Monday, December 21, 2009

Oyster Sauce Chicken Wings

Here's a simple chicken wing recipe that I came up with over the weekend.  The cornstarch adds just enough crunch to the skin without turning it into fried chicken.
Oyster Sauce Chicken Wings with Roasted Cauliflower

Oyster Sauce Chicken Wings
3 tbsp premium oyster sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 lb chicken wings
1 tbsp cornstarch
2 tbsp vegetable or peanut oil

Cut wings between joint. Marinate the wings in mixture of oyster sauce and sesame oil for 1 hour.  Toss the wings while sprinkling with cornstarch to get even coverage.  Use only enough oil to coat a frying pan.  Pan-fry the wings over medium heat until done.  This recipe also works with oven-baking if you want to omit the oil.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Gourmet Bagger

The first time I went to Gourmet Bagger, I had the All That And More Albacore.  It was the best tuna melt I've ever had.  The perfect amount of crunch from the bits of celery on lightly grilled sourdough with cheddar, a single leaf of romaine, slices of tomatoes and a generous pile of sprouts.  Mmm...sprouts.  Too bad I started getting itchy eyes after I finished my sandwich.  Turns out, I'm allergic to something in the tuna salad.
The next time I went back, I opted for the Chicken Salad on whole wheat.  Like the tuna, it came stacked with sprouts, tomatoes, romaine and nice crunchy texture from the celery.  It's delish.  Still, I jealously eye my co-worker's ATM Albacore that she always orders.  Maybe it's the fact that I know I shouldn't have it.
The Egg Salad was good.  Though, unlike the ATM Albacore and the Chicken Salad, the Egg Salad was a little bit drippy.  I'd order it again.  Each order comes with a small soft chocolate chip cookie and a piece of candy.  For $0.99, you can get 2 chocolate chip cookies that are about the size of a small saucer.
On another visit, I noticed that their soup of the day was Lobster Bisque.  Never mind that it was about 75 degrees out and I was getting the Bagger Cheesesteak as well.  I added the bisque to my order.
I've never been to Philly and I can't say that I'm any kind of cheesesteak conniosseur, but I liked it.  Caramelized onions, red bell peppers, mushrooms, thin sliced steak meat, and provolone cheese on a lightly toasted soft roll. Wish there were more mushrooms, I love mushrooms.  I can't wait to try their other hot sandwiches.

The Lobster Bisque had a strong cheesy flavor, but the shellfish flavor also came through.  Not a traditional lobster bisque, but still quite yummy.  I got it again two days later when I went back for a Chicken Salad on wheat.

The drill at this little sandwich shop is to order at the counter and then find a seat.  The cashier writes down your name and order on a brown paper bag and passes it on to the kitchen.  You then take a seat and one of the guys from the kitchen come out with your order calling your name.  There are indoor and outdoor seating.  This place gets pretty busy during the lunch hour, but it usually doesn't take too long for your food to get to you.

Gourmet Bagger

Point Loma location: 3357 Rosecrans St, San Diego

Miramar location: 7128 Miramar Rd, San Diego

Monday, October 19, 2009

Dinner at Thee Bungalow

For my final Restaurant Week meal, my friends and I decided on Thee Bungalow.  Since I was going to be dining with some slightly pickier eaters, we had to review several menus before making that decision.
Every table received an amuse-boucheof Beet Salad served on a spoon with a twisted handle, compliments of the chef.  The yellow beets tossed in olive oil and topped with microgreens were simple and refreshing.  For my first course: Lobster Bisque.  Nice creamy texture, but the stock was a little weak on lobster flavor.  I'd order it again. One of my friends had a deconstructed interpretation of French Onion Soup. It came in a soup dish with a cheesy crouton floating in the middle.  The focus was all on the sweet oniony beef broth  My friend, whom has never had French Onion Soup before, really enjoyed this.  
I had the New Zealand Rack of Lambs with baby carrots and baby squash.  The eight pesto crusted chops were a warm pink.  The meat was very tender and tasty, especially when it sopped up some burgandy-mustard glaze.  I was using my fork and knife at first.  After attacking most of the meat with my utensils, I switched to a more hands on approach and gnawed on the rest of the bones.  It was delish and extremely filling.  I struggled to finish my plate, but I did it. 
 Two of my friends orders the Scottish Salmon, which came with roasted purple potatoes, sauteed pea tendrils, sweet corn foam, and a pinot noir sauce.  I tried a piece and it had very good sear on the outside, moist inside layer.

