Sunday, September 18, 2011

Visiting Minnesota

Only a couple of weeks after Pumpkin was here in Atlanta, Cashew and I visited her in Minneapolis. It turned out to be a very nice city, with lots of green space and beautiful views of the Mississippi River. The food scene wasn't that bad either. Because of the big university there, there were many college students-oriented spots. In downtown, there were some nicer places as well. But overall, the food lacked the diversity of Atlanta, possibly because the Minneapolis population is not as willing to try different cuisines as the international inhabitants of Atlanta. Amid full days of sightseeing and fast eating, we enjoyed a couple of sit-down meals that I can write about.

As I've mentioned many many times, I love sushi, so the three of us had dinner at Obentu Ya, a Japanese bistro close to where Pumpkin lives. Cashew and I ordered bento boxes to best experience what the place had to offer. Mine contained a California roll and shrimp, tuna, yellowtail, and salmon sashimi. Cashew's just had many sashimi pieces. They both came with a salad, some pickled root, eggs, and a side that reminded me of mashed potatoes. The sushi and sashimi were good, but the sides weren't anything to talk about.

Pumpkin kept her meal simple and ordered grilled chicken skewers. The glaze was good, but the chicken itself was overcooked and really dry. I guess we got what was expected from a Japanese place in the Midwest run by Americans...

Our last day in Minneapolis was a gorgeous sunny day that we used for a river boat tour and then a walk next to the river. There is a cute area with big old trees that provide shade for several mostly American restaurants. We chose to eat at Aster, incited by both the food and the happy hour deals. Pumpkin went with a pork sandwich she had had before and liked. Cashew and I opted for the flatbread pizzas. Mine came with apples, bacon and blue cheese. Cashew chose the prosciutto, pear and chevre toppings. Both flatbreads were amazing and only $5 each! The good food, the sun, and lively patio, and the rumbling river nearby made this a wonderful end to our Minneapolis experience :)

Abattoir, take 2

Pumpkin came back to Atlanta at the end of the summer, so Cashew and I wanted to take her out somewhere to remind her how good the food in Atlanta was. Our plans conflicted with the family plans for having dinner at home, so Pumpkin, Cashew and I met up just for dessert. Remembering our recent experience with the dessert platter at Abattoir, we decided to go there again.

After looking at the menu, we realized that the desserts were different than the ones we had last time. That actually made me even more anxious to try them and to expect that they were great - seasonal foods tend to be better. The platter this time included cherry cheesecake with almond biscotti, maple creme caramel with brown sugar bacon cookies, churros with plum reduction and creme fraiche, and chocolate chess pie with pecan brittle. The chocolate pie was actually present on the platter last time as well, and was the item we all raved about. I don't know if this time was an off night for the chef, but the pie didn't taste as special as before. I had a more pedestrian texture, not the novel one I loved the first time.

Unfortunately, the rest of the desserts were also somewhat disappointing. The churros were too hard to cut with a fork, as if they were overcooked or too old. The creme caramel was smooth, but not special in any way. On the bright side, the brown sugar and bacon cookies, the biscotti and the pecan brittle were actually good, but these items were supposed to be accompaniments to the desserts, not the stars. Well, the cherry cheesecake tasted great, even though it wasn't what I expected of a cheesecake. It was runnier because it came in a glass cut rather than a slice, but the taste made up for the unexpected texture.

To be fair, everything we tried at Abattoir was good. I did like the desserts on the platter. I think I was overall disappointed by them because of my high expectations. After what Cashew and I had tried last time, we expected to once again get something out of this world and unforgettable. Instead, we just got well-executed desserts. I sounds like a whiny, haha. And to prove that the quality didn't suffer, Pumpkin said that she liked all of the options.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Neighborhood Eatery

The Brookhaven Village area of Atlanta (on Dresden Dr. close to the Brookhaven MARTA station) is slowly developing its character and is becoming another destination to go out and meet up with friends in town. While it has a long way to go until it becomes as established as favorite neighborhoods like Virginia Highlands, Inman Park, East Atlanta, etc., the presence of cute boutique shops, and the addition of more restaurants is a good beginning. The newest place to open was Kaleidoscope, which is an interesting mixture between a restaurant serving American food and a bar. The food is definitely better than the usual bar fare, but not fancy enough for a typical restaurant.

I went to Kaleidoscope with Pumpkin and my parents on a nice summer night, so we were able to sit on the big patio on the side. Pumpkin and I wanted to get drinks, but it was hard to choose anything from their limited drinks menu. Their beer selection was particularly small and surprisingly expensive. I ended up choosing a $10 Belgian beer that didn't seem any more special than a Stella Artois. The appetizer menu offered better selection, though. We finally chose the hot wings with blue cheese. The wings were tasty, well cooked and moist, and with the right amount of heat. The cheese was starting to melt on top of the wings, and gave them a layer of additional flavor.

We also liked the options for entrees that Kaleidoscope offered. I had heard that the burger was really good, but none of us got it. Instead, both of my parents got salmon with tomato and cucumber salad. The salmon portion was huge! It was twice the size of the usual salmon filets that restaurants serve. It also paired great with the fresh salad that it came with, which reminded me of Greek salad, but executed well.

