A Weekend in North Carolina!

Hey everyone! This week I’m in Durham, North Carolina for my college reunion, so there won’t be much of an update on the blog. Here’s a quick preview of everything we’ve eaten already, though:

We started out with burgers for breakfast (well, technically it was like 3AM Pacific Time, so I’m not sure what kind of meal that is. But it was 6 already on the East Coast). Did you know that Five Guys serves breakfast? I had a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich.

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We then proceeded to have fried chicken for lunch:

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We’ve missed fried chicken so much! Recently we’ve discovered some good places around town, like Streetcar Merchants or Crispy Fried Chicken, but at the end of the day, there’s nothing like Bojangle’s (and I know my North Carolinian friends will agree with me!).

And of course, there’s the BBQ!

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Chicago Trip Recap, Part 7: The Purple Pig

This is the last of my Chicago trip recap posts! I can’t believe it took me half a year to get through everything, haha. Today’s post is on our second meal in the Windy City, at the famous Purple Pig, located on the Magnificent Mile.

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We had a group of six so we could share a variety of items. The food is American, with Spanish influence. Since the restaurant’s name was Purple Pig, we decided to focus on their pork items.

Blood Sausage

Blood Sausage

The blood sausage was from their selection of cured meats. Although the pieces are small, it was packed with flavor.

Lardo

Lardo

Another item from their “cured meats” section – I got really excited because lardo is, well, basically cured lard. I’ve had this once before at Beretta in San Francisco, and it was an absolute melt-in-your-mouth delight. Unfortunately, the lardo here was not as impressive – the pieces were cut too thick and didn’t have the melty, smooth mouthfeel that I had expected.

Roasted Bone Marrow with Herbs

Roasted Bone Marrow with Herbs

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The bone marrow here was one of the “must-try” items according to reviewers, although some of my friends who have visited here previously weren’t a fan. I absolutely loved it – the bone marrow was rich and silky, and the portion was quite generous. It was served with sea salt, and a mix of herbs, pickled onions, and capers, all of which balanced out the richness of the marrow.

Pig's Ear with Crispy Kale, Pickled Cherry Peppers, Fried Egg

Pig’s Ear with Crispy Kale, Pickled Cherry Peppers, Fried Egg

I’ve never had fried pig’s ear before – only the Chinese-style marinated kind, so this was quite new to me. One of my friends didn’t like this as much because the pig ears lost their characteristic “chewiness”. My favorite part of this dish, though, was probably the crispy kale, haha. There’s something about deep fried kale that I really enjoy.

Corn & Cherry Tomato Salad

Corn & Cherry Tomato Pesto Salad

Being in the Midwest in the summertime means that, at least for me, I’m eating corn at every meal. This was so, so good – the corn and tomatoes were really sweet and fresh, and I loved the flavor of the pesto. Thinking of this dish makes me wish that summer were here, already.

"JLT" Pork Jowl, Tomato, Frisée, & Fried Duck Egg

“JLT” Pork Jowl, Tomato, Frisée, & Fried Duck Egg

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Chicago Trip Recap, Part 6: Nico Osteria

During my Chicago trip last year, we had the pleasure of dining at Nico Osteria, voted by Esquire as one of Chicago’s best new restaurants of 2014. S’s sister V is a pastry cook there, so we got a big discount on our meal and a bunch of freebies.

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What better way to start off a meal than with warm bread? All the bread is made daily in-house, and the focaccia was amazing. Really, I just wanted to eat another 10 pieces by myself. But I had to remind myself that there was going to be an actual meal coming up and show some self-restraint.

This meal was quite a while ago (yes, I’m a huge procrastinator on writing posts) so I don’t remember all of the details. We started out our meal with some oysters on the half-shell, which were nice and refreshing.

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Crudo

Crudo

We also got a few crudo dishes – salmon, hamachi, and marlin. I wasn’t super impressed with the fish, since I thought they were sliced a bit too thin. I suppose I was expecting something more like sashimi, but this was different.

Corzetti with corn, squid, soffrito

Corzetti with corn, squid, soffrito

Squid ink pasta with tuna sausage

Squid ink pasta with tuna sausage

We also shared two pastas. Corzetti is a round, flat-shaped pasta, and apparently there are various ways to make it based on family tradition. I really enjoyed the dish, especially the fresh corn in the sauce. The squid ink pasta dish was also quite good, although I liked the squid ink pasta at Eataly more….

