Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Chicago: Pleasant House Bakery

CK and I are always looking for excuses to eat out.  One of our favorites is the "I'm free and you're free so why not?" excuse.  As the quarter goes along and work starts piling up, it's getting harder to pull that one off, but at we definitely took advantage of it for as long as we could.  Which is how we ended up at Pleasant House toward the beginning of the year:

We got there at a pretty awkward time of day, so the place was empty:

Which was fantastic, as it gave us (or more accurately, CK) a chance to chat with the owner and get their recommendations.

We started off with the deluxe gravy chips:

Hot, crunchy potatoes, with skirt steak, cheese, and gravy...yum.  The gravy was a tad salty and the meat easily overlooked, but the potatoes more than made up for it.  Next time, I would probably go with getting the fries on their own or opt for the mashed potatoes.

We were curious about the Scotch egg, so we got one to split:

I don't know what I was expecting, but deep fried sausage surrounding the most perfectly cooked egg was definitely not it:

Combined with all the food we ordered, the Scotch egg ended up being a little too...much.  But we did enjoy it while there was still space in our stomachs.

Pleasant House is really known for its royal pies:

We ended up getting two.  There was the steak and ale pie:

And the mushroom and kale pie:

Both had fabulous crusts and the incredibly flavorful fillings.  The beef in the steak and ale pie was tender and went well with the ale and the sweet carrots.  The mushroom and kale pie may have been all veggies, but the Parmesan and white wine lent it a creamy richness that was simply amazing.  

A truly great new addition to the Chicago foodscape.  Cute interior, friendly staff, and fresh royal pies...what more can you ask for?

Pleasant House Bakery
964 W 31st St
Chicago, IL 60608
(773) 523-7437

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

South Bay: New Tung Kee Noodle House

I had a mini-panic attack yesterday when an error message of doom informed me that I couldn't upload any more photos on this blog because I'd used up all my free storage space on Picasa.  For some reason, it just never occurred to me that I would hit the 1GB storage limit.  I guess some part of me fancifully believed that Internet space is endless...and free.

Call me a cheapo, but my Chinese side wasn't about to let me pay $5 per year for additional storage.  Nuh uh.  The end of No Shame seemed inevitable.  I consoled myself with the fact that it'd had a decent run (almost 2 years!).  It also seemed like a good place to stop, as I'd just finished posting all my food adventures through 2011.

Then I thought, no!  Where there's a will, there's a way!  (My motto of the month...which I'm stubbornly trying to apply to the launching of Burger Bonding 2012.)  A quick Google search introduced me to people a lot smarter and wilier than I.  The solution?  Simple.  Make a new account.

(Insert triumphant trumpet solo.)


So now I can tell you all about my first meal of 2012!

...which, unfortunately, is going to be rather anti-climatic.  But never mind that.

Everyone knows that the only guaranteed open restaurants on New Year's Day are Chinese ones.  I don't really remember how my family ended up at New Tung Kee Noodle House, but the point is we did:

Nothing like starting the new year with a bunch of other Asians in a fast food noodle joint:

My family has been going to Tung Kee (its various branches across the South Bay) for what feels like eons now.  It used to be a weekly thing, either after church or after piano class, but I haven't been back since I went off to college.  Walking through those automatic doors on New Year's Day felt like a trip down memory lane.

As usual, we ordered a fried daikon flour cake with egg and peanuts:

The daikon cake was super puffy this time.  Totally caught all of us off guard.

My mom went with the pad thai:

Nothing like a real pad thai, but we enjoy it all the same.

My dad and my sister each got a bowl of noodles (I didn't pay attention to what they ordered):

Every time we go to Tung Kee, my dad has to tell us about his childhood and how he and his siblings used to fight over the tiny fried pork oil bubbles in the soup.  Without fail.  Though the story gets old after a few times, the little fried pork oil bits at Tung Kee certainly don't.

I wasn't in a noodle mood, so I selected the good old pork and veggies over rice:

Tung Kee may be cash only and the service a bit brusque, but the food is hot, decent, cheap, and comes out FAST.  It feels like you've barely handed over your menus before your dishes are plopped down in front of you.

