All things food
All things food
“Brrr…it’s cold outside.” That was the outgoing message my college roommate and I had recorded on our answering machine. Don’t ask why. I think it had something to do with our adoration of Chilly Willy. But today, it is cold outside. It was a freezing 25°F last night in Houston. But who am I to complain? The northern states saw an insane −44°F (according to the hubster). I didn’t even think that was possible outside of the Antarctic.
I am so not a cold weather person. So when it gets down to the 20s, 30s, even 40s outside, my ideal evening is one spent indoors in fuzzy socks in front of the television with a good book. (I like to multi-task, often reading a book in Braille while listening to a sitcom.) And then I like to sidle up to the kitchen counter and slurp down a bowl of noodle soup. That’s the ultimate comfort food on a cold day.
For the past twelve months, one of the questions I get most frequently is, “Christine, when will you be opening your own restaurant?” Or, “Christine, how can we try some of your food?” But for the past eighteen months, my life has been a whirlwind, as you can imagine. First, it was filming the show. Then it was doing press for the show. Then it was speaking at this conference and cooking on that TV show and attending this benefit and that event. Oh, and let’s not forget I had to write a thesis, defend it, and graduate somewhere in there, too. Life’s been quite full, I should say.
While I’ve looked extensively into opening my dream gastropub in Houston, there have just been so many other opportunities still falling into my lap that I couldn’t bear to pass up. I’m the kind of person that, when I start a project, gives it my 110%. So I know that opening an establishment would require my full attention for at least a year or two before it can steadily run on its own. Because I don’t want how much xanax to take to miss certain opportunities, I’ve decided to put the gastropub plans on the back burner until everything falls into place.
But I was still very much aware of the fact that everyone’s still asking to try my cooking. And that’s why I’m finally doing my first ever pop-up in my hometown of Houston. I’ve finally gotten a month where I’ll be in town to plan the menu, logistics, and prep for the pop-up. I’m proud to announce in conjunction with MKT BAR (co-owned by a dear friend of mine since middle school, Haig Tcholakian), I will be hosting Pop-up Episode 1: a tribute/farewell to summer. It will be held at MKT BAR in downtown Houston this Saturday, Sep. 14th, from 3 to 6 PM. Please note that it’s on a first come, first serve basis. Alvin Schultz from ”MasterChef” season 2 will be cooking alongside me in the kitchen.
Finally. My long awaited post wrapping up my September trip to NYC. The ridiculous thing is I’ve been back to NYC since, so there will be a future post on my subsequent NYC trip. All this traveling is bogging me down.
It’s funny what they say about being careful what you wish for. Travel has always been something at the top of my list of favorite things to do in life. But lately, I’ve been traveling so much that all I really want nowadays is to read and sleep in my own bed.
Anyway, enough of my ramblings. Let’s talk about my first 3-Michelin star experience ever. I got us (and by “us,” I mean myself, my cousin Pauline, and Frank from the show) reservations at Eleven Madison Park. A couple of people who work at Pauline’s Manhattan firm had highly recommended 11 Mad, so we decided to pop all three of our 3-Michelin cherries together in one big hoopla of a meal.
I recently went to Japan and Korea for a much needed vacation away from my laptop and cell phone (though I ended up working throughout the vacation anyway–gotta get that much anticipated cookbook written!). I regret not doing crazier things in Japan worth capturing on video, but I made up for it in Korea. I ate so much food overseas that a friend’s mom rubbed my belly and exclaimed something in Japanese that alluded to my being pregnant. The thing is, I’m not pregnant! She’d just fed me a delicious dinner of shabu shabu, so if anything, I was pregnant with her shabu shabu baby! It didn’t matter that I was drinking beer over dinner…sigh. Time to lose the pot belly. It is no longer cute.
