10

Per Se

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Back in the time when we stayed in the Bay area for one entire summer, I was trying hard to reserve a table at French Laundry but, unfortunately, no success. French Laundry is located in Yountville, California. It is owned by Thomas Keller, one of the best chefs in America. I guess I don’t need to share story in my blog about how famous French Laundry is. If you google his name, you can certainly find much better articles about Thomas Keller and his famous restaurants. After his huge success with French Laundry, in 2004 he opened another restaurant, called Per Se, in New York City. A year later, Per Se was awarded a three-star Michelin-Guide rating, which is exceedingly rare. He is the only American chef who has multiple Michelin star awards for two different restaurants.

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Once I knew that we would move to NYC, I started to think to have a dinner experience at Per Se. Considering that my belly was already big and I could not travel to a warmer place during Christmas and New Year holidays, so I decided to make a reservation at Per Se for our anniversary celebration. I’m well aware that to secure a reservation at Per Se is not easy at all. They start to take reservations by phone two months in advance, starting from 10 AM. Exactly two months prior to our anniversary day, we dialed Per Se’s phone number right after 10 AM and we were put on hold and anxiously waited for about 25 minutes. We finally managed to get a table for two for a 9:15 PM dinner on Dec 26th, 2009. We were so excited. Yay!

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Positioned in the Time Warner Center complex at Columbus Circle, Per Se has a fabulous view of Central Park. Immediately after arriving there, we were warmly greeted and notified that our table was still being cleaned and prepared. We were told to wait in the bar area. Not over than ten minutes, they guided us to the dining room. With no more than sixteen tables, the dining room is divided into two floor levels with gentle and dim lighting. It is very elegant. Then we began our four-and-half-hour culinary journey.

We both chose to experience the chef’s tasting menu but due to some pregnancy food restrictions, they replaced some of the menu for me.

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We started with amuse bouche, “Goujeres”, a typical French finger food pastry with cheese inside, and “Mini Ice cream cone with salmon tartare and crème fraiche”. For me, they replaced the salmon tartare with beets.

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For the first menu, A got “Oysters and Pearls”, which was Sabanyon of Pearl Tapioca served with Island Creek Oysters and sterling white sturgeon caviar. This is Thomas Keller’s signature dish. And I had “Parsnip-Vanilla Veloute”, which was Quatre Epices Mousse with garden tarragon and served with prune puree poured into the cup. I know it is my loss for not tasting his famous dish. I wish I came here while I was not pregnant.

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Second, A had “Terrine of Hudson Valley moulard duck foie gras” served with honey crisp apples, hakurei turnips, mulled cider gelle, candied pecans and mustard cress with warm unlimited toasted brioche. Whereas for me, I had “salad of young beets” consisting of garden mache, navel orange marmalade and crispy oats with black winter truffle “aigre-doux”

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Third, “Crispy skin fillet of madai”, which was a Japanese fish served with compressed English cucumbers and French breakfast radishes with watercress pudding.

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Fourth, “Pan roasted Maine sea scallop” served with black trumpet mushrooms, glazed Brussels sprouts and parsley shoots with sunchoke-almond puree.

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Fifth, “Cavendish Farm’s Caille en Crepinette”, a quail served with cranberry relish, confit chestnuts and celery branch with celery seed in a bit of quail jus poured over it.

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Sixth, “Elysian fields farm’s Selle D’agneau Rotie Entiere”, a rib eye of lamb with caramelized globe artichoke, red pepper coulis, young fennel and sylvetta leaves with lamb sauce.

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Seventh, “Serpa”, a Portuguese cheese served with panisse croutons, royal Blenheim apricots, cauliflower florettes and frisee lettuce with Za’atar dressing.

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Eighth, “Mandarin Orange sorbet”, which was a refreshing sorbet with wild peppercorn sable and orange tuile served in nyons extra virgin olive oil emulsion.

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Ninth, A had “Pumpkin-chocolate”, which was mast brothers’ chocolate marquise with pumpkin bavarois served with hazelnut marshmallow and spiced ice cream. And I chose to have “Pear and Caramel”, which was a Madagascar Vanilla-poached Bartlett pear filled with caramel mousse, served with pear pate de fruit and glace au beurre noisette.

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The tenth menu was “Coffee and Doughnut”, which was a cinnamon-sugared doughnut with cappuccino semifreddo. It is also another chef’s signature dish.

