Foie gras Je t’aime

Foie gras Je t’aime

The issue of foie gras as food is divisive. But in Montreal, foie gras is probably in their drinking water too. It is on every menu of practically every restaurant in every variation that can be conceived. Seared foie gras, foie gras pate, foie gras poutine, foie gras melted on top of waffles, foie gras burger.

At Au Pied de Cochon (side note: the previous employer of Hugue Dufour, an LIC culinary pioneer and owner of critically-acclaimed M.Wells restaurants), foie gras receives its own section on the menu and makes a disruptive appearance on all other dishes as well. Here, foie gras is not a mere ingredient; it’s elevated to a religion. Anthony Bourdain covered this circus of meat with much glee.

We ordered a tart… filled with foie gras

Image source: starchefs.com

We had “duck in a can”… with large slabs of foie gras wrapped inside a tender, rare duck breast, like, a clown car

 

There was a Pied de cochon (pig foot)… of course, with nuggets of foie gras stirred within its gravy

By the end of the meal, we contemplated vegetarianism for at least 2 hours.

 

As if that wasn’t enough foie for a lifetime, back in NY that very week, a trip to Le Bernardin, the golden standard for seafood (French inspired), necessitated an order of their tuna masterpiece: Layers of thinly pounded Yellowfin Tuna; Foie Gras and Toasted Baguette, Shaved Chives and Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Incredible? Incredible!

Image source: hauteliving.com

 

If any other foie gras dishes come this way, I can’t. I really can’t. But I will.

 

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I was either busy or dead

I was either busy or dead

…sahhhhry.

It’s been a year of experimenting with life after graduation, but there were conclusions drawn that I would so relay to my socially challenged ghost of college past:

  1. Eggs are cheap and delicious if you have 0 minutes to be creative about cooking and to free up cash moneys for travel and liquor.
  2. There are no normal guys at bars. Unless you’re into those effective communicators whose snappy, Hemingway inspired opening line is, “I like Asian girls.” (If so, past self, you are dead to me.)
  3. It’s also difficult to make girl friends at bars. They will probably suspect that you are a madame who wants to recruit workers to your midtown dungeon no matter how innocuous sounding your texts to their fake numbers may be.
  4. Corporate expense accounts are real and if cards are played right, may get you cool stuff such as the opportunity to shoot guns.
  5. Getting sloppy drunk on said corporate expense account is never a good idea.
  6. You should’ve majored in something fun, such as Irish step dance and minored in Being-a-baus, because you will not use Economics or Asian studies except when feeling the impact of the diminishing marginal utility of sushi consumption during rep meetings.
  7. Living in Queens is better than living in Manhattan, where everyone puts up with living in a 50×50 box with a two-headed rat-cockroach named Freddie as a 5th roommate. These urban island dwellers may be able to shorten their walk of shame to a comfortable 5 blocks, but in Queens, you will have a palatial suite to do spinning bird kicks in your underwear.
  8. Try not to go shopping online when you’ve been drinking. This is why you end up with a waffle pan and a PS3 move because you thought it would be fun to eat heart-shaped flour mix of empty calories while playing fake ping pong.
  9. The last one still sounds fun actually. But your credit card statement is still real.
  10. Don’t worry, the debauched adventures will keep on coming.

 

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Middle America: BK

Middle America: gastronomic wasteland?

There is no diversity in Middle America.  None that the naked eye can see. It’s flat plains of corn and wheat and fields of short chunky grass mowed by cattle for miles. Then mountains for miles. But when you get up close, really close, then huge expanses of hot springs brilliantly colored by thermophytes emerge. Even in what appears to be desert, one stray human footstep can trample out an entire ecosystem that could take hundreds of years to reform.

Even while I was exploring our fruited plains of Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Utah, and Montana back in August, my eyes feasting on environmental wonders, my stomach was starving from cruel neglect. We are SPOILED in New York. New Yorkers are privileged. In New York, you can eat your way through most cultures in the world.