Anyway, here is a video of our time in Seoul, Korea. I try live octopus and do the Gangnam-style dance in the actual Gangnam district. I was quite embarrassed doing it because: (1) it was in public at a subway stop, and (2) I hadn’t had any shots of soju. But I did it for the fans since it got a laugh from so many of you. Enjoy the video, and happy Thanksgiving to all.
I just returned from a much needed vacation to Japan and Korea to find myself in the throes of cookbook writing. Actually, these aforementioned throes were happening even while I was away on vacation. I was waking up early and staying up late to work on recipes, recipes, recipes. And now that I’m back home, I am even more deeply immersed in the recipe creating and writing. I’m telling you all this because it’s my legitimate excuse for not having posted a worthwhile entry in a while.
I am taking a mini-break from writing some head notes, tip boxes, and side bars (I didn’t even know what the hell these were until I embarked on this cookbook journey) to write a quick post so you, dear loyal reader, wouldn’t think I’ve forgotten about you. I have a glass of $3 Trader Joe’s shiraz at arm’s reach as creative lube; this glass of wine is also my dinner tonight so please excuse my nonsense ranting here as obviously, the wine has gone to my head.
Okay, so I lied. I said I’d cover both Momofuku Ssam Bar and Eleven Madison Park in this entry. But the fact is I just discovered I have no photos from my evening at Eleven Mad, so I am awaiting my dinner companions to send theirs over. This means I won’t get to the Eleven Mad dinner till next post. But it’s all good because I have plenty to say about Ssam Bar.
Momofuku Ssam Bar is the closest thing to a gastropub of Chef David Chang’s family of Momofuku restaurants. (Ssam is in reference to the Korean term for “wrap” and indicates dishes in the Korean cuisine that involve wrapping some meat and pickled veggies in a lettuce leaf and dipping in condiments of sesame oil, salt, and pepper or soy sauce before enjoying.) We went on the Sunday night of Labor Day weekend and was told there would be close to a two-hour wait. Fortunately, like Ippudo, the hostess is willing to take down a number and text when the table was ready. That’s when we made our way over to our usual waiting spot at Sake Bar Decibel.
In my last post, I discussed the cheaper eats in New York City. This time, I continue the NYC gastronomical tour by talking about some of the additional places at which I dined, the not-so-cheap but also the not-so-expensive (I’m saving that for part 3 of this NYC series). Basically, these are the in-betweeners, the delicious, the memorable.
Ever since I’d gone to Japan and tasted what real ramen is supposed to taste like, I’ve been on an eternal hunt for a close imitation this side of the Pacific. There is a place in L.A. that I find pretty yummy and close to what I’ve had in Japan. But I’ve never had ramen East Coast style, so of course, I had to pop that cherry.
The first place on my list was Ippudo in the East Village. This ramen joint is notorious for table wait times of two hours plus. But the nice thing is you can put your name and number on the list, amble on over to Sake Bar Decibel, and throw back a few bottles while awaiting the coveted text message from the Ippudo hostess saying your table is ready. And that’s exactly what we did the two times I went. I’m a purist a lot of the time when it comes to food, so I always like to try the classic of anything, especially when it’s my first visit. I found the classic pork ramen at Ippudo to be incredibly savory but not oily; since ramen broth is made by cooking pork bones for several hours, it can sometimes taste too fatty. (For almost all noodle soups, the clearer the broth, the superior the quality and taste.) You can add extra toppings like an onsen (hot springs) egg or extra pork. The pork buns are also worth trying: slightly spicy pork belly nestled inside a steamed bun with extra crisp veggies to cut the fat. I took Frank here one night, and he agreed the ramen was even better than the bowl he’d had at Momofuku Noodle Bar though he’s not nearly of ramen connoisseur status either.
I was recently in New York City for some press and, of course, the finale reception party hosted by Joe Bastianich himself at his Eataly in the Flatiron District (where, I might add, I got to meet his famous mama, Lidia Bastianich). Being the vision impaired traveler that I am, sightseeing is no longerhp as exciting to me. Instead, all my vacations and trips revolve around (what else?) FOOD.