And the last menu was assorted “mignardises” ranging from different kinds of chocolates. Three leveled tray of tasty treats were served on our table as well. They also gave two packages of chocolate cake for us to take home. I finished it couple days later and they still tasted great.

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On our way back, we were given a kitchen tour by one of the waitresses. Sadly, it was a little over 1 AM and the kitchen was pretty much closed down already. However, some of the chefs were still there discussing and planning for the next day menu.

Overall, a dinner at Per Se is very pleasant. You obviously should go there at least once for the outstanding dinner experience and the impeccably creations of Thomas Keller. And we’re happy to be there to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary. So, the question is: Will we go back there again? Uhm… Perhaps, it would be better if we can try French Laundry first before going back to Per Se for the second time. It would be exciting to visit both of Thomas Keller’s restaurants.

5

Season’s Greeting

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MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY NEW YEAR, everyone! Peace on earth and best wishes throughout the new year of 2010….

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I know I’ve not updated my blogs for a while, probably for almost two months, and I still need to finish my next blog: Cinque Terre part 2. Some of you dropped me emails asking what I had been doing lately. Thanks for your attention. These past two months have been very hectic for me. A while after I got back to US, we received a good news: A got a job in New York City. Really? Yes, we’re moving to NYC! Yay! We are super happy about that. Living in New York City has always been one of my dreams, which now finally comes true. Then, we were pretty busy collecting information about apartments in NYC, and we started packing. It was not easy at all since my belly was already big and kept growing bigger and bigger. Oops, I should have shared another good news with you guys months ago. Yes, now I am pregnant with a baby GIRL and the due date is sometime in late January. 😀

Soon after A accepted the NYC job offer, the moving process began and so did the busy, busy, busy time. In less than a month prior to the actual move, we had to find a new apartment, a new Ob/Gyn, a new hospital (to deliver the baby) and a moving company. Plus, we had to start packing and do many little things. It was stressful and a lot of work. But, finally we moved and we are in NYC now. Everything has almost settled down here. I just have a short to-do list: furnishing my current apartment and shopping for my baby needs. I have been postponing shopping for my baby until we move to NYC and settle down. With an after-Christmas sale still going on, now obviously is a very good timing for shopping, isn’t it?

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So, how is life after moving to a big metropolis like NYC? So far, we enjoy it a lot. There are too many choices of restaurants and food stalls are ubiquitous at every corner of the streets. Various kinds of international food from around the world are available in the city. One negative aspect is, however, the uncooperating weather. A week before Christmas, a heavy snowstorm hit the Midwest and East Coast areas including NYC. This time of the year may not be best for us to move to a new place with a cold winter like New York City. The facts that I am being pregnant and the cold winter has just begun limit my exploration of this new big city. But, I am still very grateful that we start the new year of 2010 in a new great place, with A’s new job (which he likes so much) and a new member of our family. Many good things happen in the same time, and I am thankful for that. I hope all of you also have a very good start in 2010. Have a wonderful and prosperous new year!

18

In Love with Cinque Terre (Part 1)

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The word “Cinque Terre” is the name given to the five lands or villages along the Eastern Ligurian Coast on the Italian Riviera. The villages from north to south are known as Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore, which each has a unique and picturesque landscape. It is named as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and also protected as a National Park and National Marine Sanctuary. The best way to experience the beauty of Cinque Terre is simply by walking on the breathtaking trails from one village to another.

vernazzaVernazza and Gelateria Artigianale

For our Cinque Terre vacation, we picked to stay at the sublimely romantic Vernazza for its remarkable beauty. Since most places to stay in Vernazza are located up on the hills, we therefore have to climb hundreds of stairs to get to our bed and breakfast (B&B), and some of the stairs are very steep. Some rooms are on higher floors and accessible only by small spiral stairs. As seen in many forums, a lot of tourists are complaining about quickly getting tired going up so many stairs especially when carrying heavy backpacks. I ended up taking a rest for a while before reaching our B&B. It’s a very good exercise. The view from the top of the hill near our B&B was incredibly stunning. We could see different parts of the Vernazza village with an amazing view of the blue Mediterranean sea. The gorgeous scenery instantly refreshed our minds and we couldn’t wait to explore the villages. Right after dropping our backpacks at our B&B room, we went for a walk and stopped at a small gelateria to get my first gelato at Cinque Terre. The gelato was probably not best but still considered okay to satisfy my craving.

