Sunday, March 24, 2013

Chirashi Cravings

Despite living right next to a sushi restaurant, I can go for months without having sushi. Then, all of a sudden, I go on a sushi binge. This time, I didn't simply crave sushi, but chirashi. Do not confuse it with sriracha! Sriracha is the Asian hot sauce, and chirashi is a fish-and-sushi rice dish. The reason I love chirashi is that you get plain fresh fish without any sauces to hide its taste. If the fish is not the best quality, you'll notice it right away. And I prefer chirashi to sashimi or nigiri because you do get some fix-ins in terms of vegetables. Plus, there's plenty of rice to fill you up if you're really hungry.

In the last couple of weeks I had chirashi from two different places: Zuma at Toco Hill and Sushi Itto. I've been to Zuma multiple times, trying many of the rolls and the bento box, but this was the first time ordering chirashi. It came in a HUGE bowl with the sushi rice completely covered by lettuce and then the sashimi on top. The fish selection consisted mostly of tuna and salmon, with a few pieces of white fish mixed in. While the fish was fresh, eating it was a little challenging because of all the lettuce.

In contrast, the chirachi at Sushi Itto is exactly what I want from chirashi: mostly sashimi and rice, with a few vegetables for crunch. And look at how pretty it looked!! I almost didn't want to eat it. Almost ;) The fish (tuna, salmon, what I guess was tuna belly and white tuna) was sooooo good and fresh. It all just melted in your mouth. I don't love salmon, but I couldn't get enough of the salmon in the bowl. And despite it being sliced so thin, there was a substantial amount of fish in there. My only tiny complaint about this dish was that it was hard to squeeze the small lime slices. But who cares about limes when there's delicious fish to enjoy?!?!

So how exactly do you eat chirashi? I'm sure everyone has their opinion about what is THE right way. I say, stop worrying too much about being proper and just enjoy the dish. Unless, of course, you're trying to impress some native Japanese people for some reason ;) In which case, don't order the chirashi ;) Anyway, I like to mix all the ingredients, bipimbop-style. I also add some soy sauce to the rice. I don't spread the wasabi around the bowl because I can take wasabi only in tiny fractions. Instead, I add just a little bit of wasabi to a side bowl with soy sauce and use it for dipping any bites that might need a little more soy sauce. Another common way to eat chirashi is to alternate fish and rice bites, dipping each in a side bowl of soy sauce. Someone likened this way to eating Thanksgiving dinner: you don't shove turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes in your mouth all at once; instead you take a bite of each in turns. I guess I like the mixture of textures I get from mixing fish, veggies and rice, so I'll keep using my method :)

Friday, March 8, 2013

Sunday Supper, part 2

My first experience with Sunday Supper at JCT Kitchen came about a year ago. After saying a thousand times that I want to go again, we finally made it back there, using Bulgaria's Independence day as an excuse. Even though she's not Bulgaria, Snooki also tagged along.

As before, the table shared biscuits with apple butter and brown butter, a large salad and deviled eggs. And after what seemed like an eternity, we finally got our entrees. JCT Kitchen, you need to get your act together because it's not OK to make people 30 min after the salad to get their meals. I suspect our dished were just waiting on a counter somewhere because they were cold by the time we got them. Everything was still delicious, but I know it would have been a lot better if warm. Oh yeah, here's what we ordered: I had the pan-seared steak with mushrooms, Snooki had the pork tenderloin, my dad got the grouper with beets, and my mom ordered the fried chicken with cornbread. It's funny how it works out this way so many times, but I liked Snooki's dish (the pork) a lot more than my dish (steak). The pork was very tender and moist compared to my dry cold steak...  At least the mushrooms were great...

I think my favorite part of the Sunday Supper are the sides, especially the mashed sweet potatoes that we had last time. I've been dreaming about them! Well, day-dreaming ;) But they didn't have them on the menu this time! I'm outraged! Now I'll have to figure out how to make them myself. In the meantime, we had to choose something different and settled on mac and cheese, Brussels sprouts, and mushrooms with Parmesan. However, our not-so-good waiter brought us mashed potatoes instead of mushrooms. Thankfully, he let us keep to potatoes and brought us mushrooms in addition to that. So in the end, we got a free side out of it :) Plus, the mushrooms turned out to be different from what we expected. We thought that they'd be sauteed mushrooms with cheese on top; instead, it was a mushroom risotto with cheese. It wasn't bad, but not the deliciousness I was waiting for. As to the other sides, the mashed potatoes were good, albeit too greasy; the Brussels sprouts were cooked perfectly, not bitter at all, and the mac and cheese was spectacular - very, very cheesy and with huge chunks of pancetta. By the way, if my parents like the Brussels sprouts, they must have been good. My dad especially is not too eager to try new foods.

