What To Eat in the Hida Neighborhood: Hida Beef

May 29, 2013 § 1 Comment

Tender, juicy, melt-in-your-mouth goodness – is how I describe this good piece of steak I had in a not so recent dining episode somewhere in Hida Takayama.  In fact, most of our meals were of this black-haired Japanese cattle breed.

sirloin-steak

Our very first meal in Takayama was this wonderful set meal at a French Bistro called Le Midi,

teppanyaki

we then had it Teppanyaki style in Hirayu,

Yakiniku

Yakiniku style in a hole in a wall,

bun

in a bun found in stalls everywhere,

Mincemeat-cutlet

we queued in line to have taste of this minced Hida beef cutlet,

with-hobo-miso

and delighted in the city’s specialty, Hida Beef grilled on a magnolia leaf with Hoba miso (another of their delicacies) – all garnering a truly satisfying two-thumbs up from me.

Raised in the Gifu Prefecture, Hida Beef or Hida-gyu, as it is called, is one of the reasons how I found myself in Hida Takayama.  Although widely known (and for obvious reasons) for its wonderfully preserved city and beautiful sceneries, for foodies, it is its premium beef that reigns supreme in this city.  Sharing the same class (but not exactly the limelight) as Kobe and Matsuzaka, Hida, like other wagyu beef, has beautiful marbling that prevents the juice and aroma from escaping from the meat and helps maintain its tenderness.  The cattle fattened for 14 months, and its meats are ranked from grades 3-5 (with 5 being the most premium).

In my humble opinion, I find that Hida beef boasts of the buttery taste found in some wagyu beef but does not possess so much of the fatty richness, highlighting more the flavor of the meat.  If you find your way to Takayama, do splurge on at least a meal of Hida beef. If, however, you start dreaming of Hida Beef, do not hesitate, head out to Takayama at the soonest chance you get.

Where to Eat in Kyoto: Suien

February 5, 2013 § 9 Comments

What do you do when you’re on holiday, exploring the neighborhood and it starts to rain?  We had lunch.  Sometimes when the hassles of life make you stop and change course just go with the flow.  You never know what lies ahead.

drizzle

Preserved historic street of Higashiyama.

It was a choice between getting drenched and an early lunch.  Albeit not on our list of many restaurants to try in Kyoto, it was an easy choice.  We decided that looking for a restaurant on our list was not worth getting wet for.  Suien will have to do.  Great decision ever.

The Zen-like interior has splashes of neutral subtle shades, pale wooden furniture and shoji screens.  The only other customers were 2 well-dressed women seated in a quiet corner, deep in conversation.  But as soon as we entered, I had a good feeling about the place.  We will be fed well, I thought.  We chose a table opposite the ladies, the server in a kimono, gave us the only English menu they have.  It was short and sweet, a set menu.  Worth ¥2,500 ($26), it comes with 2 appetizers, noodle soup, a choice of 4 main course and Japanese sweets for dessert.  We’re having a kaiseki-style lunch.

kiyomizudera

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

As Japan’s former capital and seat of the imperial court for over a thousand years, Kyoto is renowned for its rich culinary tradition.  Diverse, its local cuisine ranges from aristocratic kaiseki ryori course to the smallest izakaya (pub).  Kaiseki is Japanese haute cuisine served in carefully designed courses meant to please the emperors.  Kyoto-style kaiseki puts importance on seasonal ingredients and is largely vegetarian, though fish is often served while meat never appears in a kaiseki menu.

Apple-walnut-beancurd

scallops

Walnut Bean Curd and Roast (adducter muscles) Scallop.  A great start to a wonderful meal.  The bean curd silky and smooth, sweet and salty (from the soy).

fried-sea-bream-noodle-soup

Fried Sea Bream in Hot Noodle Soup.  The light broth with a hint of lemon makes this rice noodle soup light and refreshing.  The fish, similar to a sea bass, adds to the flavor.  A delightful change to the usual miso soup.

donburi-with-seam-bream-preserved-in-miso

For the main course, I chose Donburi with Sea Bream marinated in Miso.  It tastes as good as it looks.  Also called Japan’s king of fish, the sea bream is very flavorful, meat firm similar to sea bass.  The miso delicately seasoning the fresh flavor of the fish.

brown-sugar-rice-cake,

And finally… the dessert.  Brown Sugar Rice Cake.  What a way to end the meal.  This melt in the mouth mochi is smooth and creamy, not at all starchy.  Unlike any I’ve tasted.