tratoria-da-billy2Tratoria dal Billy

Next, we headed to Manarola by train to have a lunch at Tratoria dal Billy. Thanks to V, a friend of mine whom we met a couple days before at Basel, Switzerland, and who recommended this superb restaurant. Perched high on the southern cliff, this small restaurant has a spectacular terrace that grants a magnificent view of the ocean surrounded by vineyards and pastel-color buildings of the Manarola village. We ordered their homemade squid-ink pasta with local seafood (which was their special dish of the day), and their grilled fish served with potatoes and local white wine. The homemade pasta was very fresh and flavorful. We could savor the blended rich taste between the pasta and the mixed fresh seafood. Billy serves simple homemade dishes made from fresh high-quality ingredients. It is definitely a must-visit restaurant in case we revisit Cinque Terre in the future.

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After the delightful lunch, we spent some time checking the nearby ancient San Lorenzo Church, which has a traditional Basilica design and is embellished with a rose window, a bell tower and a wall overlooking the Mediterranean ocean. Then we continued walking down the road and, after twenty yards, we followed a wooden railing leading towards the seafront. An impressive sight along the path was a finely crafted vineyard and lemon groves. The scenery was so marvelous. We never imagined that it could be that beautiful.

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There exists a famous easy hiking trail along the coast line that connects all five villages. The trail is twelve kilometers in length, with spectacular seaside views. Hiking the entire trail takes about five hours. Via dell’ Amore (The Lover’s Way) between Manarola and Riomaggiore is the easiest hiking trail in the Cinque Terre. So, without a doubt, I chose to walk this easiest trail. Hehehe… The trail has a wide path and is nicely paved, which makes it easy for almost everyone to do this hike. Walking along the path, we enjoyed great views of the ocean and the steep rocky cliff. We stopped several times admiring the view and capturing some pictures.

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Arriving at the Riomaggiore village, we first checked out the church of San Giovanni Battista whose design is a typical local style (similar to the San Lorenzo Church in Manarola) with a white stone rose window on the front wall. We then continued walking towards Marina just to sightsee, take pictures and relax.

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After leisurely walking for a half day, I started to crave for another scoop of gelato again. So, at Riomaggiore I grabbed one cup of lemone and fragola gelato, which tasted much better than the one I had previously in Vernazza. Being in Italy with the ubiquity of gelaterias enabled me to eat gelato every single day during my entire stay in Italy. Ahhh… I was extremely happy! I would ensure to have at least two scoops of gelato everyday! Yay…

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Time flew by so fast, and it showed 5pm already. We planned to enjoy the sunset from a ferry going straight to Monterosso. Boarding the ferry along the Cinque Terre coast line is the best way to get an amazing panorama of the colorful houses and vineyards perched against on hill. We then hurriedly moved to Riomaggiore ‘s Marina to wait for the ferry to come ashore. At that time, many people were sunbathing on the rocky beach and some were even swimming in the cold sea water. Brrr…

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11

Bun Cha Dac Kim

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Vietnamese food has always been special to me. Influenced by Chinese and French, it is the true “light cuisine” of Asia. Vietnamese delicacies mostly rely on abundant fresh herbs and vegetables, subtle seasonings, rice and noodles. Many dishes rarely have added fats.

I went to Vietnam during last Ramadan holidays. I spent a few days in Hanoi and tried some authentic local Vietnamese foods. I came to know the reputable Dac Kim restaurant from reading the “36 hours in Hanoi” article by New York Times. The restaurant is well known for its fantastic Bun Cha dish. It is one of Vietnamese foods that I haven’t been able to find outside Vietnam. It is a popular traditional North Vietnamese dish, which  is basically a combination of grilled pork patties and rice noodles served over a bed of greens, herbs and sliced cucumbers. It often includes chopped-up spring rolls and a small bowl of Nuoc Cham (a well-known Vietnamese dipping sauce typically made from chili, garlic and fish sauce).

