Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Chipotle Halloween!

Before you go trick-or-treating or crash into halloween parties, fuel yourself at Chipotle for free. No, it's not a trick but a treat! All Chipotle asks is that you blend in with them.

What's my favorite burrito? A chicken fajita burrito with lemony parsley white rice, onion/bellpeppers, pinto beans, grilled chicken, medium green salsa verde, pico de gallo, sour cream, corn and lettuce! It is so comforting to hold the warm burrito in your hands, bite into the soft tortilla and medley of rice, beans, chicken and veggies inside! Squeeze some lemon for that extra citrusy kick, and you end with a perfect 3-s burrito.

Have a safe Halloween tomorrow everyone! As for me, I'll be flying for my China trip tomorrow morning. I wonder if they'll decorate the plane to be a haunted plane, the dishes served will be spookified and the flight attendants to be dressed in costumes? I'll find out, and I'll be sure to record my China trip adventure when I return.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Slurping 小籠包

Unlike other dumplings, this is a dumpling look alike. 小籠包 ("siu lung bao" in Cantonese) are made from thin, partially leavened dough for the skin. You can tell that it is a bun because the dough is pinched at the top crown, whereas dumplings are pinched on the side. You can put a variety of meat, seafood, and/or vegetable fillings inside the 小籠包, but pork filling is traditionally used.

小籠包 are referred as soup dumplings in English, because aspic is also included in the filling. Aspic is a gelatin made from stock or naturally found in the meat. When the 小籠包 are steamed atop napa cabbage in the bamboo basket, the aspic melts into soup! This is where the dough is important, because a good dough will not break apart, keeping the juicy goodness retained inside the buns.

Freshly steamed 小籠包 at home <3/ See the pool of soup on the bottom? It means one of the buns popped :(
Because 小籠包 is so popular, it is mass produced and available in Asian supermarkets. Sometimes for a quick fix lunch or dinner, my dad would steam several batches of 小籠包 to treat us! :)

My favorite 小籠包 I've eaten at restaurants is pork w/ minced crab meat. At Koi Palace, they serve a whole dungeness crab with the 小籠包 (see 2nd page on the menu). You delicately dip the buns in the Chinkiang vinegar or red rice vinegar with ginger slivers, and slurp the entire thing in your mouth! It's so satisfying to taste the sweet and savory flavors from the soup and meat filling burst into your mouth! :) Personally, I prefer eating this rather than a dumpling soup; it's a dumpling soup in every bite!

Have you tried 小籠包; what do you think of this unique bun? What are your most favorite dumplings?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Day Trip to Napa

Going to school in Davis, I always wanted to visit Napa for their high quality restaurant food and wine tasting. I was delightfully surprised to arrive at Bistro Don Giovanni, just moments off of their Howard Lane exit on Hwy 29. Their lush, green garden, inviting outdoor terrace and vineyards made me feel very relaxed and "away from it all," and their decor and alfresco dining truly embodied the Napa wine country feel.

Restaurant front entrance. The greenery just pulls you right in :)
Arriving at the restaurant early for lunch (literally the first customers for the day), we were served promptly with our beverages and freshly baked focaccia bread. The fresca strawberry lemonade was a great balance of sweet and tart, but I especially enjoyed their sport iced tea. The tea was a refreshing medley of sweet and herbal notes, and it tasted very crisp. It definitely prepared our palates for the delicious foods to come.

From left to right: Fresca strawberry lemonade, fresh focaccia, sport iced tea
I have never tasted as fresh of a foccacia bread until this day. The bread was very warm with a spongey texture and seasoned savory spices; I never knew that foccacia would ever taste this great. We dipped the bread in olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette while admiring their garden and fountain from our table. We ordered at least two extra plates during the meal, because it was that great! I felt like I could just snack on focaccia and drink the iced tea all day, so next time, I should just ask for three orders of focaccia and iced tea to go, to take on a picnic. ;)

The waiter offered to de-bone my fish; that's great service! :)
I ordered out of their seasonal menu specials, which was a Montery Bay sanddab in a lemon-caper sauce, and sauteed broccolini on the side.The fish flaked very easily and easily absorbed the citrus flavors, so its moist texture melted in my mouth at every bite. The crisp and savory broccolini were delicious to nibble on, so this dish was an overall good dish. I am surprised to not see this item on the current online menu for the restaurant, but we'll try something else next time. :) I heard through Yelp that they serve really great olives, so I'm looking forward to trying that!