The price of a kaiseki meal can be steep but many establishments offer set menus at lunchtime at a considerably lower price.  Whether lunch or dinner, it is an experience not to be missed.

Suien
Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
446 Le Kamibenten Town
Under Torii Yasaka Shimogawaradori
About 15 minutes walk from Hanky Kawaramochi Station / 7 minutes walk from Gion Shijo Station
Contact: 075 551-0035

A Happy New Year!

January 15, 2013 § 1 Comment

Sick during the holidays – how sad is that?  A week after and I am still nursing a bad cough, nose still pretty clogged.  I have so much food from the holidays but appetite eludes me.  So, I ended up with more food than ever before.  I bet the people at reception, maintenance, even the guards won’t ever forget me – either they love me to pieces for all the holiday goodies I brought their way or they are avoiding me by now for dumping so much food on them.

I trekked to the doctor’s clinic last week.  “I need to be well by Saturday”, I told him.  And like a good doctor that he is, I am feeling better now, thank you, although I am still not in creative cooking mode.   Until last night, when I whipped up a pleasant meal of leftovers, which I ate with gusto – and that is a wonderful sign that I am on the road to real recovery.

IMG_2871

I had some fresh mozzarella that needed to be consumed soon, what to do?  I didn’t feel like a pizza or a sandwich.  I didn’t have fresh basil and tomatoes so a salad is out too.  Besides, I wanted something more filling – a first in weeks!

IMG_2869

So, I beat to combine a couple of eggs and a couple of tablespoons of milk.  Sliced the mozzarella.  Washed some leftover spinach my mom sent my way before she left for abroad.  Threw some bacon bits on the pan – I always have bacon, no mater what!!  Then I threw in the spinach, seasoned with salt and pepper.  Poured the egg mixture into the pan as soon as the spinach starts to wilt.  Before turning over, I added the mozzarella cubes.  It’s smoky with a mild cheesy taste.  I think it’s awesome.

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A very belated New Year greetings to everyone.  May you cook more and eat more healthily, be blessed with more opportunities to try new foods and flavors this year.

Are You a Morning Person?

September 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

Me, I am not.  Snooze is my best friend.  Funny that the sound of the alarm does not exactly wake me up but rather does the opposite.  It’s in the mindset, some say, but I don’t know…

I, however, love breakfast and no matter how late I wake up, I hardly skip it.  On weekdays, I usually have something simple like jam and butter on bread, granola with either milk or yogurt or just yogurt and some fruit – anything that is fast and easy because I’m always late.

Now, breakfast on weekends is a different story.  It usually is more special, grander, prepared with more love and attention.  Eggs are usually reserved for the weekend and I am, at the moment, enchanted with Paprika on eggs.  Not any kind of paprika, mind you.

Although a staple in my spice rack, Paprika was only meant to add color to chicken, stews, potatoes… until Pimentón de la Vera came into my life, that is.  Smoked Paprika from the Tietar River valley in La Vera, Spain changed my concept of Paprika forever.  It is the precious spice used in Spanish chorizo distinctly known for its amazing smoky flavor and aroma.

I am loving it in anything and everything, but most especially on eggs.  They come in 3 variants – dulce (sweet and mild), agridulce (bittersweet and med hot), and picante (hot).  The slightly sweet smokiness of my favorite variant, dulce, perks up the flavor of the eggs.  Makes me excited to wake up in the morning… hmmm, maybe I should try making this on weekdays? 

Credits:  Papers by Simply Kelly Designs

Baked Eggs with Pimentón de la Vera

What You’ll Need

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp. heavy cream
  • ½ tsp. unsalted butter
  • Pimenton de la Vera (dulce or picante)
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

What You Do

  1. Preheat broiler for 5 minutes and place oven rack 6 inches below the heat.
  2. Crack eggs without breaking the yolks on a small bowl.  Set aside.
  3. Place cream and butter on a ramekin dish and place under the broiler for about 3 minutes or until hot and bubbly.
  4. Quickly pour the eggs into the ramekin dish and sprinkle with salt, pepper and the a few dashes of pimentón.
  5. Return under the broiler for 5-6 minutes or until the whites of the eggs are almost cooked.  The eggs will continue to cook after taken out of the oven.
  6. Cool for a minute and serve hot with toasted bread.