Our other friend had the Beef Short Ribs with sauteed chard, truffled potatoes, and two pieces of cantelope.  The short ribs were so tender that it fell apart as soon as the fork came near it.

The Meyer lemon crème brûlée was good.  It had a nice even sugar crust.  It had a smooth custard and subtle citrus flavor.
We also pre-ordered the chocolate soufflée that is suppose to serve two for the four of us to share.  The server brought out 2 gigantic chocolate soufflées.  Even if we had not just had a complete 3 course meal, these two soufflées would have been enough for all four of us to share.  The chocolate sauce was poured table-side.  The texture was light and fluffy.  The flavor was very rich and not overly sweet.  All in all, I was very satisfied with my meal.

Parking lot alert: The parking lot is a gravel lot.  Drive in carefully or you will end up with loose gravel flying up at the sides of your car.  Also, not high-heel friendly.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Crab Stuffed Tilapia!

1201 First Street
Coronado, CA 92118

A friend of mine had raved to me about the Crab Stuffed Tilapia that she had ordered from Peohe's a couple of months ago. Since it was one of the items on their Restaurant Week menu, I had to try it out for myself.
We had made reservations, so were seated pretty quickly.  Unfortunately, the service was really slow.  Seems that the kitchen wasn't keeping up with the demand.    The servers were very attentive, but it was a long wait in between placing our orders and being served each course.
My first course of Lobster Bisque was extremely flavorful.  The essence of lobster really came through in the stock used for this. However, I would have preferred the bisque to be creamier.  I wonder if they added any cream, other than the little swirl that was drizzled on top.  Lobster meat is generally used as a garnish, if at all, in lobster bisque.  There was a really generous chunks of lobster meat in the bisque. Gotta love that!
Second course: Crab Stuffed Tilapia!  The tilapia was breaded with panko crumbs and, of course, stuff to the max with real crab meat.  The fish was moist and well seasoned.  I would go back just for this.  There was a very generous side of wild rice.  I really enjoyed mixing some of the panko crust with the rice.  It was yummies.
My biggest disappointment was the crème brûlée.  Mainly with the brûlée part.  There was only a bit of the burnt sugar crust near the edge. The custard was nice and I loved the macadamian nuts, too bad I didn't get more of the crunchy, sugary crust that makes custard into crème brûlée.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Eating Snails and Drinking Wine!