While I might not recommend Tung Kee to any visiting friends, it'll always hold a special place in my heart.

A very belated Happy 2012 to all!  NO SHAME LIVES TO SEE ANOTHER YEAR!

New Tung Kee Noodle House
481 E Calaveras Blvd
Milpitas, CA 95035
(408) 263-8288

Sunday, January 22, 2012

South Bay: Kabul Afghan Cuisine

We took a risk on New Year's Eve and arrived at Kabul for dinner without a reservation.  Ahyi had been talking about it all winter break, so I really wanted to squeeze it in before I had to leave for Chicago.  We got there a little after it opened:

Since the restaurant was mostly empty, we though we were in the clear:

When the hostess asked us if we had a reservation instead of how many people were in our party, the first thought that crossed all our minds was, to sum it up in one word, "Crap!"

Luckily, rather than turning us away, the hostess flipped through her little book and called someone else over for a tense consultation before finally reaching some kind of agreement, then leading us to a table.  Whew!  Crisis averted.

Each entree came with a simple salad:

Then came the entrees themselves.  I got the sabsi challaw, which was essentially lamb cooked with spinach, onion and garlic:

My sister ordered the badenjan challaw with lamb:

While I really enjoyed my sabsi, I have to say that this badenjan with its eggplant and tomatoes was out of this world amazing.

Both our entrees came with challaw or white rice:

And a hunk of Afghan bread:

My mom and Ahyi both got the kabab-e-teka:

The beef kababs came with pallaw, which is seasoned rice, and some Afghan bread.  Two kababs don't sound like a lot, but there was actually quite a lot of meat there.  My mom must have really liked the pallaw because she virtually inhaled it.

Another fabulous meal, courtesy of my Ahyi.  She really knows all the good places in the Bay.  Not only was the food at Kabul spot on and the service exceedingly friendly, the portion sizes were also very generous.  I didn't realize how much food each serving actually was until I discovered the next night that my leftovers alone were enough to feed three people.  Holy moly.

Definitely my ideal way of ending the year.

Kabul Afghan Cuisine
833 W El Camino Real
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
(408) 245-4350

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

San Francisco: Smitten Ice Cream

I'd tried to go to Smitten over the summer, but was crushed to find it closed when we walked up (after taking forever to find parking too).  I was given a second chance over winter break during Fat Fun Day.  It was open this time.  Thank the Lord:

The setup is really basic at Smitten.  One shipping container, a counter, a couple of one-of-a-kind ice cream machines, a covered patio of sorts, and Smitten is open for business.

What makes Smitten so special is that every ice cream is made to order from scratch.  That's right.  You can watch as they pour in the milk and the sugar and whatever crazy combos they can come up with.  Nothing artificial at Smitten, oh no.  There are three ice cream machines, each responsible for a different flavor:

Even cooler, the ice cream is created via liquid nitrogen.  Gotta love the spooky mist.  Very San Francisco-esque:

We ordered 3 of the 4 flavors of the day.  There was the TCHO chocolate:

The texture was to die for.  Like pudding almost.

The salted caramel:

And the Meyer lemon with cookies:

I was hoping for something a bit more tart, but it turned out to be milky.  A little too milky for my tastes.

What really stood out for all of us was how smooth the ice cream at Smitten was.  Smitten's patented ice cream machine (called the Kelvin) is specifically designed to maximize creaminess.  There was a huge poster explaining how using liquid nitrogen leads to smaller ice crystals, but I was too busy moaning over the ice cream to read carefully.

Ah, well.  Science was never my forte.  Eating ice cream, on the other hand, is a special talent of mine.

Smitten Ice Cream
432 Octavia St
Ste 1A
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 863-1518

Sunday, January 15, 2012

San Francisco: Umami Burger

When T and I meet up, it's impossible not have a food adventure.  It was en route to San Francisco for lunch this winter break that T came up with the perfect designation for our food outings: FAT FUN DAYS.


The first stop on our Fat Fun Day was Umami Burger:

I didn't know that there was a branch in San Francisco until AF alerted me to the fact.  It wasn't high on my list of priorities until I found out that Umami offers a bone marrow burger.  Uh, hello?  Did someone say bone marrow?  I basically planned an entire SF day around it and roped both T and my sister into going with me.

