Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Taiwan: Maxinen Korean Restaurant

I've been in Taiwan for two days now and I've yet to have any chicken butt or pearl tea. Working 9 to 6 plus living with the grandparents is putting a tiny crimp in my food adventures. After my grandfather injured his leg, he hasn't been able to walk normally without pain. This is why we always eat at restaurants close to where my grandparents live. While I do enjoy spending time with my grandparents, hopefully as the summer progresses, I'll be able to venture out more on my own. Until then, I'll be posting a lot about my grandparents' neighborhood.

Maxinen Korean Restaurant essentially sounds out the Korean word (adjective form) of "delicious" (mashinen):

I ordered the dolsot bibimbap:

I've been a bit spoiled by having a Korean roommate who is an amazing cook. This bibimbap was a bit bland to me, the egg overcooked, and the beef virtually nonexistent. A little bit of sesame oil would've gone a long way.

The focus of this particular post isn't on the food, but on the price of it. For the bibimbap, I paid 100 NT, which is a little over $3. Ridiculous, no?


Taiwan: Xinjiang World

Prepare yourself for a series of really bad attempts at romanization and translation. I'm in Taiwan for the summer.

On my first day in Taiwan, I actually went to this really great ramen place in the Breeze Center of Taipei Main Station for lunch...unfortunately, I forgot my camera. Guess I'll just have to go back again.

My first dinner in Taiwan was handpicked by my cousin. Xinjiang Jie (literally "Xinjiang World") is dedicated to cuisine from, well, Xinjiang, China:

Xinjiang is an autonomous region in China bordering Tibet, Mongolia, Russia, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, and a couple other countries. Xinjiang cuisine typically refers to that of the Uyghurs. This means lots of lamb and handemade noodles, both of which are featured in this particular restaurant.

My cousins did all the ordering that night, so I won't be able to be really specific about what we ate. They ordered 8 lamb kebabs. I got to try one:

The lamb was heavily spiced and very flavorful, but I couldn't help but feel that it'd lost most of the lamb-y flavor that I love about lamb.

They ordered some kind of vegetable soup:

I actually really enjoyed the soup. It was salty and a tad vinegar-y with just a hint of sweetness.

Out of all the handmade noodle option, I voted for this one:

The noodles came in these little square sheets, which were quite fun to eat. The beef was cut so thin that I almost forgot that there was meat in the dish. The sauce had the same salty, tangy combination that was in the soup.

A really filling meal, but not exactly the most exciting one. The handmade noodles were fantastic. If you've never tried handmade noodles, get thee to the nearest handmade noodle shop. It just tastes different. I can't explain it.



Sunday, June 27, 2010

Berkeley: John's Ice Cream

John's Ice Cream opened my senior year at Berkeley:

The call of ice cream was just too tempting to resist. Especially at $1 a scoop. You can choose between a cup, cake cone, or sugar cone.

My sister went with the ube on a sugar cone:

I chose pistachio in a cup:

Okay, so maybe it's not gourmet ice cream, but at a dollar a scoop, who's complaining?

John's Ice Cream
2204 Shattuck Ave
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 981-0370

Berkeley: Brazil Cafe

My dad's cousin is part of a Chinese choir and she got my entire family free tickets to her concert. Sigh. Well, the good thing is that the concert was in Berkeley, which gave me a chance to meet up with an old roommate and re-visit an old favorite food haunt, the Brazil Cafe:

The Brazil Cafe started out as a food truck parked on University Ave. The truck is still there, but because it's so popular, it opened a storefront a few years back. The lines at the truck can get pretty crazy (like it was last night) so we go to the storefront a block away to avoid the wait.

Brazil Cafe is known for its tri-tip sandwich:

The tri-tip and the garlic-y spread really makes the sandwich. I never order anything else. I used to be able to finish an entire sandwich in one sitting, but old age plus a heavy lunch meant I had to pack half to go.

The finish off the meal, we each got a mango smoothie:

I love the laid back atmosphere of Brazil Cafe and the food is excellent. Eating there yesterday brought me back to my undergrad years...which actually weren't that long ago, I suppose.