I hadn’t been to NYC since 2006, so I was looking forward to eating at joints I’d never been to before, especially since I’ve cultivated an even more discerning palate in the last few years. Of course, a discerning palate doesn’t mean I only dine on fine foods; in fact, I absolutely love cheap eats, street food, what have you. Some of the best foods cost just a few bucks, and you eat them standing in the street or seated at a tiny bench rubbing elbows with strangers. In the first of this three-part series highlighting my recent NYC gastronomical experience, I pay tribute to the less expensive eats. Who said you have to break your bank to eat well in the City?
It’s that time of the year again. You want to enjoy the chilly weather, the Noel season, the gatherings with loved ones, hot chocolate, eggnog, hot pot, turkeys and hams and pot roasts what have you. But what ends up happening is you’re lying in bed next to Death, shivering and sweaty and feverish and pissed. Why is it that the flu is so common during colder weather? My mama used to always warn me if I didn’t wear my jacket and gloves and thermals, I’d get sick. But I’ve heard that being cold is not the culprit—it’s the cold weather driving everyone closer together in a huddle which thereby spreads germs much more quickly and easily. Does anyone know if that’s true?
Either way, cold weather equates to more people coughing and sneezing and getting the flu. Earlier this year at the tail end of flu season, I wrote an article for Houston Press about which things we can ingest or imbibe to fight the flu. I thought it would be fitting to link to the article now that it’s season again.
Despite my compromised immune system from the Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO) and Rituxan treatments, my neurologist told me to get the flu shot this year, saying the benefits outweigh the risks. (I got mine at CVS for $30. You can get them at most pharmacies or at your doctor’s office. Most health insurance policies will cover the flu shot, too, so what’s there to lose?) Good thing because my husband has been sick twice this season already. I hope you can avoid the flu this year, but in the case that it catches you, read my post entitled ”What to Feed That Flu”, and you should be back on your feet in no time. Say “hi-yah!” Miss Piggy-style to that virus.
With less than two full days left in the Bay area, John and I tried to cram everything food-wise into our schedule. We woke up early Monday morning to a dreary, drizzly day and made our way north to wine country. We meant to drive across the Golden Gate bridge since we were heading to Russian River in Santa Rosa first, killing two birds with one stone so John can finally see the acclaimed bridge he’d so often seen in photos and on TV. But being heavily dependent of the GPS, we ended up crossing the Bay bridge instead. Oh well.
On the way to Russian River, we stopped by Lagunitas which was only a tiny store. The brewery wasn’t open that day for tours so John quickly ran inside to grab a few bottles while I waited in the car where it was nice and dry. We idled up the highway and finally came upon the famous Russian River who makes two of the top beers in the world (according to Beer Advocate). The place was filled with the lunch crowd. We immediately ordered the flight of beers which gave us a 2 oz.-serving of every beer on tap that day from both the California-style hop ales and the Belgian-style ales. It was a perfect marriage as John liked the hoppier beers while I preferred the sweeter Belgian ones. We also ordered two pizzas: one with mushrooms, the other with corn and cilantro. Both were very good and complemented the different beers. When it came time to check out, John bought half a dozen Pliny the Elders and one Damnation (or was it Salvation?). We left satisfied and full.
Our next stop was the Joseph Phelps winery, recommended to us by our friend Stan whom was kind enough to house us for our visit. Admittedly, John and I know very little about wine, so while we paid $80 for a tasting, we liked them all but couldn’t define what it was that we liked about each one. I thought about buying a bottle, but the prices were too steep, and thinking about transporting them and all the other money we’d been spending on food discouraged me from dishing out the dough for a bottle of their pinot noir.