And at the end of the meal came the dessert - caramelized pear pie. We were all complaining (in a good way!) how stuffed we were after the side overload. I was even telling myself that I'll have only a couple of bites of the pie. But boy oh boy! This pie is one of the BESTTTTT things I've ever had. The pears were soft and gooey, they were fragrant with warm spices (cinnamon, etc.), there was a little bit of custard, and the pie was sooo flaky and soft to the fork. It probably took me all but a minute to devour a pretty huge slice! At some point I did remember to stop for long enough to take a picture... It doesn't look that impressive, but you all should be jealous that you didn't try it. Well, that pie made us all forget about some of the mishaps earlier during the dinner :) And yes, it's up there on my list of amazing foods, right next to the French Toast at La Boulange :)

Mardi Gras

A friend of mine recently moved to Baton Rouge, LA, to work at LSU, so my roommate Snooki and I went to visit her at her new house. And it just happened that Mardi Gras was going on at the same time. You know, no coincidence at all ;) But in between the parades, Bourbon St and driving around to find a parking spot, we got to enjoy some awesome Louisiana foods.

It was Snooki's first time in New Orleans, so she had a long list of things to try. Thankfully, every touristy place in the French Quarter has a New Orleans sampler platter. This one came with gumbo, crawfish etouffee, and jambalaya. One time that was missing was the rice and red beans, so read the menu carefully to make sure you go to a place that has all four! Anyway, Snooki loved the gumbo, but didn't enjoy the etouffee too much. She is freaked out by the crawfish even when they're cleaned up ;) But she likes shrimp... Go figure... That first night I had a proper fried oyster po-boy because getting a po-boy from a BBQ place doesn't really count. This one was really really good. The oysters were crispy on the outside, but not overfried. And the fries were surprisingly good. However, nothing was better than my bloody mary which had the perfect amount of kick to it :) Sorry, though, I don't have pictures from the dinner.

We finished off the night in Baton Rouge at a local beignet spot. By the time we got there it was already 2 am, but why not have some sugar, right? They are known for the "Finger" beignets. Sounds creepy, but all it means is that they were fried in long, thin streaks. The larger surface area-to-volume ratio makes them very crispy. We also got their traditional beignets which are bigger and not as crispy as the ones at Cafe du Monde. On the bright side, they were completely free because the store owner was an incredibly nice Southerner who was impressed that it was Snooki's first time in NO. Oh, and he made us try the hot chocolate! After many refusals (after all, it's not wise to have sugar AND caffeine at 2 am), we did each have a sip. And I was glad we did because it was great! And we didn't have to worry about not being able to sleep after all; we passed out as soon as we got to my friend's house.

The next day was extremely hectic and we didn't have a real meal until 9 pm. We did each have a snack during a parade we saw, but our major source of calories that day was beer ;) Not surprisingly, we were starving by dinner time at stopped to eat at the first restaurant we saw after getting to the French Quarter: Corner Oyster House. I skipped the oysters and went out on a limb and decided to try something different - alligator picante. Well ,i can tell you that everything does taste like chicken... The meat wasn't too flavorful and it was quite dry. The spicy sauce was much better, though. And I was so hungry that I ate the whole thing despite the inferior quality ;P

On our last day there, we woke up semi-early and had brunch at The Chimes, a place right next to the LSU campus. I was really happy when we got a table after only about a 20 min wait. Some of our friends decided to get the fried bowties and artichoke dip for appetizer. Yes, bowties as in the pasta. I admit I wouldn't order something like that because I can't image what fried past would taste like... But I'm glad they did because it was really good! That pasta was very crispy, but not completely stiff. The dip was just a regular dip, but overall the appetizer surpassed my expectations. For my entree, I had the crabcakes. That was a great choice because they were amazing!!! They had a good amount of crabmeat, were moist, and a little spicy. The potato hash lived up to the high standards set by the crabcakes, too - crispy and with a little kick. I even liked the grits even though I'm not a huge grits fan. Unlike most grits out there, these tasted like corn :) Again, I ate the whole thing. I guess the best way I can summarize this trip to New Orleans is "overeating on delicious food." Mardi Gras, what?