Brazil Cafe
1983 Shattuck Ave
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 845-1056

South Bay: Texas Roadhouse

My first day back in San Jose ended on a nice note. After a long day of chasing after my luggage, we decided to treat ourselves to some steak at Texas Roadhouse:

My sister has been talking about their buns for a long time:

I have to say, my sister was right. These are some of the best buns I've ever had. Hot out of the oven and slathered with cinnamon butter...mmm...tasted like little cinnamon buns.

Something interesting about Texas Roadhouse is the big bucket of peanuts on every table:

You're supposed to discard the shells directly on the floor, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. I'm a bit anal like that.

We started off with the cactus blossom (the small one):

And the fried pickles:

I've heard a lot about fried pickles so I was really excited about trying it. The pickles were sour, as I'd expected, but way too salty.

I went with the 10 oz ribeye:

I asked for rare, but it came out closer to medium. That was a little disappointing, but the meat was still good.

My sister ordered the 11 oz sirloin:

Surprisingly, I liked the texture of her sirloin more than my ribeye. Usually I'm a big ribeye fan, but I think the ribeye my dad buys from Costso is better than what I got at Texas Roadhouse.

Just for fun, here's one of my mom's sides:

That's sweet potato with marshmallows and caramel.

There's also line dancing in the restaurant every hour or so. Thankfully, we sat at a table facing away from the dance area. Overall, I had a good time at Texas Roadhouse, though I ate waaaay more than I should have. We left with a lot of leftovers so there will be more steak in my future. Score.

Texas Roadhouse
32115 Union Landing
Union City, CA 94587
(510) 324-7623

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Salt Lake City: Airport

Just a warning, this is less of a food post and more of a rant. After the worst flying experience I've ever had in my life, I finally made it back to San Jose from DC. It took 24 hours, way longer than it should have. I was stranded in Salt Lake City last night after my late night flight was canceled because the pilots went back to their hotels. Yea. And because San Jose airport has a curfew, we couldn't wait around for the next available pilots.

I was advised to keep my luggage checked in to avoid the long lines the next morning. That's how I ended up at the Econolodge with an amenity kit and two meal vouchers (each worth $6):

I got to the airport this morning to catch my re-booked flight...only to find out that they'd accidentally re-booked me for a flight TOMORROW. Luckily, there was a seat open on a flight to SF.

I was already a little miffed last night, but this morning just added fuel to the fire. I was determined to use up meal vouchers. Petty, I know. It turns out that one voucher was for breakfast and the other for dinner, so I only got to use $6. Grrr. I spent it here because it was the closest to my boarding gate:

Here's what I got for $6:

I went $0.84 over, but whatever.

My traumatic airplane experience didn't end there. After my flight to SF was delayed twice, I finally arrived to discover that my luggage hadn't followed me. I was then sent on a wild goose chase from SF to San Jose. I was assured by both airports that my luggage was at the other airport. The last thing I was told was that it might still be in Salt Lake City. As of now, I still don't have my luggage. I'm praying that I'll get it tomorrow.

So my impression of Salt Lake City has been rather marred by incompetent airline employees and dirty trucker motels. But the asiago cheese bagel was decent.

Lesson of the day: Don't fly Delta. (And always check out your luggage when your flight has been canceled.)

Friday, June 25, 2010

DC: Nando's Peri Peri

For my last meal in DC, I met up with my friend in Chinatown. DC's Chinatown has to be the funniest one around because there's almost nothing Chinese about it. Which sort of explains why we went to a Portuguese/African restaurant:

Once you enter Nando's, you're given a table number. You place your order at the counter and then hit up the sauce bar. You can choose from a wide variety of sauces, ranging from refreshing salad dressing to extra spicy:

Nando's Peri Peri ("piri piri") specializes in Portuguese flame-grilled chicken with a type of African chili. My friend ordered us the 1/2 chicken with two sides to share, one piece medium and the other extra hot. Instead, we got the 1/4 chicken, extra hot:

My friend went to tell the counter and we somehow ended up with a second plate (1/2 chicken, both medium):

We ordered 2 pieces of chicken with sides and received 3 pieces of chicken with four sides. We almost got 4 pieces of chicken because another server came by with our missing piece after we received the 2nd platter. When we looked at her confusedly, she told us to just accept and enjoy. Which we did.

Or at least I tried to. The medium turned out to be a bit too spicy for me. I tried to eat through the pain and the soft serve we ordered (all you can eat!) certainly helped.