Optimistically reflecting, Middle America has “diversity” among its fast food. But like looking at the geographical crevices in this area, you must examine it reaaaaaallllly closely– the differences are minute. They’ve got everything!- Starbucks, McDonalds, Wendy’s … (haha, who am I kidding. Why aren’t we air-lifting food over to them?! We are monsters.)


Bison is actually among the leaner of meats (turkey is to goose, bison is to beef) It supposedly has a gamier flavor, but with the strong mix of the chili, it’s hard to tell.

The McGriddle. Syrup on the biscuit, fluffy egg. Shamefully good.

Cooked to order, this Fuddrucker burger may be one of my favorite fast food burgers, rivaling even the juicy Shake Shack chain in NYC. It’s plenty big, plenty American.

In Wyoming, after Ihop, we skipped over to Carl’s Jr. for a special $5 for 2 burgers deal for More Food. Disgusting.

The infamous KFC double down: two fried chicken holding together a millefeuille of American Cheese and sizzling bacon. Reality: Skip this sandwich and go straight for the fried chicken.

On any highway, you can expect to see what I call the Rest Stop Trinity: Fast food joint, Steakhouse, and Chinese buffet

Burger King’s Smokehouse XL with cheese, bacon, and char-grilled burger

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Contrasts

Contrasts

I just came back from the remote mountainsides, a journey sandwiched between two pearls of luxury.

The progression went like this: Staying at a 5 star hotel in Yi Chang, taking bubble baths, and eating lavish buffet breakfast platters of sweet mandarins and buttery croissants, while enjoying a sweeping panoramic view of this rapidly developing city..

Yi Chang
.. to hiking atop the mountains of Dengcun, a tiny tea village, in 10 degree Celsius, the air thick and heavy with the concentrated fragrance of tea being processed by the ton, windows open to impressive blue skies and the sinusoidal curves of stately zeniths and nadirs..

Dengcun

.. to riding the current fastest bullet train in the world from Wuhan to the center of Guangzhou, a city of rainbow lights, reminders of old colonial days left by the French, Dutch, and British architecture perched along the Pearl River, and man-made rivers (revamped from the old sewage foundations) streaming underneath sky passes, churning sludgy waterfalls. I while away the days at spas and mega-shopping malls, consuming dim sum at all hours.

Which is why tales of debauchery in Asia are lacking on this platform as of late, but worry not, soon I shall pen my dramatic reenactments of how we went about INVENTING A TEA, how delicious chicken offals are, and how my uncle believes that kewpie mayonnaise is salad dressing. It will be, like, my magnum opus.

BY THE WAY! You guys! Some time ago, Deb, from Travel and Tea, interviewed me for her website about my blog and my tea-scapades in China. I never realized what an extensive community that has come out culture of tea until she intro’d me to her website, which is a nexus to the most beautiful tea photographs and interviews on people in the tea industry more knowledgeable than I.

But if you support my babblings about travel, life, and tea, go read the interview on TravelandTea.com!

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One small step into a tea farm,

One small step into a tea farm,

One giant leap into an exciting future for green teas.

What I love about green tea is the vegetal flavor, the minimal to none processing,  the sparkling clearness of the liquor, the low caffeine content and the calming effect from the theanine. Now that the days are getting colder, the heat from a glass of hot tea warms my fingertips in a very pleasant way. Other than water, it is the only thing that I drink daily.

Tea tasting in Dengcun

Tea tasting in Dengcun Lv Cha Factory, trying to figure out the best teas for Rocky Mountains Tea Co.!

Tea passages

Frolicking about the tea bushes. These are largely spring harvests, and will remain untouched and dormant until next year.

(More photos and tea-venturing on Flickr)

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NYC: Columbus Circle

It takes some guts (and stomach) to be a New Yorker

The New York Magazine’s Daily Intel profiles a resident of my beloved city every week and one the survey’s final question is always: What makes someone a New Yorker?

