Tuesday, July 26, 2011

If Something's Worth Eating, It's Worth Eating Well (The Tailend Restaurant and Fish Bar)

Fried Haddock and Chips

Growing up, my dad loved to refer to adages and proverbs. Whether it was to teach a lesson, get a message across, or just to express his inner Confucius, most of these phrases have become seared in my memory. I cannot count the number of times he's told me that "there's no such thing as a free lunch." (Consequently, I always made an effort to point out to him the times when I really did get a free lunch). And one of his all-time favorites is "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." While I tended to just roll my eyes whenever I heard him spout off another one of these sayings, there was one adage in particular that has had a lasting impact. Another one of his favorites, "If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing well," is a phrase which has become a part of me and has helped to shape and define the person I am today. It has become ingrained in my personality that giving anything less than my best effort and striving for anything less than my best -- whether I am studying for an exam, practicing for my baseball team, or even something as trivial as scrubbing the toilet -- is unacceptable. To this day, I still scrub that toilet seat my damn hardest and make it the absolute cleanest that I can. If the Mariners are going to collapse this season and lose a bunch of games, then they better go all the way and run off a record-setting losing streak. Lose big or go home, that's how I feel. I mean, really, if they had gone 2-14 or 3-13 over the last 16 games, they would still suck, but they would have just been another bad team losing a bunch of games. So if you're going to lose, you might as well go all the way and do it right by losing 16 in a row

Friday, July 22, 2011

Distractions from the Mariners' Suckfest (Castle Terrace)

Pithivier of braised rabbit from Roxburghshire, served with peas and carrots

At the beginning of the 2011 season, the Mariners were the consensus pick to finish last in the AL West. Coming off of a disastrous 2010 season that began with playoff aspirations but instead ended with a 61-101 record, the franchise was in complete disarray, as evidenced by Sleepgate and the Josh Leuke fiasco. So when the Mariners spent a good chunk of the first half of the season playing competitive baseball and hanging within striking distance of first place in the division, Mariners fans were pleasantly surprised at the quick turnaround. And when the Mariners were only a 1/2 game out of first place in the middle of June, and when they were only 2 1/2 games out as recently as July 7th, there was hope. Playoff aspirations didn't seem quite so far-fetched anymore. Of course, the Mariners then proceeded to shatter all of our hopes and dreams of a playoff run by losing 12 (and counting) in a row over the past two weeks. All of the hope and positive outlook that the first half of the season had brought has dissipated, replaced with the oh-so-familiar angst, frustration, and despair that comes with rooting for a perennially flailing franchise. To quote Jim Mora: "Playoffs?!? Don't talk about playoffs! You  kidding me?!? Playofs?! I just hope we can win a game."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Art of the Prix Fixe (L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon)

Razor clams fricassee with confit tomatoes, sweet onion, and macaroni

With NYC's Restaurant Week in full swing, I can't help but feel a twinge of regret at not being able to partake in the promotion (Restaurant Week is such a misnomer when it lasts for two weeks). But after thinking about it a little bit, Restaurant Week really isn't that great. Many restaurants in NYC that participate in Restaurant Week offer cheap dishes (chicken, hanger steak, ice cream) not normally found on their regular menus while cramming additional tables into their dining rooms. All of this detracts from the dining experience and means that the few restaurants that are actually worth going to -- The Modern and Maialino, for instance, reportedly have very good menus -- are going to be fully booked. Fortunately, many restaurants in NYC these days are offering year-round prix fixe menus, allowing diners the option of enjoying nice meals consisting of dishes that are actually off of the regular menu at top restaurants without breaking the bank. My lunches at Del Posto, Bouley, Aldea, and 15 East are some of the most memorable meals I've enjoyed, and all were reasonably priced. Always in search of a good prix fixe menu, I was looking up restaurants in London when I came across the lunch prix fixe offered at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon. Color me intrigued.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Trendy Eating Doesn't Have to be Offal: Head-to-Tail Eating (St. John)

Roast Bone Marrow & Parsley Salad

Trends come and go. Like the changing of the seasons, trends arrive on the scene, linger for a while, and then slowly fade away, giving way to a new trend. Just like a child with ADD who is preoccupied with a shiny new toy only until a different and even shinier toy catches their eye, Americans are always on the look-out for the next trend to take the country by storm. Hipster-dom, social media, and reality television are just some of the latest cultural trends to sweep our nation. Similarly, trends and fads can be seen in the domain of food. For a while, you couldn't go a month without hearing about a new cupcake shop opening up, and gourmet burgers made with "custom blends" of meat, a la Pat LaFrieda or any other specialty butcher, have also become quite popular. A culinary fad that has developed, albeit with less widespread fanfare but with perhaps just as much strength, is the consumption of offal and other organ meat, a.k.a. "head-to-tail" eating. These days, it seems like more and more restaurants are serving up sweetbreads, bone marrow, or kidneys to increasingly discriminating and sophisticated customers. Personally, I think people are trying out these new foods simply because it is fashionable and a sign of sophistication and social status if one can say that they have eaten veal sweetbreads or tripe, but that's just me being cynical, and the fact of the matter is that offal dishes are becoming increasingly more mainstream and evoking less disgust-tinged reactions (ewww you ate calf brains?!) from the general public. And among restaurants focusing on this area of cuisine, St. John is one of the preeminent restaurants in the world leading this culinary trend.