Pumpkin's choice was flank steak with fries and chimichurri. The only reason she got the dish was because she didn't realize how much garlic the chimichurri had, and that the fries would have garlic too. She doesn't like garlic, so she didn't like the dish. I, on the other hand, thought it was great. The steak was a little overcooked, but it had kept some of its moisture. I wish it came with a little runnier sauce to make eating it a little better. The fries were nice and crispy, though.

Finally, I got the seared tuna with Asian slaw. The tuna was good, but what I really liked was the slaw. I was impressed with the peanut sauce because it tasted just like peanut sauce in Asian restaurants. The sauce drizzled around the plate was a great addition to the plain steamed rice. Out of all the dishes we had that night, my dish was the only one that had a good mixture of starch, greens and protein that all worked together great :)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Dim Sum in San Francisco

San Francisco has a big Asian population and a correspondingly large number of Asian restaurants. Walking through Chinatown is like being in China itself. All you see in Chinese writings and all you hear is Chinese language. There must be many, many amazing places to eat authentic food. Unfortunately, I didn't know many of them :( This was also the case with the famed San Francisco dim sum. I finally resorted to listening what chefs on the Food Network liked, which led me to a place called Yang Sink.

Yang Sink is actually located on Mission St. close to the Embarcadero, and not in Chinatown. That should have been a warning sign to me. It looks more like an upscale restaurant than a good dim sum place. Yes, there are carts that go around, but they also offer menus that you can order from. The prices were exorbitant for dim sum, but I decided to try a few different things anyway. One of the items I was excited about were the Shanghai dumplings. They are stuffed with minced pork and broth, so you must eat them with a special technique. Thankfully, I knew how to eat them form an episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. The dumplings were good and obviously very moist, but nothing to rave about. I like the vinegar-based dipping sauce, though.

The other item I was excited about was the Peking duck. I'm still not sure how exactly it's prepared, but it involves a lot of roasting. Unfortunately, it's also very expensive, and I could afford only a tiny piece. I tasted the meat itself, but it honestly didn't taste like anything... It was a little better with the steamed bun and the scallions, though.

Then, I had the Mandarin dumplings with pork. They were very similar to other pork dumplings I've had, which I love. The Mandarin dumplings were probably my favorite part of the meal.

Finally, I wanted to try the stuffed lotus leave because it sounded so interesting. Well, the real thing didn't come anything close to my expectations. I guess I can blame my ignorance for this, but the lotus leaf is actually really tough and inedible. The sticky rice inside was just that - rice with no flavor. The only way I could eat it was with lots of soy sauce.

The meal was overall very disappointing. It is true that I didn't get any of the item I usually love (steamed pork buns, pork and scallion dumplings), but I did get dishes that the restaurant is known for. All but the stuffed lotus leaf were "signature items." If that's what special items at Yang Sink taste like, I have no desire to try anything else.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Burma Superstar

The title of this post says it all: the food was Burmese, and it was super! It also happens to be a very popular restaurant in San Francisco. How popular? Popular enough to lead to a TWO-hour wait for a table for two people. On the bright side, the restaurant has complementary tea for those cold San Francisco night. If you want something even warmer, there's a coffeeshop called Blue Danube right across from the restaurant. The coffeeshop is quaint and cute, and provides a nice waiting spot.

If you survive the wait and eventually make it inside, everything will be worth it. The menu offers one enticing dish after the other. There were probably 10 different things I wanted to try. I eventually decided on the Rainbow Salad and the Traditional Burmese Noodles that the restaurant is famous for. The salad contained 22 different ingredients, including 4 types of noodles, green papaya, onions, peanuts, and many others. Despite the presence of the noodles, the Rainbow Salad reminded me of the Green Papaya Salad often seen in Vietnamese restaurants; they both had similar texture and lightness. I think the dressing is the same for both salads. I'm a huge fan of the Green Papaya Salad, so I loved the Rainbow Salad as well. One distinctive feature of the Rainbow Salad is that it's served with all ingredients separated, and they're mixed at the table. I'm sure this contributes to the freshness of the salad because the ingredients don't have any time to soak up and get heavy with oil.

My favorite part of the dinner, though, were the Burmese noodles. They were served cold, almost pasta salad-style. Consistent with the temperature difference, the noodles tasted like no other Asian noodles I have ever tried. They were light and refreshing instead of heavy and oily like things similar to Pad Thai, etc. Instead of smothered in oil, the noodles came with a salad dressing-like sauce with citrus flavors in it. If I didn't know it was served as a main dish, I would have called it a salad. Whatever it is, it is both the best noodle and best salad I have ever had. And yes, I like it more than the Green Papaya salad! Plus, it's filling enough for a main course :)

Princess Jasmine, who came with me to Burma Superstar, ordered vegetarian samusas and two types of noodle dishes. They were good, but nothing too extraordinary. I definitely made the better choices that night :)