My answer: a true New Yorker is someone who, even when physically 180 degree around the world, thinks about what they are going to eat in New York once they get home.

fluttering high above Columbus Circle, where the best memories were created

I have already bought a Groupon to be spent at a cupcake bakery on Lexington Ave. I am dreaming about brunch at Clinton St. Baking Co. on East Houston. I am planning an excursion to Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao (南翔小籠包) in Flushing; despite currently living in Nanjing, where juicy buns/ soup dumplings, Edward claims, have originated. (I haven’t found one that comes even close to touching the juicy buns in New York. The search continues.)

Suckling Pig and pappardelle

The most memorable dish of 2010: Tender suckling pig ragu in fresh sheets of pappardelle sprinkled with crunchy arugula that snaps like newborn spring leaves

Since this summer’s Restaurant Week 2010, I have been utterly smitten with Maialino, the new Danny Meyer restaurant that inhabits the Gramercy Park Hotel. In fact, I would want to stay at the hotel just so I can be up early enough to indulge in their breakfast over a cup of Mao Jian Green tea because, y’all, they have a tea bar. And for me, being an apprentice of the art of tea, that is a wonderful thing.

(For more Summer RW 2010 visuals from Maialino, Dovetail, and Delmonico’s, see my Flickr set!)

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Nola: Flight

New Orleans, 20 pounds later.

On our trip to New Orleans in August (part 1 here), I think that I was rendered incapable of eating anything with excess sodium and fat for a long time. To this date, my diet still consists of 70% vegetables. Not including ketchup as a vegetable.

Commander’s Palace

Potato Croquette. I'm sure there was some sort of booze-y sauce. There always is.

A demi serving of three soups: Gumbo, Turtle, and Soup du jour- Chicken dumpling

A take on L'awlin's classic pastry with SLABS of foie gras. Bourbon braised fig and foie gras beignets with vanilla cracked coffee beans, foie gras café au lait (a "coffee" with extract of foie gras). UNHOLY.

Wild fish and gigantic gulf shrimp (not affected by oil spill, obvs). The best the ocean can offer.

Crispy Soft Shell Crab - Crowned with a chilled salad of local crabmeat, baby arugula, barbecued tomato, avocado and grilled jalapeño vinaigrette. The serving was so generous, my stomach was pulsating with effort at this point. But I had to torture it just a bit more.

The finale! I am about to tap out, but had to have the entirety of their infamous Bread Pudding Souffle (Eric could not stop raving about. I've heard about this souffle since I met him. That's like, YEARS.) Of course, the chef made a sauce out of Jack Daniels. This restaurant is not for AA patrons.

Eric and I each had a “Congratulations” fancily scribbled on the top, cos we are baller. Or maybe because we had the mental fortitude and stomach willpower to finish all that food. That needs congratulating. Or maybe, because it was his birthday, and we have jobs. The staff at Commander’s Palace also reads The Economist.

A really really huge Thank You to Eric’s family for treating us to their neighborhood restaurant. I cannot believe that they have Commander’s Palace as their “neighborhood restaurant”. What’s next, like, a cocktail bar with world class mixology as their “neighborhood bar”?

Uh, actually, yes. (Not Kidding.

Innovative cocktails. The Jackson 9 is mighty fine.

Can I move to Nola pls?)

(more…)

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Nanjing: mooncakes

Happy Autumn Moon Festival: Mooncakes and corruption

These few days in Nanjing have been sickly humid and about 30 C, as is typical of these coastal Asian cities. Today, with the luck of the Autumn Moon festival, the temperature is a brisk, cool foreshadow of colder days to come.

Mooncake market at Auchan. Some sell for as high as 400RMB. They all taste the same, probably even produced from the same factory with the same ingredients.

