Saturday, December 31, 2011

Berkeley: Vik's Chaat Corner

I got to catch up with a Chicago friend my first weekend back home.  Since she's now living and working in the Oakland area, I told her to pick the place.  My sister and I just showed up.

The original plan was to hit up OB Chicken Town, but we forgot that it's closed on Sundays until we pulled up in the parking lot to find it completely dark.  Some quick thinking on the part of my friend led us to Berkeley's 4th St instead.  To my utmost shame, she introduced me to a part of Berkeley I'd never explored during my time there.

I don't think I will ever forgive myself for overlooking Vik's Chaat Corner:

My friend didn't know exactly where Vik's was located, so we slowly cruised down 4th St until she suddenly exclaimed, "Indian people!" and made an abrupt turn into a parking lot.  It cracked me up, but she got it right.

Attached to the cutest Indian grocery store was this awesome Indian food court of sorts:

Judging by the nonstop stream of people entering through the doors and getting in line, apparently everyone in Berkeley knew about this place except for me.  Dammit.

After placing our order at the counter, we grabbed a table and waited for our names to be called.  There were multiple stations, each responsible for a different type of dish, so our food came at different intervals.

My sister and I split a lamb biryani:

My friend ordered a chicken kathi kebab:

Vik's offers a lot of Indian street food.  We got a little excited, so we might have have gone overboard with the ordering even though we really had no clue what we were getting.

There was the dahi batata puri:

The aloo tikki:

And the bhel puri:

My favorite was by far the bhel puri.  Something about the mix of flavors (sweet and tangy) and textures (crisp and wet) really made my day.

Since we were going all out, we got a mango lassi:

AND a rose lassi:

In my opinion, the mango one was better.  The rose one tasted like potpourri.

And if that wasn't enough, we finished the meal with a kulfi falooda for dessert:

Our SSA Bengali Princess used to make these (based off a Youtube recipe!) back in Chicago, but hers never came with vermicelli noodles and basil seeds.  Nor were hers ever this sweet.  Holy moly.  I couldn't take more than a couple of bites before I wanted some fries to go with it.

Or some of that puffy, beautiful cholle bhatura that we kept seeing other people picking up.  We didn't know what it was and were made a few guesses before we finally gave up and my friend asked the lady at the table next to us.

I wish I'd known about Vik's while I was still at Berkeley.  In fact, I wish I'd taken advantage of living in Berkeley and ventured out away from campus.  I guess it's better late than never...

Vik's Chaat Corner
2390 4th St
Berkeley, CA 94710
(510) 644-4432

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

South Bay: Azuma Japanese Cuisine

Here's proof of how much my family loves me: my first night back at home, we had hot pot.  I hate hot pot.  They know that.  They giggled the entire time I pitifully nibbled at the meat and sipped at the soup.

Well, I showed them.  I mysteriously got sick the next morning.  Fever, vomiting, all that good stuff.  I didn't feel well enough to eat anything until two days later.

After geeking out at Totem (I am a huge fan of Cirque du Soleil, as is the rest of my family), we treated Ahyi to dinner at Azuma as a gigantic thank you for getting us tickets to the show:

I couldn't have asked for a better way to return to the world of the eating.  My family has a long history at Azuma.  I've been dining there since I was a kid and many a major family event was celebrated within these walls:

In fact, most of my memories at Azuma also include my Ahyi, so it was the perfect place to round out the night.  (Though if I were honest I would admit that the choice was made mostly out of necessity, as all the other restaurants we called were booked through the night.  Damn you, Alexander's Steakhouse!)

One of things I love most from Azuma is their agedashi:

While other Japanese restaurants give you four, Azuma serves you a pile.  A beautiful, awesome pile.

Since we were celebrating Ahyi's generosity, we went a little crazy with the appetizers.  Besides the agedashi, we also ordered edamame:

A sashimi boat:

The best karage I've ever had:

And grilled ginger squid:

By the time our main entrees arrived, I was too full to really enjoy them.  Each entree came with a salad:

And a bowl of miso soup:

I went with the combo dinner option, so I got to choose two entrees.  My first was tempura:

My second was salmon teriyaki:

My sister went with the steak teriyaki:

And the beef sukiyaki:

My mom and Ahyi both ordered sukiyaki and tempura.  Whereas my dad, always the rebel, forwent the combo dinner altogether and got himself a chirashi:

So. Much. Food.  At least it seemed like a lot to me.  Though perhaps that was due to my appetite having not quite fully recovered.  Everyone else at the table continued to eat long past when I felt like I had to stop or risk explosion.