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Chicago Trip Recap, Part 5: Honey Butter Fried Chicken

Another Chicago recap post… while writing my 2014 year-in-review, I realized that I still have several posts left from Chicago that I haven’t written.

We visited Honey Butter Fried Chicken not once, but twice during our short 5-day trip, because yes it was that good. At the time we were there, S’s sister V was working there as a line cook, so we got some extras along with our meals.

Honey Butter Fried Chicken

The restaurant is located a bit out of the way of city center (although still quite easily accessible by the metro and bus). It’s actually right down the street from the ever-famous-but-now-closed Hot Doug’s… which we didn’t get to visit because the lines were crazy long. Sob.

Honey Butter Fried Chicken

S and I have really missed good fried chicken since moving to California, so we were both ultra excited. V told us that basically everything on the menu is good, so we ordered a variety of items to try out (good thing we had four people).

4-Pc Fried Chicken [$15]

4-Piece Fried Chicken [$15]

The special thing about the fried chicken here is that it’s de-boned. Sounds blasphemous, I know, but HBFC (sort of) makes up for that by brining the chicken so that it’s still juicy as ever. The batter is perfectly crisp and has amazing flavor – we especially loved the smoky paprika. V didn’t tell us beforehand that we could ask for all dark meat, so we got a mix of white and dark here, but obviously the dark meat was better.

We also didn’t know that we were supposed to slather their house-whipped honey butter ONTO the fried chicken… Sounds like a heart attack, but trust me, you need to do this. The light sweetness of the honey complemented the smoky fried chicken really nicely, and of course, it added some extra juiciness. It was so, so good.

The Original Fried Chicken Sandwich [$8]

The Original Fried Chicken Sandwich [$8]

We also tried the fried chicken sandwich. To be honest, I’ve always been a bigger fan of straight-up fried chicken than the sandwich version, but this was also really good – the candied jalapeño mayo was super yummy.

Finally, we also shared an order of the honey buffalo wings. 

Honey Buffalo Wings [$5]

Honey Buffalo Wings [$5]

The flavors were good, and the wings were fried quite nicely. I sort of wished that we had ordered a few more pieces of fried chicken instead, though – just couldn’t get my mind off of them, hehe.

On that visit, we tried several of their sides – collard greens, creamed corn, roasted sweet potato salad, and watermelon salad. I really loved the creamed corn and watermelon salad – unfortunately, my pictures didn’t turn out so well…

Anyway, on our last full day in Chicago, S and I insisted to V that we make another trip. She was kind enough to go with us, even though I’m sure she was looking forward to having her day off from working there……

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Chicago Trip Recap, Part 4: Eataly

It’s been a while since my last post on Chicago, but there’s still a lot of stuff that I haven’t posted about yet! We had several wonderful Italian meals in the Windy City – there is certainly an Italian heritage to the city, and it’s reflected in the food.

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One of the things that I was really excited about trying was Eataly, which is an Italian food market. The first one in the US was in New York, and the Chicago one followed soon after. Inside the market, they sell everything from cookware to sauces and pasta to fresh produce and meats.

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There was a Nutella bar! We didn’t get anything from there, though – we chose something else for dessert (you’ll see later!). 

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There’s a butcher shop, a seafood shop, a cheese counter, and more…

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Chicago Trip Recap, Part 3: Topolobampo

As promised in my Chicago trip recap part 2, I will devote a whole post to my meal at Topolobampo, Rick Bayless’ fine-dining restaurant. S, his sister V, and I were really excited to visit, and yes, we still wanted Mexican food after eating a huge meal at Frontera Grill just a day before.

Topolobampo

Unlike most other fine-dining establishments that we’ve visited, one thing that we loved about Topolobampo was its lively atmosphere. There was music, plenty of lighting (do I hear a collective “yay!” from my fellow food bloggers?), and a nice, steady stream of chatter. It wasn’t noisy by any means, but there wasn’t a stifling quietness that often accompanies nice restaurants.

Cucumber-Lime Drink & Topolo Margarita

Cucumber-Lime Drink & Topolo Margarita

Couldn’t resist starting off with some drinks! V had a cucumber-lime drink (non-alcoholic), and I got a Topolo margarita – both were really nice and refreshing.