Two months before our trip, we had tried to get reservations at French Laundry. I actually called the restaurant back in May when I knew I’d be coming to the Bay area for my friend’s wedding, but they laughed at me and said reservations are only accepted two calendar months ahead of time. So I put it on my calendar, and on August 9, John and I began calling the restaurant to get our names on the list. We both got busy signals for quite some time, and I gave up after a few minutes. John got through a few hours later and was on hold for twenty minutes. Finally, he spoke to a live person who only told him we had to go on a waiting list. I also got through the next day on August 10, but I was disappointed again: October 10 is also full.
So fast forward. We never heard from French Laundry. I ended up making reservations at Thomas Keller’s other more casual restaurant, Ad Hoc. We showed up right as they opened, and our entire meal from start to finish was delightful. The restaurant had a casual cozy yet modern feel from the decor to the furnishings to the staff uniforms (John told me they looked like simple Dickies work shirts). The menu is set, and the food is served family style. For that Monday, the first course was a mixed greens salad with sunburst tomatoes, prosciutto, and pomegranate seeds. The second main course consisted of Wagyu beef skewers, pork ribs, cole slaw, and smashed purple potatoes. The meat was good, but the things I could not get over were the purple potatoes. They were lightly smashed with a fork and roasted with what tasted like rich buttermilk, making the bite-sized purple things so simply delectable. I could not stop oohing and aahing about the purple potatoes, and ever since then, they have become my latest food obsession. (Stay tuned for a recipe.)
The third course was a cheese and apple mostardo platter, followed by the fourth and last course: cornbread topped with homemade vanilla ice cream and candied cashews. The service, like the ambience, was attentive but not at all stuffy. Best of all, it was a fraction of what we would’ve paid had we gone to French Laundry. Only regret was not coming on the day they had the fried chicken.
We drove back to the city with plans to eat a second dinner. We were pretty tired so decided to order it as take-out. Delfina Pizzeria is famous for their Neapolitan pizzas. We didn’t care that we just had pizza for lunch; we were going to eat it again for dinner. They had run out of the clam pie so we ordered one with a tomato cream sauce and another with prosciutto and arugula. Delfina was nice enough to pack the prosciutto and arugula on the side so they wouldn’t be wilted by the time we opened the box at home.
Never before in my life did I like arugula, but twice today I had it accompanied by prosciutto. There’s something about the fatty saltiness and mildly sweetness of the prosciutto that cuts so well into the bitterness of the arugula. Ever since I returned from our trip, I’ve been dreaming about prosciutto and arugula, combining the duo on top of homemade pizzas and salads.
We also hit up Bi-Rite, a creamery known for interesting flavors. I sampled the honey lavender and balsamic strawberry, both of which were amazing. We ended up walking out with pints of honey lavender and salted caramel. Lucky for us, it was a rainy Monday night so the line was short—only a five minute wait instead of the usual wraparound-outside line. After we pigged out, it was time for bed. Another day of eating ahead of us before catching our flight back home.
The next morning, we stopped by Tartine Bakery to see what the hype was all about. Lucky for us again, there was a short line. Upon the bakery’s recommendation, we purchased a morning bun and the bread pudding. We also threw in a regular croissant and a chocolate pain (“bread” in French, not that we were getting punched by the chocolate). Surprisingly, the two things we picked out on our own turned out to be the best in the bunch. The bread pudding, while good, was not something phenomenal or new to me. And the morning bun, which was like a fancy cinnamon roll, was also too rich for me. Maybe I preferred something simpler.
For lunch, we hit up Koi Palace in Daly City for some West Coast dim sum. We noticed everything, to our astonishment, was larger here than in Texas (at least when it came to dim sum). The xiu mai were larger, the shrimp in the dumplings were huge. Everything was so tasty, but we were seriously splitting our pants by this point. We had some time after lunch before our flight so we parked at a park overlooking the water and took a short nap in the rental car. It’s been several weeks since our trip, but we still talk fondly of the Bay area and all the awesome things we ate. Expensive, yes. But totally worth it.