Front entrance on the far left revealed a quaint wine shop
After leaving the restaurant, we commenced to do our wine tastings at Hagafen Cellars, where they offered free tastings for two through their website. As a white wine fan, I purchased the 2008 Napa Valley White Riesling. I loved the wine for its light-bodied texture and sweet fruity tastes from litchi, cherries and peaches. It would be great to serve this sweet wine to offset the flavors of pungent and spicy foods in a homemade meal, or to serve with chocolate, cheese and crackers and/or complementary fresh fruit.

After wine tasting, we strolled around Napa Premium Outlets to window shop. Having been to the outlets at Gilroy and Vacaville, the Napa outlet lot is much smaller in comparison. It was fun to window shop around the U shaped outlets, especially stores like Coach, The Cosmetics Company Store (love love discounted, clearance makeup/skincare items), CK, and Banana Republic, just to name a few.

Have you driven to Napa recently? What are your recommended restaurants and wine tasting cellars? :)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

RR: Sushi House (Alameda, CA)

If you asked me to eat sushi 10 years ago, I would have flat out said no. "Raw fish? I like my fish fully cooked" would be things I have said. My mom took me to a sushi boat in San Francisco anyway, introducing me to unagi nigiri and reassuring me that not all sushi have raw fish. With slight hesitation, I bit into the freshwater eel and was pleasantly surprised by its tenderness and sweet and savory taste. I must have eaten at least 4 more plates.

Fast forward 5 years later, and Sushi House comes into the picture. Right next to Alameda Beach on Shoreline Drive, this restaurant used to be nestled in a shopping center before it moved to its stand-alone restaurant. With good quality food (note that I didn't say high, but good) at relatively low prices, this restaurant is pretty popular amongst locals. If you don't believe me, you can try waiting for a dinner table during the weekend. Let me know how long it takes to be seated (if you get seated before an hour, you're lucky!). To avoid the crowd, try dining during lunchtime, when service is more friendlier and the atmosphere is more peaceful than during dinnertime. The lunch menu has lunch specials, for those who want to save some mula in their wallet.

I haven't had Sushi House for several months, so I was psyched to eat there again! Here are the highlights from the lunch:
Four fresh oysters in their half shells, served with lemon slices and a tangy "vinegar cocktail" (tastes like a mix between vinegar and cocktail sauce). My first raw oyster was eaten at this restaurant, as their oysters are fresh and clean and served with a tangy sauce! Don't you hate it when you eat fresh seafood, but you suddenly feel yourself crunch (I'm not talking about shells)? It has never happened with these oysters, so they do a great job in cleaning them up!

Fresh salmon sashimi
appetizer atop shredded daikon with wasabi, ginger and small heart-shaped leaves (forgot what they're called!). Their salmon is very fresh and tender, and pairs well with the wasabi. My mom believes that wasabi fights off any leftover bacteria on the sashimi, so she insists that I use a big dollop of it. I do, but the strong sensation I feel in my nose is overwhelming at times. Got a stuffy nose to heal?

The front sushi roll is called
Hella Hot: fresh salmon, white tuna wasabi mayo, spicy sauce, cucumber, avocado and chopped jalapeño peppers rolled in soybean wrapper, topped with spicy tuna, unagi sauce, mango sauce, tobiko and green onions. The back sushi roll is called Island Roll: prawn tempura, crab, salmon, tobiko, cucumber, avocado topped with house sauce. As you read, you can tell that my love for salmon doesn't end with sashimi. I prefer the Island Roll for its sweet and savory taste, as I felt the Hella Hot roll was just plain spicy. A medley of flavors suit my palate better.