We arrived before it opened because the hours on Yelp were incorrect.  But I guess that was a blessing in disguise, since as a result of that error, we got to be seated with the first round of diners:

There was a crowd of people outside before Umami even opened and a line inside from the minute we sat down to when we finally left.

We chatted it up with our server before finally deciding on what to order.  Before our appetizers came, our server brought us this spoonful of jalapeno ranch to go with the cheesy tots:

Then came the cheesy tots:

Don't expect to find these on the menu because they're not there.  That's right.  Secret menu, yo.  And a must try when you go to Umami.  I was skeptical up until the moment when I bit into one and tasted the glorious cheesiness.

We also gave the smushed potatoes a go:

Also amazing.  The potatoes were naturally sweet and fantastic with the garlic aioli.

When I informed our server that we wanted the bone marrow burger for sure, I was immediately shot down (though nicely).  Apparently the bone marrow burger is not a secret menu item as I was led to believe, but instead a seasonal special.  Say wut?

My brain stopped functioning for a full minute from the shock.

Luckily, T was there to take the reins and make an executive decision while I fought to compose myself.  

We ended up splitting the Umami burger:

Shiitake mushroom, caramelized onions, roasted tomato, parmesan crisp, and umami ketchup:

And also the daily special, the oxtail burger:

Oxtail ragu finished off with some truffle cheese and garlic aioli:

What could have been a tragic situation was luckily turned into a very gratifying experience.  Though we didn't get the bone marrow burger, the burgers we did get turned out to be quite enjoyble.  Incredibly juicy, playful in its mix of flavors, and all in all, very solid burgers.

I do have to say though, that the burgers are a bit on the small side for the price.  The oxtail was $15 and the umami was $11.  Ouch.

Probably won't be my go-to burger joint, but I have no regrets.  Bone marrow burger, I will be back for you!

Umami Burger
2184 Union St
San Francisco, CA 94123
(415) 440-8626

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

South Bay: Sizzling Stone

Sizzling Stone had just opened up in the area and Ahyi wanted to check it out, so we went to give it a try one Thursday afternoon:

The setup was very much like a Korean Chipotle:

You choose what kind of bowl you want (regular or sizzling stone...or in taco form if you don't want a bowl at all) then proceed to go down the counter, pointing out all the things you want in your bowl, and pay at the end:

Like Chipotle, you have a choice between certain types of meat (beef, spicy beef, pork, spicy pork, chicken and tofu...which isn't a meat) and then get your pick of the salad bar.  Plus $1 for an "organic" egg.  Unlike Chipotle, your bowl gets heated on the stovetop and brought to your table once it's done.

There's also a sauce bar, where you can choose what you want to drown your bowl in:

There's the original spicy (essentially gochujang), teriyaki sauce, thai curry, and sweet spicy curry (basically Asian curry):

Here's what my bowl (sizzling stone, of course) looked like pre-sauce and pre-mixing:

Kinda pitiful, I know.  My aversion to veggies is to blame.  I should have gotten my money's worth and asked for everything on that damn salad bar.  Which is pretty much what everyone else did:

While I only asked for white rice, you can also ask for brown rice, black rice, or noodles...or a mix:

Frankly, I wasn't all that impressed.  I like my bibimbap made with a variety of panchan.  This raw salad stuff didn't appeal to me one bit.

While some people might like the experience, Americanized bibimbap doesn't do anything for me at all.  I think I'll just stick with Chipotle.

Sizzling Stone
510 Barber Ln
Milpitas, CA 95035

Monday, January 9, 2012

South Bay: Peters' Bakery

For some unknown but blessed reason, over winter break I suddenly had a craving for this cake I remembered loving as a kid.  I hadn't had burnt almond cake in probably a decade, so I was more than a little surprised when the craving hit.

All I remembered was my neighbors bringing us this cake once or twice and thinking at the time that it had to be one of my top two favorite cakes in the world.

Unfortunately, my memories ended there.  My child self never thought to ask where the cake came from or check the cake box for a name.  Good thing my family had a mini-reunion with our old neighbors (who have since moved out of the neighborhood) during winter break, so I was able to ask them directly.  Better late than never, eh?