What To Eat in Laos: Luang Prabang Pork Sausages

September 3, 2012 § 1 Comment

I have a thing about sausages.  It is my comfort food.  Growing up, my brother and I would make hotdogs with caramelized onion rings cooked in ketchup.  It was my brother’s idea, I think.  We grew up on that and once in a while, I’d still make these for old time’s sake.  But I’ve come a long way with my sausages.  I’ve soon learned to love all kinds of sausages from chorizo to kielbasa to our local longganisa.

Credits:  Kaboks’ SFJ Christmas Treasure papers.

So when I saw sausages drying on a sidewalk in Luang Prabang, I knew I had to get my hands on some of those and ordered the first sausage I spotted on the menu.  Luang Prabang has exceptionally good sausages.  Sweet and herby with a hint of heat from the chili peppers.  The lemongrass and the juice from Kaffir lime delivered a flavor that is so distinctly indochina.

That and sticky red rice, add the casual, cozy open-air ambience of Mango Tree and it was pure bliss.

Mango Tree
Ban Vat Nong, Sakkarine Road,
Luang Prabang, Laos
+856 71 253-888 / 253-750

Where to Eat in Luang Prabang: L’Elephant

August 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.” —  George Bernard Shaw

Have you ever been instantly charmed by a place, its food, that all you want is to share it with everyone that matters to you?  Luang Prabang has that effect on me that I was back in no time with Anton in tow.

Set in the confluence of two rivers that almost surround the town, Luang Prabang is a medley of traditional wooden houses and European architecture, one of those cities oozing with charm.  A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the pressures of mass tourism development have been held at bay, which lends to its allure.

Along with its culture and tradition, one of its greatest attractions is its food.  Restaurants line Sisavangvong Road and the roads along the two rivers.

Options include traditional Lao dishes to fine French cooking.  A remnant of the country’s colonial era – centuries of occupation and colonial rule by the French, Luang Prabang boasts of some good French restaurants.  And this, my friends, is one major reason for a revisit.  Four years is long enough.

I went back to relish once again a satisfying gastronomic delight.  L’Elephant is a long-standing restaurant pioneering a culinary renaissance in Luang Prabang, serving mainly French food although menu includes local options too.  It is housed in a typical 1960’s colonial building, a stone’s throw away from the Mekong.  Twirling fans, high ceiling, and wooden chairs look like a set straight out of “Casablanca”.  Wonderful ambience paired with good food leaves a lasting impression and so there we had our first leisurely meal.

The owners, French-Lao Yannick and Frenchman Gilles, first opened L’Elephant Restaurant in 1999 when Yannick’s grandmother proposed that he come back from France and open a business in her building.  Tourism was on the rise then so he agreed.  What was originally supposed to be a guesthouse became a restaurant instead.  Three more restaurants around Luang Prabang followed after.

They use fresh local produce grown in their own garden, which is probably why most of what comes out of their kitchen are remarkably delicious.

We had for our starter Carrots from their garden with Orange, Lime and Fresh Basil Vinaigrette.  Most refreshing.

Escargots de Bourgogne – French snails baked in parsley and garlic butter.  So simple yet it possesses such amazing flavors – a favorite.

For our main:  Roasted Boneless Quail stuffed with Luang Prabang mushrooms for Anton.  Superb if you like strong flavors.

Fillet of Mekong Perch in Coriander Sauce for me.  Laos being land locked and has only rivers flowing through, river fish are almost always on menus.  Although they tend to taste muddy, this dish has a clean taste, the coriander sauce adding a nice citrus-herb tang.

An indulgence no doubt as this could probably be the most expensive meal we had in Laos but the splurge was worth it.

L’Elephant Restaurant
Ban Vat Nong, Luang Prabang,
Lao P.D.R
For reservations: +856 71 252-482

What to Eat in Laos: Laotian BBQ

June 19, 2012 § 4 Comments

In a sidewalk eatery, a man brings to our table hot coals on a brazier where he affixes a dome shape griddle similar but not quite the ones used for Korean BBQ.