The French Gourmet

960 Turquoise Street 
San Diego, CA 92109

Based on their Restaurant Week menu, I have been wanting to try this little place since last year's Restaurant Week. Unfortunately, I failed to make reservations last year. This year, I planned ahead and it paid off.
This cozy little restaurant is located on Cass and Turquoise Street. There is no parking lot, but parking on the street was easy enough. Especially if you elect to go on a Tuesday night like I did. I have no idea what the parking situation is like closer to the weekend, but since they are not located near the strip of bars, I don't think it would be a problem.
The French Gourmet is in the $30 grouping of participating restaurants serving a 3-course prix fixe menu. Most of the participating restaurants offered 3 options for each course. I was surprised to see that the French Gourmet menu offered 4 choices for the first course and 5 for the main course.
  • Escargots à la Bourguignone - A half dozen escargots broiled in garlic herb butter
  • Onion Soup Gratinée - Onion Soup topped with a slice of French bread and melted Swiss cheese
  • Veal Sweetbread and Artisan Sausage -Sweetbread sautéed with lemon and grilled sausage, served on braised red cabbage
  • Grilled Caesar Romaine - pretty self-explanatory
ENTRÉES Choice of entrée served with vegetable of the day unless otherwise noted.
  • Bacon-Wrapped Beef Tenderloin - With a gratinée of blue cheese and demi-glace. Served with potatoes au gratin
  • Pan Seared Local Sea Bass -Seared fresh sea bass with a rosemary-shallot cream sauce. Served with asparagus and cherry tomato risotto and sautéed spinach
  • Cabernet Braised Short Ribs -Served with a natural jus reduction and Truffle potato purée
  • Moroccan Chicken - ½ chicken grilled and baked in a fragrant marinade of lemon-lime, mint, garlic, onion, cilantro and cumin over couscous
  • Crevette Scampi -Shrimp sautéed with garlic butter, lemon, cream, and white wine. Served with rosemary potatoes
  • Patisserie Maison - your choice from daily selection of pastries
  • Duo of Crêpes Maison - Thin French “pancakes” filled with raspberry coulis and chocolate ganache and topped with fresh sabayon
  • Cheese Plate - Artisan and Imported Cheeses
There is were also options for a glass of wine with your meal for $9.95 OR $15 for wine pairings. Guess which one we went for?
I don't know where the stereotype of snooty French servers and maitre'd came from because Gino immediately put us at ease. He assured us that it was going to be a fun evening. This cozy restaurant with the bakery in front has less than a dozen tables, most of which are for parties of two (I saw one table that had a party of 4). I felt as if I were invited to a home for a very nice dinner party instead of being at a restaurant. From our server to the person who bussed our plates in between courses, each one of the staff who served us made a point of asking us how we were enjoying our meals.
Right before the first course, Gino presented VT and I with 2 glasses of white wine EACH! He explained to us that one was Old World wine and the other was New World wine, both made from the same type of grape. He explained to us that New World wines tend to be fruitier. Old World reds are earthier and Old World whites have more minerality, sometimes with a slight hint of citrus. Gino then presented us with a challenge: Try to guess which is the Old World wine and which is the New World.
This is the first time I've ever double-fisted wine, much less at a nice French restaurant. It was a pretty fun drinking game. We were sniffing and sipping both of our glasses simultaneously. VT's guess was the complete opposite of mine. Gino came back and unveiled the mystery, VT guessed correctly and won. Turns out, the one I liked was the Old World style.
Our first course of Escargots arrived piping hot. VT said that her garlic butter was still sizzling! If you've never had escargot before, I advise you to not be intimidated by these sluggers. My parents grew up in Vietnam, which was French occupied for 100 years. So I've never been scared to eat snails. The taste and texture is similar to clams, minus the mushy innards of clams. Like clams, if overcooked, escargot can become rubbery. These were perfectly tender. We dipped our bread into the little divets of the plate to capture all of that melted yummy butter and garlic bits.
My second course was the Bacon-Wrapped Beef Tenderloin (rare). VT got the Sea Bass. For the second course, we each got a glass of red and a rose for the second course. No test this time, just a nice brief explanation and left us to enjoy the food. The Rose wine was refreshing.
My potato au gratin was at least 2 inches tall. Nicely browned cheesy top crust. Each slice of potato layer was consistently thin. Unfortunately, my beef was overcooked to a medium. When Gino came over to check on us, I informed him of my non-rare meat and he had the kitchen immediately redo my steak while I kept my original plate to snack on the gratin and baby veggies (asparagus, baby yellow squash and baby carrots). Our server also came over and apologized for the mix up.