Friday, July 15, 2011

A Macaron All-Star (Pierre Hermé)

In case you couldn't tell what these were, I've got a brochure above the box to help you out

Earlier this week, the MLB All-Star Game was played at Arizona's Chase Field. Generally speaking, I am not terribly interested in watching any major sport's all-star game, even though the outcome of the MLB All-Star Game is actually very important because Bud Selig thought that it would be a great idea to award home-field advantage in the World Series based on the outcome of an exhibition game (to make the game mean something!). Right, but despite its warts and flaws, the MLB All-Star Game is head and shoulders better than any of the other major sports'. The Pro Bowl? What makes football such a great sport is the players' intensity and energy, neither of which are on display at the Pro Bowl, where hits are weak and defenses seem to only be concerned with what night club they'll be going to later. The NBA All-Star Game? Non-existent defense and lackadaisical play make this game a snoozer. I don't want to see a score on every possession, damnit. The NHL, though, may be on to something with the way they structured this year's all-star game with two captains selecting teams in a mock draft. Interesting, but I still prefer baseball over hockey. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Masterful Fish and Chips (Masters Super Fish)

Fried Cod and Chips

As a newbie traveler, I am seeing for the first time just how much work and preparation goes into planning out a trip. Especially since I am traveling solo, preparation and planning are key to ensure that I maximize my time spent in a city while minimizing the amount of time spent waiting on lines or wandering about hopelessly lost. I found Traveladvisor particularly useful, as it guided me in my decision-making process of which sites to head to first (get to the Tower of London when it opens and see the Crown Jewels as soon as you enter to beat the lines) and what time to arrive at certain sites (get to Buckingham Palace more than an hour before the 11:30 start time of the Changing of the Guard if you want to get a good view at the palace gates). Similarly, Chowhound is my go-to resource for learning about which restaurants and dining establishments are worth trying out. Travelers commonly ask for restaurant suggestions and recommendations with the caveat that they want to go to "where the locals eat." In researching which London restaurants serve the best fish and chips, one name that kept coming up as a place frequented by cabbies and locals alike was Masters Super Fish. With a name like that, I knew that I just had to check it out, and in the end, I was really glad that I did. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

My Introduction to European Patisseries (Paul)

Beignet Chocolat

While breakfast breads in the United States tend to consist of bagels, muffins, and English muffins, Europeans tend to go for croissants and other viennoiseries. Although I generally associate these types of baked goods with France, patisseries and bakeries are abundant even in the UK, and nearly every café, grocery store, and cafeteria offers a variety of croissants and other buttery baked goods. What's great is that even in the UK, great patisseries can be found which produce pastries far superior to almost anything I've had in the US. While the US has the market on bagels cornered, Europe is the standard bearer for viennoiseries, and after trying out Paul, a French patisserie and bakery chain with a ton of locations scattered throughout the world, I have to say that I am extremely jealous of Londoners for their ease of access to such great pastries. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

'C' is for 'Cookie,' That's Good Enough for Me (Levain Bakery)

Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip Cookie

Cookies hold a very special place in my heart, as I'm sure they do for many other people. For as long as I can remember, cookies have been one of my favorite foods, dating back to when Cookie Monster was my favorite Sesame Street character because he, too, loved cookies. Childhood memories of baking chocolate chip cookies with my mom, going to a nearby bakery for their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle-shaped cookies, and licking off the cream filling from my Oreos that were packed with my lunch are something that I will forever remember, so the humble cookie has quite a bit of nostalgic value to me. But of course, cookies these days are no longer quite so simple and humble, as evidenced by the proliferation of, er, non-traditional cookies. While I'm all for innovation and different flavor combinations, there's something to be said for traditional, old-school flavors done well. Enter: Levain Bakery. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

When in Rome...(Luke's Traditional Fish & Chips)

Fried Haddock and Chips

Living in a foreign country is a true learning experience in that you are immersed among a people and within a culture differing from your own. Such an instance provides a great opportunity to learn about how others talk, behave, and live. In the three short weeks since my arrival here in England, I have already found myself asking some questions with an English inflection (rising pitch towards the end of the question) and using their exclamations and phrases, i.e. cheers, bloody, bullocks (okay, I'm not British enough to be using bullocks just yet, but you get my point). To gain a full appreciation for the culture here in England, I must also, of course, delve into their cuisine. Quick, what's the first food that comes to mind if we're talking about England? Setting aside treacle tart, trifle, crumpets, and all of the other foods that you picked up from reading Harry Potter, I'll bet that one of the first things that you thought of is fish and chips. And so upon arrival in England, one of the first things I sought out was a good fry shop. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Merits of Authenticity (Ken's Asian Taste)

Sliced Beef with Chinese Broccoli

The question of what constitutes "authentic" Chinese cuisine is something that actually makes me pause for a second. This might seem strange since, after all, I am Chinese. But as my friend Nicholas noted in this post, our determinations of what is or is not "authentic" ethnic cuisine often comes from people of said ethnicity. Of course, this comes with the stipulation that the person whose opinion is being sought has a proper grasp of authentic cuisine, but then what becomes of individuals who were born in a country different from their ethnic background? I bring this up not because I'm bored and have too much time on my hands (which I probably do anyway during the summer), but because, as a person of Chinese descent who was born in the US and has only gone to Hong Kong once in my life, my idea of what is "authentic" Cantonese cuisine is pretty much based on what I ate as a child at home and at Chinese restaurants that my family would go to. What if the only Chinese food I ate growing up was egg foo young, chicken and broccoli and mushu pork? Then my concept of "authentic" Chinese food would likely include these dishes because 1) I wouldn't know any better, and 2) I had never been to Hong Kong and seen that these dishes aren’t served there. So isn't my judgment of what is and isn't "authentic" Chinese food just as dependent on others’ concepts of authenticity as, say, my white friend who asks me for a restaurant recommendation to an "authentic" Cantonese restaurant in Chinatown