Azuma may not be as sleek and modern as newer Japanese restaurants, but its charm lies in its old school tatami mats and elderly Japanese waitresses in their kimonos.  It makes me sad that Azuma isn't as busy as it once was, but at least its old clientele hasn't strayed, my family included.

Azuma Japanese Cuisine
19645 Stevens Creek Blvd
Cupertino, CA 95014
(408) 257-4057

Monday, December 26, 2011

South Bay: Taiwan Cafe

I didn't get much sleep on my flight back to the Bay (plus I stayed up to catch the first bus to the airport), but that didn't stop me from enjoying a full day back at home with the family.   My parents asked me what I wanted to eat and for once I had no ideas.  So they took my sister and I to Taiwan Cafe for some Hakka cuisine:

The interior was very festive.  I was a little confused by the hanging pineapples, but I've learned not to ask questions about Asian restaurant decor:

I'm not really familiar Hakka cuisine.  The only Hakka dish I know is large intestine with ginger.  We tried to stick to the Hakka specials section of the menu, but we did make an exception for eggplant with basil:

Very well done.

There were a lot of intestine to choose from.  I don't remember what part of the intestine this is:

The texture was a little off for me.  Too...loose?  Does that even make sense?

We also got a stir fry with small intestine:

Sadly, the intestine were a trifle bland.

My mom wanted noodles:

None of us got to try any.  My mom killed it within minutes.

I really enjoyed this pork roast:

Fatty, succulent, and went perfect with rice.

Last but not least, we ordered some kind of Hakka stir fry:

It was a bit on the spicy side.

Dunno if I'll be back anytime soon, but overall, it was a great first meal back in the Bay.  I can't believe it's already been over a week since I've been back.  Only a week more to go before it's back to school again.  Argh...I'm not ready to leave yet!

Taiwan Cafe
588 N Abel St
Milpitas, CA 95035
(408) 586-8885

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Chicago: Frontera Fresco

I had the choice between working on my paper or blogging.  Um...easiest decision ever?  Though probably not the right one.

The day before I left for California, CK and I headed into the suburbs again for some Christmas shopping at Old Orchard Mall.  Our first stop was Frontera Fresco for some lunch:

Frontera Fresco is the most affordable option of Rick Bayless' establishments.  Think gourmet fast food:

We started with a cup of mango lime agua fresca.  CK's tip was to buy one and then ask for a cup of ice and a cup of water on the side.  The agua fresca is so strong that you can make two drinks out of one:

Loved it.

We split the cochinita pibil torta ($7.95):

CK loves the cochinita pibil at Frontera Fresco and I can see why.  Something about how the roasted pulled pork with garlic achiote, black beans, pickled red onion, and avocado all comes together is simply magical.  The bread was super crunchy and perfectly designed to soak up all the yummy juices.  The torta came with a side of habenero hot sauce, which I left alone, but CK loved.

We also got a bowl of roasted corn and poblano chowder ($3.95):

And a grilled steak taco with grilled red onion, chihuahua cheese, avocado, and lime ($3.75):

So maybe Frontera Fresco isn't exactly the cheapest taqueria in town, but hey, the food is legit.  Everything was so well executed and so damn delicious that I easily forgot that I just spent almost 4 bucks on a single taco.  Though you get the same type of fare at both, you really can't compare Frontera Fresco to a place like Guanajuato.  The two are as different as night from day.

Shopping may not be my favorite activity, but if every mall came with a Frontera Fresco, I would be much more open to spending time at one.

Frontera Fresco
175 Old Orchard Rd
Skokie, IL 60077

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Chicago: Asahi Japanese Restaurant

For some reason, CK's parents thought it necessary to treat me to dinner in order to thank me for keeping their daughter fed (and alive) throughout finals.  It's really not like I could've left CK to starve in her room.  Seeing her pitiful, study-worn face just made me want to force feed her, if not to answer her growling stomach then at the very least to make her take a break from studying once in a while.