I had a small sample of VT's fish and risotto (also came with a side of baby veggies). I gotta confess, I was jealous. The sea bass was moist and flavorful with a perfectly seared outer layer. The risotto was smooth, rich and creamy. I forgot if the red was a Burgandy or if it was a Pinot from Burgandy. I didn't like it so much at first sip. However, when my pleasantly rare steak arrived, neatly presented on small plate decorated with the demi-glace, I changed my mind. The rich, beefy flavor of the meat somehow change the taste of the wine. The blue cheese gratinee made my already bacon-wrapped tenderloin a bit too salty for my taste (I admit that I have a lower tolerance for salt than most people). I scraped it off and mixed it in with the potato au gratin. Mmmm...gratinee with gratin. The beef was simply seasoned and the bacon didn't compete with or mask the natural flavors of the meat.
O, dessert! I am not much for sweets, but when the place has a bakery that is the first thing you see walking in, you gotta expect to be wowed. VT and I both went with the Patissiere Maison. The server brought over a very large platter with a variety of sample pasteries for us view and choose from. After selection, she returned with fresh pasteries straight from the bakery. My dark and white chocolate egg shell was filled with chocolate ganache, topped with fresh raspberries and a strawberry in the center was lightly sprinkled with powdered sugar. Only a slight hint of sweetness (in a good way because I don't like overly sweet desserts), the tartness of the berries cut through the richness of the chocolate. VT's strawberry shortcake was divine. Two ultra light layers of white cake sandwiching strawberries and whipped cream, topped with white chocolate shavings. The strawberries were lightly marinated with sugar to draw out the natural juices. This crimson berry was the star of the show.
The Muscato and Port were so sweet that I could only take a few sips of each. I really don't have much of a sweet tooth. It worked out for the best since I still had to drive home after dinner. Warm and hospitable service paired with food that celebrates the natural flavors of the ingredients equals my favorite Restaurant Week restaurant. In fact, my favorite restaurant in San Diego. The generous wine pairings didn't hurt either.
BTW, the French Gourmet has extended their Restaurant Week menu until Saturday, September 27th

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Costco Wontons

My co-worker introduced me to these frozen wonton soups a couple of weeks ago. She gave me a bowl to try and I've been hooked ever since. Costco sells these for $9.99 for a 6-pack. Each bowl contains frozen broth and 5 individually frozen shrimp wontons. The flavorful broth is seasoned with scallions, ginger and garlic. The wonton wrappers withstood being cooked, frozen and reheated. They did not fall apart, yet were silky soft. There is simply a whole shrimp inside each wonton. I got a wonderfully firm and toothful feeling when I bit into the shrimp. No mushy frozen shrimp for me! The portion size is just perfect for a light breakfast, but when you also want to feel like having something substantial at the same time. Add some ramen noodles for a nice slurpy lunch?
Oh, where were these when I was in college? I really think I could live on these and never get tired of them.
Ghetto Fab Tip: One of my other co-workers whom we've lured into our Wonton Soup Cult has discovered that these containers are the perfect size to be reused as parfait containers. Just make sure to wash it out really well. I like to reuse the containers for freezing individual servings of homemade stock.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Dong Po Rou

Dong Po Rou is on the top of my Guilty Pleasures List. I mean, I'm basically eating chunks of braised un-salted bacon here. As Su Dong Po (real name Su Shi) says, "With gentle heat and a bit of water, the dish would surely taste good when it is done in its turn."
Removing the tiny little hairs with tweezers were tedious and straining on my eyes, but soooo worth it in the end. I started to tie up each cube of pork with green onion stalks, but ran out of green onions half way through the process. The green onions held the layers of pork together, keeping them from falling apart. However, the "loose" cubes didn't fall apart too badly. As you can see, they held together pretty well. Just had to be extra careful when transferring the pieces.
I stir-fried some ong choy in garlic and olive oil. I usually add shrimp paste or fermented bean curd when stir-frying ong choy, but I didn't want the flavors to compete with my oh-so-decadent-melt-in-your-mouth-cubes-of-braised-pork-belly. The last step, steaming, is really the secret to eliminating the greasiness. Yum, simple white rice soaked up the consumè-like sauce just perfectly.