Nando's appears to be a really popular place, especially during lunch on weekdays when all the suits come out to enjoy some spicy chicken. If I ever go again, I'll be trying something a little less....spicy.

Nando's Peri Peri
819 7th St NW
Washington DC, 20001
(202) 898-1225

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

DC: Love Cafe

I didn't actually go to Love Cafe, but my friend bought me a cupcake:

It was vanilla with lime buttercream:

The cake itself was just plain vanilla and while it was definitely better than the cake at Hello Cupcake, it wasn't anything too special. The lime buttercream, however, was fantastic. It was surprisingly light and the lime taste was tangy and refreshing.

Looking at their website, it looks like Love Cafe has a lot more going on than just cupcakes. Looks like I'll have to check it out someday.

Love Cafe
1506 U St NW
Washington DC, 20009
(202) 265-9800

DC: Cafe Nema

I started out the day by meeting with the Taiwanese embassy (or its equivalent) in DC. From there they treated us to lunch at Mandarin Palace, where I engorged myself on pan-fried steamed buns, Peking duck, and fried soft shell crab, among other stuff. I wish I'd taken pictures of everything because it was so GOOD...but I wasn't brave enough to tell the Director or the Senior Immigration Officer to hold off on eating until I've taken shots for my food blog. Probably wouldn't have been too professional.

Anyway, the people at the Taiwanese embassy were very kind. The Senior Immigration Officer kept putting food into my plate and I was loving every moment of it. I haven't had good Chinese food since I've moved to Chicago. All of a sudden getting Peking duck and soft shell crab was like hitting the jackpot.

Needless to say, I wasn't very hungry come dinner time. My friend wanted to use his coupon and try out a new restaurant, but I couldn't do more than nibble off of his plate. This means that I probably won't be doing Cafe Nema justice, but I figure I should post about it anyway.

Cafe Nema is a mix of Somali, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean cuisine:

There's a really swanky feel to the place. Apparently there's live jazz sometime during the week, but I'm not sure when.

For an appetizer, they started with the kibeh:

Kibeh is basically a fried pastry stuffed with ground beef, onion, pine nuts, and burghul (a wheat product) served with tahini sauce. I was a little iffy about the pine nuts, but I really couldn't even taste them. If I wasn't so full, I probably could've eaten a few plates of this stuff.

To reach his coupon minimum, my friend ordered a falafel wrap:

Nothing too special there. I took one bite of the wrap and spent the majority of the meal eating the fries.

My friend's SECOND entree was the stuffed lamb:

That's lamb loin stuffed with apricots, raisins, spinach, and goat cheese. I expected it to be a bit sweeter with the fruit, but all I could make out were the cheese and the spinach. Tasty, yes, but not enough to justify the cost for me. You had a choice between rice and pasta and obviously, my friend chose pasta. I can't say that I was a big fan of the pasta but he seemed to like it a lot.

I wish I could go more into detail about Cafe Nema. Maybe I'll give it another try the next time I'm in DC.

Cafe Nema
1334 U St NW
Washington DC, 20009
(202) 667-3215

Monday, June 21, 2010

DC: Ray's Hell Burger

Who says DC doesn't have good food? After trying Ray's Hell Burger, I beg to differ. Okay, so maybe Ray's Hell Burger is technically in Virginia. Whatever. Anywhere within reach of the metro is DC as far as I'm concerned:

I love how Ray's Hell Burger invested virtually nothing in its interior design. You grab a paper menu off the wall, order at the counter, get a number, find a table, and wait for a server to come out with your burger. Nothing fancy here:

I do have to say that I was really impressed with the staff. One of my friends from Chicago is interning in DC for the summer, so I invited her along to introduce her to my DC friend. She can't eat anything with gluten in it, so she always has to be super careful when she goes out to eat. The staff were very helpful and even came out to our table to verify whether certain ingredients would be safe for her to eat.

I knew right off the bat what I wanted to order:

Where else can you find the DogCatcher? That's roasted BONE MARROW on the burger. I'm such a big fan of bone marrow. I can't believe I've never thought of having bone marrow in a burger before. The marrow was fatty and delicious and mind-blowing. Cheese was unnecessary because the marrow served to bind the entire burger together.