According to my neighbors, there are two bakeries that make this burnt almond cake.  The original one, Peters' Bakery, opened in 1936.  What is now Dick's Bakery, opened in 1947, was sold to an apprentice of Tony Peters, the founder of Peters' Bakery.  So you basically get the same cake at both places.  

We opted to go to Peters' Bakery since it was closer:

There was a huge array of baked goods to choose from, but that didn't deter us from our goal.  Burnt almond cake, come to mama:

Look at that glorious cake.  For $15 to boot!  I totally peeked into the box while we were still in the car.  I couldn't help it.

It wasn't until after dinner that we were able to slice into it:

My friend T came over, as did my Ahyi, and all of us moaned over the cake.  Soft and fluffy, with a subtly sweet filling and a light crunch from the almonds...be still my heart!  Tears may or may not have been shed.

Biting into that cake reaffirmed its status as one of my favorite cakes in the world.  Definitely in the top two.

Actually buying my own burnt almond cake from the bakery opened a whole new world for me.  Apparently there are FLAVORS of burnt almond cake.  Besides the regular burnt almond, there's also chocolate, marble and pumpkin.  Say whut?!

And the burnt almond cake also comes in cupcake form!  Holy moly!

Mind.  Blown.

Peters' Bakery
3108 Alum Rock Ave
San Jose, CA 95127
(408) 258-3529

Sunday, January 8, 2012

South Bay: Shanghai Garden

I was kind of dreading meeting up with my grandparents over winter break.  I'm a bad granddaughter, I know.  But I went through with it in the end, so my filial duty was fulfilled, albeit grudgingly.

My paternal grandparents hail from Shanghai, so not only are they always on the lookout for Shanghainese restaurants, they're also very, very critical about the food.

Shanghai Garden opened near my house while I was away at school.  My mom figured we could take my grandparents there and see if they like it:

As usual, my sister and I sat back as my grandfather perused the menu.  We ultimately took the easy way out by ordering the $58 4-person family dinner (for lunch) and adding a few appetizers, the first of which being this smoked fish:

Very sweet and definitely my favorite appetizer.

My grandpa also ordered the drunken chicken:

It wasn't all that great.

And the salted duck:

Good, but overshadowed by the smoked fish.

The family dinner started off with the seafood deluxe soup:

Thick, goopy, and quite tasty.

Then came the rice with veggies and salted pork in a clay pot:

Once you have this, you'll never go back to white rice again.  Ok, that's a lie.  I love white rice.  But this stuff is AWESOME.

There was the Wuxi style spare ribs:

While the spare ribs were good, the sauce was kinda intense.  Very sweet and very salty at the same time.  It actually tasted best over the blanched greens lining the plate.

According to our server, this veggie is unique to Shanghai.  Don't ask me to repeat the name.  My grandparents and there server were conversing in Shanghainese, which I do not understand at all.  The most I got from the exchange was that Shanghai Garden gets this veggie shipped directly from Shanghai:

Tasted like your average Chinese green, which means it was delicious.

The "flaming" shrimp took a little too much work for me:

The sauce was good, don't get me wrong.  And while the name of the dish is quite interesting to say the least, I'm not going to question it.  I'm just...lazy.  So while I enjoy shrimp as much as the next person, I don't particularly find it worth the effort.

But if shrimp (flaming or not) tasted like this next dish, then I would do whatever it takes to get it into my mouth:

The server was nice enough to let us substitute the original fish dish on the family dinner set (fish belly in brown sauce) for this braised fish tail.  The fish was succulent and juicy and OMYGAWD I WANT SOME NOW.

To finish off the meal, we were brought a red bean pancake:

Crispy crepe, super hot red bean filling, oh so very good in my belly.

I was actually very impressed with Shanghai Garden.  The 4 person family dinner included more than enough food for the 5 of us.   And boy, was the food legit (minus the drunken chicken).  I definitely would not mind going back again.

Unexpected reward for fulfilling a filial duty.  Score!

Shanghai Garden
1701 Lundy Ave
San Jose, CA 95131
(408) 437-5789
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