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Bun Cha Dac Kim is a cramped small three-floor restaurant with steep narrow staircases. Once seated, we were asked for our choices of drink, and soon all the food were quickly brought to us. There was no menu. On the table already are a plate of green herbs, a plate of boiled rice noodles, a bowl of sliced chilies and chopped garlics, a bowl of cut key limes, and a bowl of Nuoc Cham and pickled young papayas. The server brought each of us a bowl of a clear tasty broth filled with succulent grilled pork patties and sliced grilled pork. A side of chopped-up spring rolls filled with crab meats was also served with the bun cha. Not knowing exactly how to start, we asked the server to show us how to eat everything. Some rice noodles were first put in an empty bowl, mixed with couple scoops of pork meats and sauce with some added garlics, chilies, green herbs and pickled papayas. Fresh lime juice was also added to the broth for a more authentic flavor.

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The reality of bun cha is startlingly delicious. Leaving Hanoi without tasting bun cha would have been criminal. Bun cha is a must eat! Mixed with the lemony broth, the charcoal-grilled pork patties were so soft and tasted tangy and sweet at the same time. The slices of grilled pork were more tender than anticipated. Some pork patties wrapped in grape leaves were very fine in texture, simply the best. The broth and Nuoc Cham were light, yet flavorsome. The jungle-like pile of veggies are in many different varieties: lettuce, cilantro, mint, celery, basil, etc. My favorite was the delightful spring rolls which was very crispy on the outside and filled with delicious crab meats.

Bun cha was the most stuffing meal I had in Hanoi. It’s a lot of food, it’s very delicious, and it’s cheap. We all went to Bun Cha Dac Kim twice in a few-day stay in Hanoi. Yeah, it was that good!

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Bun Cha Dac Kim
1 Hang Manh Street
Hanoi, Vietnam

11

Zhen Zhen Porridge

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This is my first blog after my four-month absence. Hehehe… I’m currently in Singapore for almost a week. It’s time to make a good use of the opportunity for eating Singaporean hawker foods. Yippee!

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Early this week, I revisited Maxwell Road Food Center at Singapore for the famous Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice. When I was there in the food center, I was surprised to see that the queue in front of Zhen Zhen Porridge food stall was very long during lunch hour, making me wonder: “Why are many Singaporeans so crazy about Zhen Zhen Porridge? Can a bowl of porridge be that good?”. My perception on porridge/congee is that it’s merely a breakfast or late supper food made from rice boiled with a large quantity of water for a long time until it becomes a fairly viscous white porridge, which is often served with many condiments, such as green onions, fried shallots and soy sauce. I personally think there is nothing so special about porridge/congee, but the very long queue at Zhen Zhen Porridge stall really caught my attention and enticed my curiosity.

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Though quite skeptical at the beginning, A and I finally decided to try their porridge. We spent approximately 45 minutes on the slowly-moving long queue. My order was a $2.50 bowl of chicken congee, whereas A’s order was a $3 large bowl of fish congee. The congee was loaded with tons of spring onions, crispy fried shallots, sliced gingers, chai poh (preserved turnip) and a dash of soy sauce. I also ordered the congee to be mixed with century eggs (or “Pitan” eggs). The porridge just had the right texture, viscosity and consistency and was full of flavors and ingredients in every scoop. The rice was cooked until all rice grains were completely dissolved. The taste of the porridge was way above my expectation, and it flawlessly defined the real meaning of the word “congee”. Also, it was a great value for the money. Both A and I agree that it’s the best porridge we’ve ever eaten.

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A’s orders also included a $3 plate of Yu Sheng (slices of raw fish). The raw fish was very fresh and came in a generous portion. Almost similarly to the congee,  the Yu Sheng was also garnished with loads of spring onions, sesame seeds, fried shallots, ginger slices, chillis and a bit of sesame oil and soy sauce. Four sides of key limes were also served to add freshness to the fish. The sesame seeds and oil gave enhanced fragrance to the dish. A could not slightly sense any oily taste from the fish. It was so delicious and healthy. Make sure to also include Yu Sheng in your order. Must try!

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So, the verdict is that, although the wait at Zhen Zhen Porridge typically takes at least 30 minutes, it is still worth the wait. Considering many Singaporeans claiming in the internet that Zhen Zhen Porridge is the best porridge stall in Singapore, no wonder that their porridge is superbly delicious and their Yu Sheng is equally good and fresh. One minor downside is that the lady owner is quite grumbling. Hehehe…

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Zhen Zhen Porridge
Maxwell Road Food Center, Stall 54
Singapore
Opening hours: 5:30 am – 2:30 pm (closed on Tuesday)

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