Dong Po Rou
1 lb pork belly, tweezed and cut into 1-inch cubes (cutting is easier if the pork belly is slightly frozen)
2 hands ginger, slightly charred 
2 bundles of green onions
1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup Shaoxing wine
2 tbsp rock sugar or brown sugar
3 tbsp black tea leaves

Tie each piece of pork belly with a piece of green onion, like tying ribbon onto a present.  It helps to pour boiling water over the green onions first and then let them cool enough to touch.  It makes them more pliable.
Brew the tea leaves in a pot of water, enough to cover all of the pork belly.  Meanwhile, sear all sides of each piece of pork belly.
Discard leaves and save tea.  Dissolve sugar in the tea.  Chop the ginger into 1-inch chunks.  Add ginger, soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, any leftover green onions, and pork belly pieces to the tea mixture.  Simmer for about 2 hours.
Remove the pork belly pieces and set aside.  Strain the sauce and skim away any fat (and there will be a thick layer of fat).  Set sauce aside. Steam the pork belly pieces, with enough sauce poured over it to coat each piece.  The pork should be steamed for about 45 minutes.  I like to save the rest of the sauce for pouring over rice with this dish.
If there are any leftovers, store the pork belly separately  from the sauce.  Reheat by steaming with sauce poured over it.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Thai Green Chicken Curry

I have been on a curry kick lately. However, ordering out conflicts with my plan to pay off my loans by the end of this summer. So off to SF market I go! I can't believe how simple it was. I checked out a couple of recipes online and went with the recipe from Temple of Thai. Here is my modified version of the recipe:
1 can Green Curry paste
2 cans coconut milk
1 fresh bamboo shoot, julienned
5 pieces of chicken tenders, cubed
1 tbsp palm sugar
1/2 bunch of thai basil
4 thai chili peppers
fish sauce to taste
Sautee the paste in a big pot over medium heat until fragrant. Mix in the coconut milk. Add the rest of the ingredients. I prefer my curry to be slightly thicker compared to most restaurants. No soupy curry for me. However, I you like your curry to be thinner you can add a couple tablespoons of chicken broth or water. Add it slowly so that your curry doesn't end up being too thin. I only added enough to keep it at the consistency of spaghetti sauce while it's simmering. Cover with a lid and let simmer until the chicken is cooked and the bamboo shoots become tender. About 20 minutes. Stir occassionally so that the bottom doesn't get scorched. Add fish sauce to taste and serve over rice. I topped mine off with an egg over easy. The runny yolk mixed with this creamy curry just took this meal to a whole other level. The next day for lunch, I added hard boiled eggs instead and it was delish!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Homemade Char Siu Bao

My first attempt at baking char siu bao was quite a success. I have tried and failed at baking with yeast before, so I was expecting my bread to come out flat and hard. I used a recipe from Visual Recipes and it turned out great. My char siu came pretty close to the ones that you can buy from a chinese bbq place. If I had use maltose instead of honey, I bet it would have been even better. I had alot of leftover char siu and filling. I stored them in the freezer for the next time around.
I sprinkled baking powder into the dough as I was kneading it for the last time and I think that helped make the bun even fluffier. I reheated some of these babies up for breakfast the next day. 20 minutes seconds in the microwave and the buns were still soft and fluffy.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Steamed Pork Patty w/ Shrimp Paste

I was watching a Hong Kong drama in which one of the characters referenced this homestyle dish: Haw Jurng Jing Yok Bang, or Steamed Pork Pattie w/ Shrimp Paste. Here is a little excerpt from the scene:
Husband was in an accident which left him crippled. He is majorly depressed after he got out of the hospital. Wife decides to make Husband's special dish for him to cheer him up. Husband's Brother came over for dinner and was praising her cooking skills. Wife says that the Steamed Pork Pattie w/ Shrimp Paste is Husband's fave. She even made a special trip to go buy the shrimp past because they had run out. Husband says that this dish is so good that he'd have to have at least 3 bowls of rice to go with it.
I didn't even pay attention to the rest of that episode. I was obsessed with trying out that dish. I mean, three bowls of rice? It's gotta be good. The only problem is that I couldn't find any recipes online and you can bet that this isn't something you can find on any menu. I can't read Chinese, so if anyone knows of a place that has this dish on their "secret" Chinese menu, please let me know.
Do I give up? My obsession mind would not allow it. So I made up my own recipe. Most homestyle Chinese dishes are pretty basic and true to their namesakes. Here it is:
Steamed Pork Patty with Shrimp Paste
1 lb ground pork
1/2 tbsp shrimp paste
1/2 tsp sugar
1 stalk green onions/scallions, minced (green parts only)
Mix all ingredients together really well. Form patties and place into a wide bowl for steaming. Set bowl in a pot of water that just reaches the bowl's half way point. Cover and steam for about 20 minutes after the water starts boiling or until the meat is no longer pink, depending on how thick your meat patties are. Serve over rice.
I started my rice just before I prepared the pork patties and I cursed my rice cooker for not working faster.
I had this meal with a side of steamed bok choy w/ oyster sauce. I poured some of the jus from the pork patties over my rice. It was delicious. I too had three bowls of rice.

