it with blueberries and cream cheese. It was both moist and crispy. God, now I really want some again.

The Baked Egg was really good. Not only was it different than how I normally eat eggs (i.e. scrambled, over easy) but had great flavor to it. Inside was roasted red peppers and spiced with oregano. The eggs weren’t dry and had a soft consistency.

For me, not only was I able to enjoy nature but also the delicious food at this B&B. I have to say, it was one of my most pleasurable experiences at a bed and breakfast. If I plan on going back to Lake Placid, I’ll be sure to stay there again.

Snow Goose Bed & Breakfast
1433 NYS Route 73
Keene Valley, NY
(518) 576-9460

dessert/ Japanese/ nyc/ snack/ Taiwanese/ travels

Mountains of Ice!

I know spring has only begun, but that doesn’t mean we can’t think and crave summer foods right? One particular ingredient pops into my mind: Shaved Ice. Ice is such a versatile ingredient when it comes to creating a delicious dessert, especially when consuming it under the hot, humid sun, nothing is quite like how ice just melts in your mouth to cool you off.

So what exactly do you add to shaved ice to make it so good? It’s all about the ingredients baby.

This is Ippudo’s shaved ice dessert. It has red bean, mochi, strawberries, condensed milk and topped with a cherry. I believe Larry and I devoured this dessert in minutes. Can you blame us?

However this dessert is most common in Asia, namely Taiwan. The tropical weather, humid and hot, is best suited for some delicious ice. Hot Weather + Shaved Ice = Immense Satisfaction. There are many different combinations for ice:

This is Azabu Sabo’s Black Sesame Ice with Soft Serve. Yes, that black stuff is the black sesame and not random goo. The black sesame is mildly sweet but in conjunction with the soft serve and condensed milk creates a perfect combination of nutty and sweet flavors.

This is a traditional Taiwanese shaved ice dessert. What’s awesome is that you can choose what ingredients you want. How much is this bowl? I believe it’s close to $2.00. Insane isn’t it?! I happily picked out my favorite things: red bean, QQ jelly, tong yuan, condensed milk, and tapioca. It’s a whole bowl of delicious chewiness…:drool drool:

Calling ALL mango lovers…my most favorite: MANGO ICE. This place called Ice Monster offers this in the summer, which mangoes are abundant and naturally sweet. Imagine this…mango + mango ice cream + ice + condensed milk. This cannot be denied. Devoured? Yes. Instantaneous.

In conclusion, shaved ice is the best kind of dessert you can have on a sunny, hot day. For now we can just think about it until summer comes…then scarf away on ice. That is if you can handle the brain freeze.