This one has an annulus around the bottom of the griddle, where he poured some broth.

He then came out with a plate of thinly sliced meat of beef, pork and chicken.  And a basket of vegetables, tofu, mushrooms and some glass noodles.

It is a cross between shabu-shabu and Korean BBQ – the veggies, noodles et al. goes into the soup while meats are grilled on the dome-shaped griddle.  The meat I dip into a sauce that I customize to my liking – on a base of peanut sauce, I add some chopped garlic, a bit of fresh chilies and a squeeze of lime juice – beautiful complement to the grilled meats.

The key ingredient, me thinks, is the pork fat provided to grease the griddle as the meat cooks.  This plus all the drippings of the meat goes straight to the soup, making one glorious soup by the end of the meal.

This BBQ meal known locally as Sin Dat is best devoured on a cool evening as the heat of the hot coals can zap the energy out of you on a hot day.  Although I extremely enjoyed both occasions (once in the middle of summer and more recently in January, the coolest month in Laos), I realized that the hot coals, not to mention the hot, flavorful soup can soothe ones senses on a cold, rainy evening.

One can’t possibly call a trip to Laos complete without experiencing this wonderful Laotian BBQ.  Make sure not to miss this.

Satisfaction guaranteed.   🙂

Where to Eat in Vientiane

June 4, 2012 § 1 Comment

Credits: Quickpage by Shabby Mis Jenn’s Design: Kayla’s Tin Album  

Armed only with a list of restaurants and a map, we walked the streets of Vientiane one January morning not quite aimlessly but with very loose plans.  We inquired at Papaya Spa on their treatments (we might want a massage later in the day), appreciated beautiful art pieces at a gallery (which we can’t afford space-wise and pocket-wise), admired some beautiful houses/guesthouses along the way… then we spotted 2 of the restaurants at the top of our list right beside each other.  Divine providence, I say, so we pushed our luck and actually got a table where reservations are usually required.

Makphet

Makphet is a charitable establishment that trains street children to acquire marketable skills – to cook and to wait tables.  Friends International, which also operates in Phnom Penh, teaches them the skills of the restaurant trade in trying to bring a sustainable improvement in their lives.  A good cause and more importantly, excellent modern Lao dishes is definitely a formula for success.

The server-students who enthusiastically served and replied to our queries charmed us so that we went for their recommendations.  Red Hibiscus & Lime Breeze caught my eye.  We call it gumamela where I come from.  The tangy, fruity drink is wonderful to quench off the spiciness of the dishes.

Sharing borders with Thailand, Vietnam, Burma, China and Cambodia, Lao food has strongly influenced (and vise versa) the neighboring cuisine of Thailand and Vietnam.

Their Grilled Beef Fillet wrapped in betel leaves is their take on a typical Vietnamese dish.  Seasoned beef wrapped in betel leaves and then grilled.  The slight peppery aroma of the betel leaves is a wonderful complement to the beef.

Next to arrive was a Crispy Fried Mekong Fish they call Ancient Fish.  It went really well with the Sweet and Sour Tamarind sauce (as fried fish always do) and the side of Green Mango Salad that came with the dish.

A winner in my books, the kaffir leaves and the side salad set it apart from all the fried fish dishes I’ve tasted.

Have you ever tasted sticky rice not as a dessert but just as rice?  A staple in Laotian cuisine – everything tastes so much better with it.  I’m actually missing it now.

The hibiscus (a favorite of the day, I swear) sorbet and coconut ice cream was the way to go to clean the palate after a medley of strong flavors.  Topped with delicious meringue, this baby had sweet, sour, cool and crunchy goodness all in one.  Love.

Reservations are recommended or like us, be there early and you might get lucky if all you need is a corner table for 2.

L’Adresse Cuisine by Tinay

Being a former French colony, the legacy is apparent in Laos such that French restaurants are common and popular.  L’Adresse de Tinay next door is the new kid on the block, so to speak. The French-Lao chef Tinay and French wife Delphine Inthavong are the couple behind this casual French bistro.  When we walked over to make our reservations for dinner, Delphine asked us to pick our table.