The mooncake market is for a large part a vehicle for corruption. Under traditional manufacturing norms, the box should not exceed the value of the contents by 10-20%, but for mooncakes, the box can be 70%+ more expensive. Officials are bribed with mooncake boxes made of gold, or mooncakes stuffed with shark fins and a new camera hidden in its lavish folds.

I think that the amount that people spend on gifting mooncake is appalling. In American terms (taking PPP, Purchasing Power Parity/relative market prices and whatnot into consideration), its like if an individual in America were to spend $400 on a box of munchkins to give as a gift for every one of your relatives and coworkers, every Autumn Festival. (The average US income of the middle class is around $50,000; the average, uh reported, Chinese income of upper-middle class is around 40,000 RMB. Gabe has an interesting post on that.)

Mooncake innards are also recycled or “reworked,” a term describing a practice where factories take leftover or rejected ingredients to be used for a new product. Considering how many mooncakes are churned out every year for the Mid-Autumn Festival, the amount of waste and unsold mooncakes from each year, the odds are that most mooncakes on the market currently (even some of the ones made “fresh” from bakeries) have leftovers in them from as long as five years ago.

Just coat it with a new shiny coat of preservative splendor.

I just don’t think about it when I pop each 1000 calorie worth of lotus paste or red bean mooncake into my mouth.

Yum!

As “good will” gift for this holiday, Bank of China cleverly gives VIP patrons 500RMB gift cards  in a red envelope instead.

月下獨酌 Drinking Alone by Moonlight

李白 Li Bai

花間一壺酒。 A cup of wine, under the flowering trees;

獨酌無相親。 I drink alone, for no friend is near.

舉杯邀明月。 Raising my cup I beckon the bright moon,

對影成三人。 For her, with my shadow, will make three people.

(The poem continues with the poet getting completely smashed. Google/Baidu the rest. If you don’t know who Li Bai is, I shake my finger of shame at you and come back to me when you’re more literary.)

 

中秋节快乐

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qqexample

Social Networking in China

Many of my American comrades and myself included were appalled when we found that we could not access facebook, twitter, and the likes behind the Great Firewall of China. I mean, seriously, how cruel are the censorship enforcers of this country? Why would they ever prevent the innocent social interactions of people across insurmountable distances? Must I wither my time in Asia away, separated from the comforting majestic bosoms of my other mother land, suffocated by a bastion of loneliness, because I cannot easily scrawl a fleetingly inspired opus on my besties’ face… book?

Random chat with Harbin stranger about Chinese business atmosphere

But my friends, I have discovered that in lieu of facebook, China has QQ, which is something like a cross between gmail, MSN, twitter, farmville, etc. where I can make and add my new Chinese friends and build simulation farm property.

I might have Chinese friends, y’all.

And in lieu of Google, China has Baidu.

It’s a whole new digital world out here.

Of course during this time, my leet hacker skills have not been idle and I have used my cyber savvy to penetrate the Internet Blockade to access the aforementioned forbidden URLs, but dude, who needs that when I can Perapera-kun my way through random Chinese chats and Chinese search results to Chinese fluency.

(Seriously, download that Firefox add-on. Then you can make sense of my random Chinese insertions like you native or something. 白人都看得懂!)

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Yi Chang: Private dinner, tang yuan

In the footsteps of the famous:Hubei Province

桃花嶺酒店, 宜昌

Today, I was chauffeured to Yi Chang, put up in the same hotel that Kim Jong-Il and Henry Kissinger once stayed at, and was treated to a glorious dinner personally designed by the executive chef at the hotel in a private dining room replete with an automatic Mahjong table.

What did I do in my past life to deserve this?

I bit into a fluffy shiitake mushroom only to find out that it wasn’t shiitake, but a steamed bun 饅頭 that was shaped and colored like one. There were other surprises throughout the meal:

Tang Yuan: mochi stuffed with sesame shaped to look like smooth pebbles in a dish of clear water

Quite a contrast: from slumming in an industrial town with high-school graduate factory workers to playing business games with government officials and bankers.

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