Anyway, CK's parents know the owners of Asahi, so together with CK's sister and her fiance, we headed deep into the suburbs:

I was warned going in that things were going to get intense really quickly.  Apparently there's a history of eating until you want to die at Asahi.  Since they know the owner and chef, CK's family always gets VIP treatment.  Meaning they never have the flip through the menu and a magical never-ending food parade just appears on the table.

The meal started mundanely enough with miso soup and a salad:

Then BAM!  Thinly sliced abalone gorgeously presented in their shells:

Not what I was expecting at all, but very much appreciated.

I could only stare in awe as 6 soft shell crabs were brought to the table, one for each of us:

And then yakitori skewers of chicken and scallion:

Followed by green mussels topped with roe sauce:

And the best fried calamari I've had in a long while:

That's CK's sister's fiance's thumb.  He wanted to express how good the food is.  Too bad he could't eat most of it.  The poor guy is allergic to shellfish.  I can't even imagine what that would be like...

I mean, I would cry if I could only watch as those around me slurped down these babies:

That drop of chili oil on top?  Genius.

Keep in mind that all the pictures I'm posting are of what was placed on my side of the table.  Insane, right?

All that food was supposedly round 1 (the appetizer round).  Round 2 was sashimi:

We got 2 glorious platters of all this sashimi.  Guh.  Be still my heart.  I made sure to eat one of each...and then some.

Round 3 consisted of maki rolls:

I don't know all the names, but the one of the far left had fried snapper draped on top.  Ohmygaaaawd.  The third one in was really quite spicy.  Damn.  All of them were delicious.

Every plate was met with gasps and groans of both delight and PAIN.  My stomach felt like it was going to burst by the time we reached the end.  Didn't mean I couldn't find some space for ice cream though:

We were given the choice between green tea and red bean.  I actually enjoyed the red bean a lot more than the green tea, which came as a surprise to me.

So my experience at Asahi was definitely a bit out of the ordinary.  I just bet all the other patrons in the restaurant were staring at our table wondering where all the food was coming from and how they could get in on a piece of that action.  I have no idea how much everything cost, but I do know it's a meal my stomach isn't likely to forget anytime soon.

A huge heartfelt thank you to CK's family for their generosity.  I'll continue to save CK from a life of peanut butter jelly sandwiches and cereal in our remaining 2 quarters of law school.  You can count on me!

Asahi Japanese Restaurant
851 N Quentin Rd
Palatine, IL 60067
(847) 359-7097

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chicago: Carniceria Guanajuato

CK and her boyfriend have told me repeatedly that the best carne asada in Chicago can be found at Guanajuato.  I didn't get a chance to verify for myself until the day after my finals ended.  As I had two full days before my flight back to the West Coast, CK and I spent one of them in the suburbs with her family.  On the way up, we stopped by Guanajuato for lunch:

Guanajuato is a Mexican grocery store with a taqueria attached:

While the grocery store was a wonderland just waiting to be explored, the call of carne asada was too strong to ignore.  We made a beeline for the taqueria without stopping to look at anything else.

You know you're in a legit taqueria when you're the only non-Mexicans in the house.  CK surprised me by pulling enough Spanish skills out of nowhere to order us some grub.

We got two lengua tacos (because neither of us wanted to share):

Amaaaaazing.  The lengua was super tender.  Add some lime and some green sauce...heaven.

We also got the best torta I've ever had in my life:

Carne asada, of course:

To be honest, I've typically found carne asada to be on the dry side, but this?  Oh, no.  So juicy and flavorful that I wanted to die eating it.  And the bun!  Don't get me started on that perfectly toasted bun!

While the food was out of this world, the horchata was a bit disappointing:

Milky and...small for the price.  You can get a better deal at Maxwell Street Market.

What really rocked my socks, however, was the sight of this:

Huge slabs of sexy chicharron basking under heat lamps...where have you been all my life?  According to CK, chicharron is usually only available at Guanajuato on weekends, so either we were really lucky or there's been a change in policy.

Either way, I got me some pork skin love:

All that for $1.46.  Say wut?

Guanajuato needs to be closer to my apartment.  As in right next door.  I would never eat anywhere else.  So cheap, so quick, and so delicious.  CHICHARRON LOVE FOREVER!

Carniceria Guanajuato
3140 N California Ave
Chicago, IL 60686
(773) 267-7739
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