Just take a look at this cross-section:

The patty was a bit rare for a medium, but while that may be off-putting for some people, it was a blessing for me. I usually would've ordered rare to medium rare to begin with anyway, but for some freak reason I decided to play it safe and stick with medium this time around. The bun was soft, the patty salty and meaty. Pure heaven in a bite.

Ray's Hell Burger has to be the best burger I've had in a long while. Sometimes all I ask for is a juicy, greasy burger. I haven't been able to find that in Chicago yet, but who knows...maybe Ray can open a branch there?

Ray's Hell Burger
1725 Wilson Blvd
Arlington, VA 22209
(703) 841-0001

New York: Isabella's

We had been looking forward to a sangria buffet bar for Sunday brunch, but because we neglected to make reservations, we really shouldn't have been surprised that the wait for a table at Calle Ocho would be at least an hour. As I had a bus to catch in two and a half hours, we decided to try our luck elsewhere.

After walking from 81st down to 77th under the hot sun, I was excited to see Shake Shack up ahead. Unfortunately, my friends weren't in the mood for burgers (even fantastic, awesome burgers). Just when I was about to suggest giving up and finding a Starbucks, we noticed Isabella's right across the street from Shake Shack:

Even though the restaurant looked very busy, we were taken to outside seating without any wait. Luckily, we were given a table under the shade of the awning.

The bread basket was a nice surprise:

Instead of plain bread, it was challah with raisins, which was soft and delicious. I was a bit wary about the strawberry at first, but it was nowhere as artificially sweet as I'd feared and actually served as a nice complement to the challah.

As part of the Sunday brunch menu, Isabella's offers complimentary drinks:

I went with the wild mushroom, cheddar, and herb omelette:

The egg was fluffy, though a tad bland, but the saltiness of the cheddar more than compensated for that. The mushrooms were meaty and plentiful and overall quite filling. The rosemary potatoes weren't that great, but I may be just comparing them to my favorite potatoes from La Note back in Berkeley.

Isabella's was a good find, but I don't think I would purposely make a trip back.

It seems like my entire New York weekend consisted of one unexpected surprise after another. We randomly made a stop at Coney Island, we meant to find the Big Gay Ice Cream truck but somehow ended up at Max Brenner, and we planned to have brunch at Calle Ocho but found ourselves sitting at Isabella's instead. I'm usually the one who likes to have things planned ahead, but even I know when it's better to just go with the flow and see where your stomach takes you. I can't wait for my next New York food adventure!

359 Columbus Ave
New York, NY 10024
(212) 724-2100

Sunday, June 20, 2010

New York: Max Brenner

Imagine my extreme disappointment when I found out that the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck took the weekends off. I'd been looking forward to trying the Salty Pimp, but it just wasn't to be on this trip. My friend quickly proposed Max Brenner and the world was right again:

Everything in the restaurant was chocolate-y. There's a chocolate gift shop right at the entrance, there are chocolate pipes (who knows if there's actually chocolate in them) running through the dining area, and chocolate-filled glass containers in display cabinets. It certainly was a popular place for people to hang out:

My other dear high school friend had had a busy day so it was nice to finally all meet up and relax. The three of us agreed that three separate desserts may be overkill, so we selected a creamy spinach and artichoke fondue to start off with:

The tortilla chips were dusted with chili powder and they tasted quite a bit like...Doritos. It seemed like a lot of dip for such a little amount of chips, but before we knew it, we were at the bottom of the bowl with only a few chips left. The fondue itself was nothing too special. You could taste the cheese, but not much else.

Our first dessert was the sticky caramel chocolate concoction:

The plating was certainly cute, but it wasn't quite what I'd expected. The menu had said that it was a sea salt caramel mousse, but the actual concoction tasted more like caramel and chocolate goop. You can never really go wrong with chocolate and caramel, but I was really looking forward to the sea salt part and the goopy texture threw me off too. There were also peanuts at the bottom that were a tad bit spicy, from what I have no idea. Overall, I was a little let down by this dessert.