Their course system is very similar to that of Gary Danko – instead of separating the dishes into appetizers, entrées, and desserts, the items are separated into categories such as “Vibrant”, “Fresh”, “Complex”, etc. You can choose from any of the categories to make a 3, 5, or 7-course dinner. There’s also a Chef’s suggested “Perfect 7″. The three of us decided to each get a 5-course dinner, which is priced at $90, and share everything.

We got an amuse bouche to start… I wish I could remember what this all entailed, but I believe these were spiced melons.

Amuse bouche: spiced melons

Amuse bouche

Shortly after, we were presented with our first courses:

Summer Tomatoes, Yucatean Flavors: Leaning Shed farm baby tomato salad, modern sikil pak (fresh Lima beans, creamy pepitas, habanero, olive oil), clay baked torpea onions, habanero-lime dressing

Summer Tomatoes, Yucatean Flavors: Leaning Shed farm baby tomato salad, modern sikil pak (fresh Lima beans, creamy pepitas, habanero, olive oil), clay baked torpea onions, habanero-lime dressing

I had to look up what “sikil pak” was – apparently it’s a Mexican pumpkin-seed dip, and I loved it! It had a lightly spicy kick and was really nice and creamy. The summer tomatoes were also really fresh and delicious.

Halibut Escabeche: sashimi-style wild Alaskan halibut, nineteenth century escabeche (homemade pineapple vinegar, garlic, black pepper, cumin, lime pieces, guero chile, black olive oil), local baby carrots, crispy capers

Halibut Escabeche: sashimi-style wild Alaskan halibut, nineteenth century escabeche (homemade pineapple vinegar, garlic, black pepper, cumin, lime pieces, guero chile, black olive oil), local baby carrots, crispy capers

The halibut was quite fresh, but I felt that the marinade was starting overpower the delicate fish. The crispy capers were amazing, though.

Scallops in Aguachile Verde: Viking Villa sashimi-grade scallops, ripe Klug farm peaches, refreshing raw tomatillo salsa (Serrano chile, rooftap lemon verbana, mint), conpoy (dried scallop), shiso

Scallops in Aguachile Verde: Viking Villa sashimi-grade scallops, ripe Klug farm peaches, refreshing raw tomatillo salsa (Serrano chile, rooftap lemon verbana, mint), conpoy (dried scallop), shiso

Again, I felt that the scallops were being overpowered a bit by the tart tomatillo salsa. However, I thought that the combo of the dried scallop with the fresh worked really well.

Moving on to course 2…

Herb-Green Mushroom Pozole: crispy oyster mushrooms, pozole corn, roasted local ramps, herby-tangy-sweet pozole verde (tomatillo, pumpkin seeds, serrano, herbs), creamy nixtamal emulsion

Herb-Green Mushroom Pozole: crispy oyster mushrooms, pozole corn, roasted local ramps, herby-tangy-sweet pozole verde (tomatillo, pumpkin seeds, serrano, herbs), creamy nixtamal emulsion

This dish pretty much summed up all of my favorite vegetables: mushrooms, corn, pumpkin seeds, serrano peppers. So my reaction to this was basically, YES. It did not disappoint.

Goat Barbacoa: Kilgus Farm Boer goat two ways (classic slow-cooked barbacoa, modern "pancetta"), creamy garbanzos, red chile-infused braising juices, City Farm yuong radishes and other fresh garnishes

Goat Barbacoa: Kilgus Farm Boer goat two ways (classic slow-cooked barbacoa, modern “pancetta”), creamy garbanzos, red chile-infused braising juices, City Farm young radishes and other fresh garnishes

Goat barbacoa was one of the things that S’s labmate, who is from Mexico, recommended us to try if we had a chance. We really liked this – the goat had its characteristic gamey taste but just enough of it, the broth and flavors were rich and hearty. I’d never been a big fan of garbanzo beans, but these were actually quite good.