Deep fried appetizer: Soft Shell Crab served with a spicy, sweet & tangy vinegar. Doesn't the crab look pretty to eat? It's lightly breaded outside and juicy inside, and pairs well with the sweet vinegar that's spiced with Japanese spice mixture. It's called shichimi tōgarashi ("seven flavor chili pepper") due to 7 ingredients, which includes mandarin orange peel, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, hemp seeds, nori (seaweed) and ground sansho pepper. Crunch away to soft shell crab heaven!

Two more highlighted dishes that I enjoy are bay scallop roll and green tea icecream desserts. Sushi House serves two special rolls that are baked, including bay scallop roll and lion king roll. Lion king roll has baked salmon over CA roll, whereas bay scallop roll features baked bay scallops over crab meat and avocado, topped with tobiko (mini orange beads). The bay scallop roll just melts in your mouth with every bite of its sweet and savory taste! Not every sushi restaurant has bay scallop roll, so it is a must try for this restaurant.

If you still have room for dessert, there are two green tea icecream desserts that I recommend. The first is Green Tea Ice Cream Tempura, which is a fried green tea icecream ball (with tempura batter) atop raspberry sauce. Back then, the size used to be the size of your hands meshed together. Now, the size is roughly the size of your fist. I used to have to share it with someone, but now I feel like I can eat the whole thing by myself, almost. Anyway, it's a great dessert to share with a friend or relative, and I love to enjoy it for my birthday. The second option is Mochi Green Tea Icecream, served in a set of 2. The mochi will satisfy your tastebuds with its powdered, soft and gooey outer layer enclosing cold green tea icecream. Of course, there are other icecream flavors for these options, but I'm sticking to green tea because it's my favorite icecream flavor.

Overall, the restaurant strives to deliver a variety of sushi rolls, appetizers and other dishes. I challenge you to check out the restaurant yourself to sample good quality sushi at below average prices. To learn more about Sushi House, visit

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival

On every August 15th of the Lunar calendar, it's the Mid-autumn Festival (中秋節, "zhong chau zeet" in Cantonese) celebrated by Chinese (of course, there are variations celebrated by Japanese, Koreans and Vietnamese). It usually takes place during the end of September or early October, and this year, it's on October 3rd. It's also called the Moon Festival, because the moon is at its brightest, fullest and roundest. Guess what the traditional food is?

No doubt, it's the mooncake! Considered a delicacy, the traditional round or square-shaped Chinese lotus seed paste filled pastry is found in Asian markets and bakeries. Plus, some of these chewy mooncakes contain 1-2 salted egg yolks to symbolize the full moon. Another traditional food is pomelo, a light green to yellow citrus fruit that tastes like a mild grapefruit.

My favorite mooncake brand is the popular Hong Kong Wing Wah Mooncake (香港榮華月饼). Their mooncakes have a chewy thin crust and white lotus seed paste (the blue box for no yolk, the golden box for 1 yolk, and the pink box for 2 yolks). Typically, a box of 4 mooncakes costs around $20-40. The mooncake box comes with a plastic knife for you to cut the mooncakes into eighths, so be sure to not take these pastries lightly. According to the golden box, 1/8 of a mooncake is already 100 cals with 5g of fat. Multiply those numbers by 8... I don't need to go further. My boyfriend says that eating 1/4 of a mooncake is like eating 4 bowls of rice. To that I say, we only celebrate this holiday once per year, so indulge lightly and drink some tea!

Nonetheless, it's the yearly mooncake exchanging, house visiting, Chinese storytelling, traditional Chinese meal holiday! For my family, we visit our grandparents to pay our respects to the elders. Sometimes my maternal grandmother invites us over to her apartment for a traditional Chinese meal! This year though, we opted to dine in a Chinese restaurant in Oakland called Chopstick Chinese Restaurant (328 14th Street).