Monday, March 30, 2009

St. Tropez Bakery and Bistro

A couple of months ago, I went to lunch with some coworkers at St. Tropez Bakery and Bistro in Hillcrest. One of my coworkers were raving about the Salmon Salad. I got the Berry Savory Salad, which came with fresh greens, candied pecans, sliced strawberries and goat cheese. I added Salmon for an extra charge. Everyone else got the Salmon Salad and loved it. I am not a salad person, but I give these salads 2 thumbs up.
About two weekends ago, after a day of wondering around the museums at Balboa Park, my friend and I were trying to decide where to go for an early dinner. I was telling her about the fantastic salads at St. Tropez and she suggested that we try it out for dinner. Besides, she happened to have in coupon in her Uptown magazine.
The place is bright and colorful. There is artwork up around the walls and even a mural on the ceiling! Since we arrived a little before 4pm, there was only two tables in the patio area which were occupied. The server was very pleasant. I ordered a filet mignon and my friend had the Coq Au Vin. I forget which wine it was that we had ordered, but it was good.
We were munching on the complementary sliced baguette while we were waiting. Man, that's some good bread.  It was perfectly toasted while still being soft on the inside. I was most addicted to the herb aioli spread the side. This was so much better than butter (I don't say that a lot because I love my butter). The aioli was creamy and the fresh herbs were not overpowering at all. We were so engrossed with the aioli that we didn't even notice that our food hadn't arrived until the server came over and apologized for the wait!
Apparently, they had overcooked my medium-rare steak and they were going to redo it for me. He even asked if I would like something while we wait. All I asked for was more bread and aioli! Later, my friend told me that he was probably offering us an appetizer on the house. I wish she would have kicked me under the table! But we both agreed that if he had not come over, neither one of us would have noticed the delay.
My steak arrived cooked to perfection. I truly appreciated the fact that they went through the trouble of re-cooking my steak instead of trying to serve it to me anyway to see if I'd send it back. The potatoes were nicely seasoned with rosemary. The spinach sauteed with garlic weren't anything special, but good. My steak was only too salty on one corner, thankfully not throughout.
My friend's Coq Au Vin came with both a breast and a leg, potatoes, and sauteed veggies. She said that the chicken was fall off the bone tender and very flavorful. She seemed to enjoy it alot and cleaned her entire plate.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Store Bought Potstickers

Got some frozen potstickers at Thuan Phat a couple of weeks ago. Pork, scallop and shrimp are a pretty good combination. I pan fried some of these bad boys for a potluck style dinner party that I went to and they were a big hit. There were a consistent amount of sweet baby scallops in each dumpling. I would get a baby shrimp in every third potsticker or so, but the scallops made up for that shortfall.
I would still prefer homemade, but these are great when I don't feel like spending an entire day making dumplings. I ate an entire bag for dinner one night.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Deconstructed Dim Sum Dish

I had a craving for one of my favorite Dim Sum dishes this past week: Lo Mai Gai. The only problem was that my craving hit at dinner time. For those of you unfamiliar with Dim Sum, it is only served at Chinese restaurants during the breakfast/brunch/lunchtime hours.
I had almost all the ingredients that I needed to make this dish at home. The only other thing I needed was the lotus leaves. Why don't I just go out and buy some? Lotus leaves are usually sold dried and would require soaking at least overnight. Being impatient, I made a deconstructed version of Lo Mai Gai. I cooked the sticky rice in my rice cooker and the rest of the ingredients on the stove. Once everything was done, I mixed everything together and tada!