Chile en Nogada: roasted poblano chile, savory-sweet picadillo filling of trumpet mushrooms, local fruits and vegetables (tomato, apples, plums, pattypan squash), sweet spices & saffron, Nogada sauce (walnut, almond, sherry, crema, goat cheese)

Chile en Nogada: roasted poblano chile, savory-sweet picadillo filling of trumpet mushrooms, local fruits and vegetables (tomato, apples, plums, pattypan squash), sweet spices & saffron, Nogada sauce (walnut, almond, sherry, crema, goat cheese)

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Chicago Trip Recap, Part 2: Frontera Grill & Xoco

S and I first learned about mole, the Mexican sauce, through Top Chef Masters, which was Rick Bayless’ winning dish in the season 1 finale (erm, spoiler alert). So, when we were planning our Chicago trip, S expressed that he wanted to go to Rick Bayless’ restaurant to try the mole. Later, when we found out that our hotel is basically right next to 3 of his restaurants, we ended up going to all of them, haha. Here, I’ll recap the visits to Frontera Grill and Xoco, the more casual eateries. (Topolobampo is his fine-dining establishment.)

Frontera Grill

The most famous of Rick Bayless’ restaurants is undoubtedly Frontera Grill, which has been around since 1987! We visited for lunch on Day 4 of our trip – we secured reservations about two weeks beforehand.

Frontera Grill

Loved the decor!

We ordered a lot of food for four people, by the way.

Summer Guacamole

Summer Guacamole: Michoacan avocados, spicy habanero chiles, local melon & cucumber, mint, lime zest, queso de cincho [$9.75]

S’s sister V really wanted guacamole, and we chose the “summer” one which had melon and cucumber – I ended up really liking this guac! Normally, S and I aren’t fans of avocados because it’s so heavy and creamy (I know, I know, we don’t deserve to live in California), but the melons really lightened it up and provided a nice sweetness. I’m going to try adding melons and cucumbers to guacamole next time!

Fresh Corn Tamales

Fresh Corn Tamales: banana-leaf steamed sweet corn tamales, homemade crema & fresh cheese, chile poblano [$7.50]

I love tamales and was really happy when S suggested that we order this, because it turned out to be super delicious. The tamale didn’t have any fillings – but it didn’t need any. The masa had plenty of flavor – it made me appreciate being in the Midwest, aka land of corn, and you can really taste how fresh it is. The crema and cheese simply added some creaminess and saltiness to balance out the sweet corn. This was the simplest yet best tamale I’ve ever had.

Big Wood-Grilled Tacos al Carbon Trio

Big Wood-Grilled Tacos al Carbon Trio: naturally raised skirt steak, Gunthorp chicken, pork, roasted poblanos, guacamole, grilled knob onions and shishito peppers [$34]

We couldn’t resist ordering the big build-it-yourself taco platter, which had steak, chicken, and pork – the steak was the best and cooked perfectly – as well as plenty of fixings and a big heap of guacamole (unfortunately, not the summer one, but it was still pretty good).

Finally, the last highlight from this meal:

Mole Trio

Mole Trio: mole poblano enchiladas, pork & beans in mole coloradito, roasted vegetables in green pumpkin seed mole [$23]

We couldn’t decide which mole to order, so we got the trio to taste a variety of them. Out of all of these, my favorite was actually the pumpkin seed mole, which was perfect with the roasted vegetables. But honestly, all three were delicious, complex, and hearty.

Can you believe that those were only about half of the food we ordered for our group of four? We also had garlicky mushrooms, pork in tinga poblana, and a trio of smoked chicken taquitas, ceviche tostadas, and cheese empanadas. Needless to say, we left stuffed and really happy.

Frontera Grill
445 N. Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654
http://www.rickbayless.com/restaurants/frontera-grill/

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Chicago Trip Recap, Part 1: Hot Dogs and Deep Dish

S and I, along with one of our friends, recently went to Chicago for the first time! We did all the touristy things, hung out with his sister V (who is attending culinary school!), and had a wonderful time. I really loved Chicago and definitely hope to go back for future visits. We ate a lot of yummy food on the trip – I carefully planned out the “food itinerary” – and just writing these recaps is going to make me drool onto the keyboard.

Our first stop after arriving in Chicago was Portillo’s, which V recommended to us. There are many locations, and luckily one of them was just a short walk from the hotel.

Portillo's

Portillo’s

We found out that it’s not really a restaurant, but instead a food court of some sort, and you order at the counter of your choice. We were there, of course, for the hot dogs.

Hot dog assembly 

Here they are, being assembled! I like that the little holders look sort of like the taco holders that we see so often here in San Diego, haha.