We were so looking forward to indulge in French food after a tiring afternoon.  We walked in at exactly 7pm; we were shown to our table.

Unbeknownst to us, this young gentleman in black who was taking our order was actually Chef Tinay who trained in France and came back home to open his restaurant.

Goat Cheese Rolls: Tinay’s Specialty has 7 crispy Goat Cheese rolls with Sun-dried Tomatoes, Tapenade, Pesto, Thyme, Honey, Cherry Confitures, and Sweet Chili Peppers

He has a seasonal menu, which might include his signature goat cheese rolls.

The restaurant is well-lit and has a modern yet welcoming feel; his seasonal menu is written on a huge blackboard on the wall.  A small room houses a selection of wines.   The seating outside is more casual and dark with only the light from inside and some candles lighting each table.

We were wowed from start to finish.  I thought that the bread with the tomato sauce dip was clever – simple yet divine.

We were ecstatic to see escargot on the menu – it has 6 snails on 3 bruschettas with scrambled eggs and topped with parsley cream.

I had Grandma Lydie’s Special cassoulet with home-made duck confit.  The cassoulet is made up of haricot beans, a superb tasting Toulouse sausage and simmered in a sweet garlic cream.  Thank you Grandma Lydie, your cassoulet was sublime.

The rack of lamb was juicy, tender, crusty and perfectly pink.  Herbs were not overpowering but rather complemented this beautiful piece of fatty goodness.

Need I say more?

And for dessert, we shared a crème brulee with vanilla from Madagascar.  I’m not sure now if both crème brulee and ice cream had vanilla from Madagascar.  Whichever the case, it was heavenly.

Anyone who serves Limoncello will always have a place in my heart and this one in particular came with the bill with their compliments– homemade by Delphine.  Beautiful restaurant, lovely personal service, excellent food, reasonable prices, a nice wine selection – I’m willing to bet that this neighborhood French bistro will go a long way.

Suffice to say that our day in Vientiane went really well particularly in the food department.  Only on our first day and we were already wowed.

Makphet
Parallel to Sethathirat Rd, Chanthabouly District (behind Wat Ong Teu)
Opens Mon-Sat 11am-2pm and 6pm-9pm only
+856 (21) 260-586
 
L’Adresse de Tinay
Parallel to Sethathirat Rd, Chanthabouly District (behind Wat Ong Teu)
+856 (20) 5691-3434

Hong Kong Eats

May 5, 2012 § 1 Comment

Trips with the family always involve a lot of eating.  On our (not so) recent trip to Hong Kong, it was with no surprise that the entire itinerary focused on where to eat.  A few good ones picked out from a 2-page list and reservations made even before we boarded.  Yes, if there is such a thing as food geeks, that’s us.

First stop was Hutong in Tsim Sha Tsui.  The restaurant was set out to impress not only in the food department.  It starts with a stylish old China interior and a view to die for from the 28th floor overlooking Victoria Harbor and the Hong Kong skyline.  The dim interior creates drama and intends to highlight the city’s colorfully lit nightscape, particularly the nightly light show at 8pm.  So try to get a table by the window for the best view.

Clockwise:  Floor to ceiling windows overlooking the harbor / dim interior, Cod fish tossed with fermented bean and chilies, Red Lantern, various desserts, the light show, Crispy De-boned Lamb Ribs

Specializing in traditional northern Chinese cuisine, the food is can be quite spicy.  Make sure to order the Crispy De-boned Lamb Ribs, it is their house specialty and never disappoints.  Its crispness resembles that of Peking duck skin and the meat slow-cooked to tenderness but still retaining the flavor of lamb.  If you can handle the heat, their Red Lantern is a must try.  Crispy chicken with Sichuan pepper bursts with great flavor and intense heat if you bite into the chilies.  Even without touching the chilies, I can only eat so much.  Another favorite is the Cod fish tossed with fermented bean and chilies.