Now some of you may look up this restaurant on Yelp, but hold your horses. I already checked; it's a measly 8 reviews with an overall thumbs down. I beg to differ. The service is good and timely even with just 2 waiters, and the taste of the food overall is pretty decent. The reviewers just haven't chosen their specialty dishes, which I give kudos to their curry crab and lion's head meatballs. However, I do admit that their portion sizes are small for large parties (we were a party of 7 adults and 4 kids), so you might want to eat with a party of 4. We compensated by ordering many dishes, as they had a special of buying 3+ dishes for $5 each!

Lion's head meatball is one of my top 2 favorites. I heard of this traditional Chinese dish but haven't gotten to taste it until dining in this restaurant! The oversized pork meatballs represent the lion's head, and the bok choy represent the mane. Served in a set of four, they're also called "Four Happy Balls" (四喜丸子, "sei hei yuen zi" in Cantonese). This is the red variety, braised in soy sauce! The minced meat is made with fatty pork, mixed with chopped water chesnuts for the crunch. Once you bite into it, it just falls apart in your mouth in sweet and savory goodness! Not your average meatball you find in pastas and pizzas. It's a definite must try for this restaurant!
Not a fan of green leafy veggies? This dish might change your mind. It's snow pea shoots of the big leaf variety, called "dai dau miu" in Cantonese. According to, it's a cross between spinach and peas. I highly promote eating spinach for being a superfood, but if you dislike the taste of spinach, snow pea shoots can ease your way into eating your greens. In Chinese restaurants, dau miu is usually stir fried with whole garlic cloves, so they have a tender pea taste.

If you celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival at a Chinese restaurant tonight, make reservations. Arrive early. Luckily for us, we just decided to celebrate about a week in advance. Happy mooncake eating, and remember to check out the full moon!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Women of Taste

On Sept. 26th, I volunteered at the Girls Inc. 18th annual Women of Taste Event held at the Oakland Museum ( Being claimed as one of the largest food & wine events in the East Bay, I couldn't resist. And I brought a friend along with me, because my stomach can only hold so much...

At our arrival, we were assigned to volunteer in the silent auction. The silent auction consisted of many things from gift baskets to nutrition consultations (Did you know that they're worth $250? Amazing! I should be doing 'em for some extra cash...) to game tickets to vacation getaways. We ended up helping out in labeling compost and recycle bins on-site, as this was a waste-free event! But of course, we nibbled on some amazing foods, from sweet crab chowder in a mini bread bowl to tiramisu.

Chocolate covered raspberries in a chocolate platter. These were as yum as chocolate covered strawberries. Kudos for dipping raspberries in chocolate though, as they are very delicate and can easily break. This booth also served lavender & mint lemonade, which was very refreshing! It was our favorite drink of the evening, as it just clears your palate.

Tri-tip steak with mild to spicy barbecue sauces at the T-Rex Barbecue booth. Behind the serving table, they were cooking whole steaks in two small grills. Smelled phenomenal! There was a long line waiting for this tri-tip. Besides letting you choose your sauce, they also let you choose how well done you wanted your steak. Me? Medium rare.

On the left is vanilla bean custard topped with a raspberry sauce and grapes. This custard is unique in that it uses milk in place of eggs, so it has a velvety taste. On the right are two types of thin crust pizzas. The above is a pesto, tomato and feta cheese pizza. The bottom is prosciutto and artichoke heart pizza. I was excited to try out prosciutto for the first time, because it's frequently used in Giada Laurentiis's "Everyday Italian." Prosciutto is thinly sliced dry-cured ham unique to Italian dishes. It tastes like a cross between ham and bacon!

Two types of bruschetta: enoki mushroom with goat cheese and ahi tuna with orange zest. What surprised me was that the bread wasn't fully crisp; it was crisp on the outside and doughy inside. I thought that was an interesting texture. I especially loved ahi tuna with orange zest!

Last but not least, my favorite is Zinfandel icecream from Tucker's Icecream. The flavor of the red wine was strong, but not overempowering. It was my first time trying wine-flavored icecream! We had to get seconds of this - it was a sweet frozen treat that made us blush. Just a bit of Asian glow.

This event proved to me that women really do have good taste, as I saw mostly females attended and volunteered. Just kidding! Or am I?