Hot Dog

Hot Dog with everything: mustard, relish, freshly chopped onions, sliced red ripe tomatoes, kosher pickle, sport peppers, piled onto a perfectly steamed poppy seed bun

This hot dog was amazing. The flavor was spot-on. I really loved all the accompaniments, especially the relish and peppers, and I even enjoyed the pickle a lot! (S and I normally don’t eat pickles because they’re either too salty or too sour.) I was actually kind of sad that I had to share this with two other people… and if it weren’t for the fact that we were about to have a real dinner in about an hour, I would have insisted that we get another hot dog.

Chili Cheese Dog

Chili Cheese Dog, served with onions

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[Las Vegas] Noodle Asia

Last post from my June Vegas trip! S and I often stay at The Venetian hotel, since we can usually get a pretty good deal for rooms through Priceline. One of the “casual” restaurants that we like in The Venetian is Noodle Asia – after all, a good bowl of beef noodle soup is a great hangover cure… hehe.

Noodle Asia

When we first visited this place two years ago, we weren’t sure how the food would be – and it turned out to be a pretty pleasant surprise! Since then, S and I have recommended it to several friends, haha. I actually have some photos from my initial visit in 2012, which I’ll share at the end. 

Noodle Asia - Jellyfish Salad

Jellyfish Salad [$10.95]

This was quite possibly the most expensive jellyfish salad I’ve ever had… Nevertheless, it was a refreshing start to the meal. The seasoning was a good balance of salty and tart, with just a hint of spicy, although the flavors were a bit mild overall. 

Noodle Asia - Szechwan Beef Noodle Soup

Szechwan Beef Noodle Soup [$13.95]

The specialty of Noodle Asia, beef noodle soup. The broth was quite rich – it had definitely been simmered for a while with soy sauce, beef stock, and soy bean paste to generate the deep flavors – and the beef was nice and tender. The noodles tasted like they were made in-house, which is awesome! They had a good “bounce” to it, characteristic of handmade noodles. The soup wasn’t spicy at all (to me), even though it’s branded as “Szechwan”-style, which should have more heat… But other than that, no complaints about this BNS.

Noodle Asia - Pai Goo (pork chop) Noodles

Pai Goo (pork chop) Noodle Soup [$13.95]

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[Las Vegas] Gordon Ramsay BurGR

Another post today from my recent Vegas trip, which happens to be the last meal we had there – Gordon Ramsay BurGR, located in Planet Hollywood. You’ll probably see a huge line when you’re there, but that’s actually for parties of two, only. If you have a larger group than 2, you can go to the front and leave your phone number – when your table is ready, they will send you a text message! It was quite convenient since we could walk around the casino or the Planet Hollywood shops while we waited. Around lunchtime on Monday, the wait actually wasn’t so bad – around 20 minutes.

BurGR - Front of restaurant

Front of restaurant

BurGR - Bar area

Bar area

I was quite amused when I opened up my menu, to see this… haha.

But here’s the actual menu. You can also see it online.

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A couple of my friends decided to get drinks – one of them ordered a La Fin du Monde beer, while the other went the sweet route and ordered one of the milkshakes. 

BurGR - La Fin du Monde beer and Shake #4

La Fin du Monde and Shake #4 – crème brûlée pudding, Oreo shake, Oreo cookie [$9]

I didn’t try the beer, but the milkshake was amazing! I loved the pudding + Oreo combination. The crème brûlée pudding layer was really delicious, as it had a nice “eggy” flavor which I like. My friend wished that they two parts could have been mixed together more, though.

We decided to share an appetizer – the “Honey-Pig Bao Buns,” which is BurGR’s rendition of the Taiwanese snack, gua bao

BurGR - Honey-Pig Bao Buns

Honey-Pig Bao Buns: roasted pork belly, cucumber, radish, cilantro, honey-hoisin sauce [$13]

This tasted pretty different from the traditional Taiwanese version (according to my friend, at least; I’ve never had this in Taiwan), but I actually liked the flavors a lot. The pork was melt-in-your-mouth tender, and the honey-hoisin sauce was a perfect balance between salty and sweet. The buns were actually steamed quite nicely, too; they weren’t too “gummy” or dry. So even though it wasn’t authentic, all of us really enjoyed it.

Hell's Kitchen Burger: asadero cheese, roasted jalapeño peppers, avocado, oven roasted tomato [$14]

Hell’s Kitchen Burger: asadero cheese, roasted jalapeño peppers, avocado, oven roasted tomato [$14]

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