Our second choice of the night was the euphoria peanut butter chocolate fudge sundae:

This, as compared to the other dessert, was everything that I'd imagined. Rich, decadent...and too much to handle. There was so much going on in that one goblet: deep chocolate peanut butter ice cream, dulce de leche ice cream, caramelized toffee bananas, pure chocolate chunks, milk chocolate sauce, peanut butter sauce, and whipped cream topped with crunchy hazelnut bits.

In the end, everything just tasted, well, sweet and peanut-y. I don't think I even tasted any dulce de leche. Needless to say, we couldn't finish more than half. We didn't even touch the extra peanut butter sauce on the side, though one of my friends did go to town with the extra chocolate sauce.

Max Brenner is fun, but a little over the top for me. Too much, too sweet, but really pretty to look at.

Max Brenner
841 Broadway
New York, NY 10003
(212) 388-0030

Saturday, June 19, 2010

New York: Nathan's Famous

The original plan was to walk NYC, starting from Costco on 117th all the way down to halal at 53rd. I think we got to 96th before we hopped on a bus. In our defense, it was hot and we did manage to walk quite an impressive distance (including the blocks it took to get from my friend's apartment to Costco).

After getting halal and taking the subway to Brooklyn to be introduced to my friend's theater friend, we somehow made the decision to drop by Coney Island. It turns out, we picked the worst day (or maybe the best?) to visit Coney Island. Not only was it a weekend, but it was the day of the Mermaid Parade. The beach and the boardwalk were swarming with people. I'm still not too clear what the Mermaid Parade was, but it looked to me like an opportunity for people to dress up (um...dress down) in seashells and fishnets, etc. There were tons of topless girls covered only with two clam shells, but there were also tons of people dressed in the most interesting costumes. One of my favorites had to be this squid girl.

Unfortunately, I have this phobia of large masses of people squeezed in one place. Basically, we went down to the beach, touched the water, and then made our way back. But before we got back on the subway, I was adamant that we couldn't leave without hitting up Nathan's Famous for a hot dog:

Of course the lines were ridiculous there. It was difficult to even find a line to get into. We sort of just got behind some people and waited it out.

Eventually we got to the front of the line and I ordered an original frankfurter:

Nothing but ketchup and mustard on my hot dog, baby. I was prepared to be let down by the hot dog or be so gratified to have gotten food after waiting so long that anything tasted good. It was actually neither of those. The hot dog was actually...good. Dangit. The bun was soft, the hot dog juicy and hot. Just a basic hot dog with none of the fancy stuff.

Here's what really made my day:

A large cup of lemonade. Oh yea. Again, the lemonade was actually....very good. Not because it was icy and we were hot (though I'll admit that did feel really, really nice), but the lemonade itself had just the right balance of sweetness and sourness. So refreshing after a day under the sun.

Sadly, my impression of Coney Island is made up of half naked people and lots of crowding. But there's also Nathan's, which made the trip more than worth it despite everything else.

Nathan's Famous
1310 Surf Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11224
(718) 946-2202

New York: Halal Cart

Despite an hour long bus delay due to an oil spill accident in Maryland, I was able to reach New York in one piece at 1:00am Saturday morning. I ended up talking with my friend until 6:00am, when we finally succumbed to essentially a 3 hour nap.

Long before I'd even booked my bus tickets to New York, I'd already informed my friends that my first meal in the Big Apple had to be halal. My friend delivered, as I knew she would:

I've been to this halal truck 3 times now, but apparently the "real" halal truck at 53rd St and 6th Ave only opens for business from 7:30pm to 4:00am. Given how I've never been in the area at that time, this halal truck has serviced just fine for me.

The last two times I went had been workdays and so the lines had been monstrous. Today there line, for which I was grateful. I went right up to the halal guy and told him I wanted chicken with rice, with white sauce:

Just as delicious as the first time I tried halal. Love, love, loooove halal. The soft pita, the fragrant rice, the simple shredded lettuce, the savory chicken, and of course the white sauce...I love it all. The first time I visited New York, my friends and I had halal as dinner or as a late night snack almost every other night of our week-long trip (but from another cart on the Upper West side).

There's always so much food that I can never finish it all in one sitting. I really wish halal trucks can be parked all across the country, particularly wherever I am. Even though this isn't the "real" halal truck and I would still like to try that "real" halal truck one day, this particular truck does the job. Well.

Halal Truck
53rd and 6th Ave
New York, NY 10019
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