Clockwise:  Grilled Zucchini, Green Tea Banana Cake, the sushi counter, Hamachi Roll, Tuna Tartare with Miso, Grilled Chicken Wings

A friend invited for dinner at a different time I was in Hong Kong, we met at the Mandarin for drinks and walked over to The Landmark for what she said would be Japanese tapas.  Given the prestigious address, I knew that it wasn’t going to be a cramped sushi bar but the interior still blew me away.  Zuma has 2 levels with a grand spiral staircase that greets as one step out of the elevator.  We took a table at the terrace where a garden surrounds.  Memorable dishes include Seared Beef with a Yuzu-Ponzu dressing, Tuna Tartare with Miso, a Chicken Yakitori and a very yummy Green Tea Banana Cake with coconut ice cream.  Authentic Japanese cuisine prepared non-traditionally and served Izakaya style – small dishes designed for sharing.  Zuma boasts of a pretty good selection with a robota grill and a sushi counter.  Second time around with the family registers the same satisfaction if not better.

Clockwise: Flan con Dulce de Leche, Provoleta Cheese with Olive Oil and Herbs, Grilled Beef Tenderloin Steak (250g), the street of Soho in Central.

Steak – is always on our radar.  Our usual haunt is Morton of Chicago but this time around, we felt like a change.  At the heart of SOHO in Central is a place where carnivores find pleasure.  La Pampas specializes in Argentinean cuisine, particularly in steaks and grilled meats.  Flown fresh from Argentina, the organic beef is tender and tasty.  Other Argentinean dishes worth ordering from their menu include sausages, chorizo, and cheeses.  And speaking of cheese, their Provoleta cheese with olive oil and herbs is a delightful starter and the Flan con Dulce de Leche, a divine cap to the scrumptious meal.

Clockwise:  Noodle and congee counter, stylish interior, my fish congee, Stir-fried Chinese Broccoli, The chef behind the counter, fried Beef Noodle.

With the excessive feasting, it is just proper to take a rest and end with some congee.  Tasty Congee and Noodle Wanton Shop should be your last stop to somewhat clean the system.  Before taking the train to the airport, spare some time to go to the IFC Mall for some really good congee or noodles on level 3.  If you prefer to head straight to the airport, head out to the food court of Departure east hall of the Hong Kong International Airport.  This one Michelin star restaurant definitely does not disappoint.  So good, it even got listed on the premier edition of the Miele Guide.  So even if you don’t really need to “cleanse”, head out to one of their establishments for some “tasty” comfort food.  Outside of their congee, we loved their Fried Beef Noodle, which we spotted from the table beside us.  Dimsums and wantons are excellent too.

Zuma
Levels 5 & 6, The Landmark
15 Queen’s Road, Central. HK
(852) 3657-6388 (reservations recommended)
 
Hutong
1 Peking Road,
28th Floor, Tsim Sha Tsui, HK
(852) 3428-8342 (reservations a must)
 
Tasty Congee & Noodle Wanton Shop
Shop 3016 Podium 3, IFC Mall
8 Finance Street, Central, HK
(852) 2295-0101 / 2295-0505 (reservations recommended)
 
La Pampas
G/F 32 B & C, Staunton Street,
SOHO, Central
(852) 2868-6959 (reservations a must)

French Toast

April 16, 2012 § 5 Comments

I read somewhere that when you have old bread, make French toast.

I was away for Easter break.  We hopped around the nearby islands, feasted on wonderful food but for the most part, it was lounging at the beach or on a hammock near our cottage with a good book… a perfect getaway from the busy schedule.  A much needed rest, truth to  tell.  I hope yours was as restful as mine.

So I come home and there it was on the fridge, pitifully staring back at me.  “French Toast time”, my thought balloon goes.  Not that I wait for bread to go stale but days old bread make a lovely French Toast.  I like mine a bit crisp on the edges but still soft and creamy in the middle.  The trick is let the bread soak for a minute or 2 and cook it with a fair amount of hot oil.  Adding sugar to the mixture will crisp up those edges.

I like using thickly sliced loaf breads.  I am currently loving the Premium Bread from BreadTalk but baguette or Jipan’s Monroe bread works well too.

Adapted from Molly Wizenberg’s book, A Homemade Life, Burg’s French Toast is by far, the best French Toast I had ever made.  So addictive I have become, I find every opportunity to make them.  Served hot with butter and Maple syrup – what a way to start the day.

On occasion, I’d sub the maple with fruit jams.  Equally as heavenly.

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