June 18, 2008

I'm healthy... no wait, I'm not

Somehow, EG convinced me to train for the Kirkland Sprint Triathalon in September, so I'm just starting to take some steps toward getting back in shape... doing a little swimming, running, and even some cycling. That's right; over the weekend, Lav and I got bicycles -- something I thought would never happen -- so we did a little apres work bike ride to whet our appetites for dinner. Pretty healthy huh?

Until we got back. Somehow, we decided that the theme for our quick meal should be, of all things, bar food. Yeah, great for endurance training.

So I eyeballed some Campari, vermouth and gin and made a surprisingly balanced Negroni... the first I've ever made for myself that I've liked. Of course, I have no idea what proportions I used to strike that elusive balance (I'm not a fan of the classic 1:1:1 ratio). That went nicely with some fried coconut-crusted prawns (with a sweet chili sauce) and homemade potato chips with truffled salt.

Luckily, we rounded out the meal with one of Lav's awesome salads. Huge chunks of creamy, ripe avocado, sweet and crunchy sugar snap peas, lots of tomatoes... really good stuff.

If I keep this up, the triathalon is going to wreck me.

June 17, 2008

death to kabocha

I really dig this picture... it's Lav slicing up some kabocha squash for a hot pot dinner we had with my mom and sister a couple of weekends ago. There's something about the way the light is blowing out the exposure with the glare off the cutting board contrasting against the dark green of the kabocha squash skin... and the sinister looking position of the steel knife, waiting to make the next incision... it's just a natural moment that seems oddly tense and surreal to me.

We don't have any nifty photo editing software... just the "Paint" application that comes with Windows. So it's nice when the photo comes out without manipulation.

June 7, 2008

The Corson Building's big day

The day has finally arrived. The Corson Building had its first dinner service tonight to a private gathering, with none other than Anthony Bourdain as one of the guests. We stopped by to try and get a peek of the action, but no luck. The official opening should be within a week.

In the meantime, we had another spectacular meal at a restaurant I treasure too much to take a camera inside. But here's what we ate:

spot prawns with sea beans, dates and farro

wagyu tongue, fiddleheads, provolone

tagliatelle with natural morels, english peas, turada

grilled yellowfin tuna, fennel, olives, lemon

spicy broccoli with marcona almonds

harukei turnips with pancetta and sara

guinea fowl roasted with porcini, pine nuts and parsley

duck egg with duck ham and mustard greens

orange crepes with sauteed dates

It is impossible to have anything but a fantastic meal here. And the superb staff make it just that much more enjoyable.

June 4, 2008

Battle Pupusa... the truck wins!

The first time I ate a pupusa was when our landscaper/friend Oscar came over for a party at my family's house back in Alameda in 1999. We were throwing a barbeque and Oscar brought a huge batch of his girlfriend's fantastic homemade pupusas, showing us and our guests how to prepare it with just the right amount of tart cabbage slaw and salsa. Gutsy and satisfying, the flavors were familiar but the context was new. It was my first taste of Salvadoran food and I was hooked...

Fast forward to 2007 and I've moved to Seattle, where tiny pockets of culinary possibility are everywhere... many in the form of roving taco trucks. But in this case, I'm talking about a taco truck that serves crazy good pupusas, parked on the front lawn of the owner's house, no less! Ever since I read this bit out of the Seattle Weekly by J. Kaufmann (a true taco truck bandit whose reviews I used to follow back in his days at the East Bay Express) I've been wanting to try Maria's.

But first, a momentary detour to the Salvadoran Bakery in White Center, which consistently gets impressive marks on Yelp for its pupusas, tamales and baked goods. People go absolutely crazy over their tres leches cake: layers of sponge cake soaked in three types of milk (one of which is sweetened condensed milk).

The pupusas were pretty good... fried to order and pretty sizeable -- like 4 inches in diameter. But they were missing something... they weren't quite crispy enough on the exterior and the filling didn't really strike a chord. As for the tres leches cake... it just wasn't my thing. Super sugary and super soggy. In fact, all of our treats at the Salvadoran Bakery were missing one thing: texture.

In contrast, texture is the best part of the pupusas at Maria's. Sure, the filling of tender seasoned pork, deliciously unctuous beans and melting cheese is pretty fantastic; the slaw has a great fresh crunch with just enough piquancy; and the salsa comes in whatever gradient of spiciness you want.

But the thing that makes Maria's pupusas so crushingly delicious is their magical texture. The fried exterior is crispy and slightly chewy at the same time; the interior is pillowy soft, marrying perfectly with the filling. An inspiring union of flavor and texture... for $2 each, made to order, piping hot, and served with an engaging combination of warmth and pride. Total euphoria. I don't claim to be an expert in Salvadoran food, but it's hard to imagine a pupusa being any more delicious.

Winner: Maria's, by a long shot. How awesome that it's only a couple of miles away.

Tacos Patzcuaro (Maria's)
8303 Martin Luther King Jr. Way S.
Seattle, WA

Tacos Patzcuaro (Maria's) on Urbanspoon

June 2, 2008

soup dumpling magic

Sometimes, I really should know better.

A month ago, some friends and I went on the prowl for soup dumplings near the office, having caught word that a Shanghainese restaurant near I-90 had a terrific rendition of xiao long bao. For some reason, I ignored that voice in my head telling me that great soup dumplings (along with great dim sum) simply don't exist in the Seattle area. I really should have listened to that inner voice. I won't mention the venue we visited (I don't like posting negative reviews)... suffice it to say that instead of delicate dumplings filled with explosive broth, we had mass-produced, frozen, gummy/chewy nuggests of disappointment which ultimately sent two in our group home ill for the day.

Yes, such exploits are best reserved for Vancouver... or more specifically, Richmond, our own little culinary mecca of Chinese food to the north. For that purpose (and really that purpose only), we hopped in the car and happily drove 150 miles, pulling into a nondescript strip mall for what we'd heard were some of the best soup dumplings in all of the greater Vancouver area. Destination: Chen's Shanghai.

Within 30 seconds of being seated, I knew we were in for a treat. Through a window into the left side of the kitchen, we watched as a woman deftly formed and rolled out handmade dumpling wrappers, one after another, with nothing more than the dough, a weathered wooden dowel, a rolling pin and an experienced touch.

This hand crafted care translates directly into the resulting xiao long bao. Unlike lesser versions, the dumpling skin is both resilient enough to hold the broth without disintegrating (no cabbage lining the bottom of the steamer here) while simultaneously being delicate enough to practically melt away in your mouth upon your first bite. The broth is clean and pure, bursting (literally) with glorious seasoned pork flavor... but not at all heavy. Amazing. Our eyes are bugging out as we have half a dozen each.

These may very well be the best I've ever had... certainly the most extraordinary dumpling wrapper I've ever consumed for xiao long bao. All served in the most ordinary of restaurant settings, with a customer base full of regulars who know the owner and a staff that still warmly welcomes first timers. They know how good their dumplings are, and their happy to watch people experience it for themselves.

They say that Shanghai Wonderful, around the corner, has xiao long bao that can go head to head with the ones here. We'll head there next time and find out if that's possible.

Have I mentioned how much I love Vancouver and Richmond?

Chen’s Shanghai
8095 Park Road
Chen's Shanghai Kitchen on Urbanspoon