Bouchon – Yountville, California

I have been watching this documentary in Netflix about international foodies. The term foodie has been used so loosely these days, it seems like anyone who dines out once a week calls himself  that. But these people really take the term to heart. There was this guy who was able to dine on ALL three-star Michelin restaurants. There’s a hundred something of those in the world, so that really made a grand adventure! Naturally, I got jealous.

Dining in Michelin starred-restaurants is not cheap. It’s also time-consuming as it entails hopping on planes because as I mentioned, it spans the whole world. This bring up a conundrum because I have to keep a day-job to bankroll this adventure, and said day-job needs my physical self to work well enough to get paid (telemedicine developers!!! you need to chop-chop and get this technology going already). So I will have to make do with dining to as many Michelin starred places when I travel.

Bouchon is a Michelin starred restaurant in Napa Valley (Yountville). I really wanted a to go to French Laundry but the availability was too close to our flight sked, I didn’t want to risk it. Michelin 101: book in advance!!!

I had Elderflower Mimosa and D had Bordeaux–Chateau Margaux, Margaux 1995

My mimosa was absolutely delightful, I had to ask how it was made—it’s a mix of Prosecco and Elderflower liqueur (exact brand is St. Germaine—don’t ask me how i found out, let’s just say it involved some unauthorized snooping around in their bar).

Terrine de Jambon Persille – braised ham hock terrine with parsley, cornichons and celery root salad
D had Soupe à l’Oignon
caramelized sweet onions with beef jus, country bread & Comté cheese
Steak Frites – pan-seared flat iron steak, caramelized shallots & maître d’hôtel butter, served with French fries

Don’t leave this place without trying the Pomme Frites. It is truffled but not from the usual truffle oil. It has actual truffle shavings! The smell is so heavenly. If Jo Malone would create a perfume remotely close this, I will be buying it!

Coq au Vin – chicken leg braised in red wine with potato puree, bacon lardons, button mushrooms and pearl onions

This is actually my second choice. I wanted to try the duck but it wasn’t available this season. Like all good restaurants, they change/rotate their menu entrees from time to time.

Ile Flotante – poached meringue with creme anglaise and hazelnut praline

This is light as air, well balanced by the crispy praline. Its of those dishes that individually, they’re not exceptional, but collectively, it’s a bomb.

This is a chocolate confection made of several layers of cake and chocolate mouse, topped with super smooth ganache. I’m sure it has fancy name, it just escapes me at the moment.
This was definitely a lovely meal. Service was impeccable. And believe it or not, reasonably priced.

Bouchon, 6534 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599

 

 

 

 

Crustacean – San Francisco, California

Like my other favorites in the Bay Area, this restaurant holds a lot of good memories. I took Beans here when he was 3 years old. He did not care much for seafood so I fed him at home. While in the restaurant, the waiters were kind enough to get him some brownies for him to munch on while we were eating. But instead of eating it, he decided to break it  in crumbs and scatter it all over the chairs and floor. The huge clean-up necessitated a generous tip, far more than what those stupid brownies were worth….

The Roast Crab– an entire dungeness crab roasted to perfection with garlic and spices.

This has been my bench-mark on how a crab needs to be cooked. High quality crab seasoned to perfection. Worth ruining your manicure for.

When it comes to crabs, I DO NOT SHARE. So D, and to have his own.

Drunken Crab an entire dungeness crab simmered in a broth of three wines,
cracked black pepper and scallion

This is what he got. Which is almost as good as my order. That thing was cooked in thre kinds of wine, what could go wrong?

An’s Garlic Noodles egg noodles infused with An’s famous garlic sauce

I strongly advised against sharing this too.

What a nice, non-crabsharing couple we make!!!

Crustacean San Francisco
1475 Polk St San Francisco, CA 94109

 

 

 

Spinnaker – Sausalito, California

I have so many good memories associated with food. That’s why I became a food blogger. For some reason, I selectively remember places and events with the food I ate with the experience. Classic example: I cannot name a single pagoda that I have been to in Thailand but I can tell you the specific street corner that sells the most amazing skewered chicken in the country (possibly the world).

Going back to Spinnaker invokes these memories. This is my favorite brunch place in Sausalito. D and I used to take Beans here back when he was just about 5 years old. He loved looking at the kayakers passing under the restaurant. This was also the place where D proudly boasted that he was able to get Beans to eat fish for the first time. The fact that the said fish got puked out in D’s brand news Mercedes later on, makes that memory even more precious.

This is me, Beans,  and my mom, circa 2008
This is me and Beans, 9 years after!!!

When doing reservations, always try to get a table with a view. In Europe, most restaurants would have you pay extra for that. In the US, all you have to do is ask…
Specialty margarita and D with his Syrah, Dumol, Russian River 2012
My favorite—BOUILLABAISSE
Prawn, scallop, clams, mussels & fresh fish in a rich broth. I have tried (unsuccessfully) to make this at home, I can never make the broth to carry that much flavor. I need a better recipe, or just keep coming here.
D had SALMON FILET STUFFED
WITH MUSHROOMS
Portobello, Shiitake & Crimini mushrooms in a shellfish & cream Besciamella
Beans had QUESADILLA WITH CRAB, SHRIMP & FRESH BASIL
Served with tomato-cilantro salsa
& French fries
Dessert – Bread Pudding Cake
With a tunnel of Rich Custard … Served with an Old Fashioned Jack Daniel’s Whiskey Butter Sauce. So you know me by now, the best thing about this is the whiskey sauce.

Our favorite dessert here was cherries jubilee. We were informed that they have stopped making it due to some fire hazard decree. For crying out loud. Now I remember why I left California…. hehe.

It was great to revisit our old haunts.Even better to note that not much has changed, food-wise. Quality is always consistent. Progress requires change. But there’s nothing like familiarity that anchors you down to your history and in this fast-changing world, we need that.

 

 

 

 

Food Cramming: Cru, Field and Tides, iPic and Tasting Room

The past weekend was one of nicest I’ve had in a while. I was able to do my  favorite “weekend job” of partaking (and reviewing) Houston’s vibrant foodie scene. I could do this all my life, but it can barely pay for the wine that I drink.  Day job to the rescue!!!

We wanted to jumpstart the weekend with wine-tasting. I had an invite at 13Celsius, but the driver/husband didn’t want to drive all the way to Downtown, so I had to cancel. We went to Beckrew Wine House instead. When we got there, they just opened. There was a big fan on the floor, an attempt to cool the room while the AC was cranking up. For my non-Houston readers, this is a big no-no. AC in Houston heat is  a necessity. You. Just. Can’t. And yeah, wine while sweating through your make-up? Not cool. I wanted to rush out but D wanted to stay and be polite, so we ordered a glass of wine each and some bruschetta then fled.

We decided to go to Cru WIne Bar instead.

Bubbles flight
Bubblies paired well with Lobster and Shrimp Dumplings
Prosciutto and Fig Pizza
Filet Mignon! Guess who ordered this? Paired well with Cote du Rhone

By Saturday, we were right on schedule. I was asked to write on an old-but-new foodie thing — chilaquiles. It is a traditional Mexican dish that has fried tortillas with green or red salsa poured over it. There is always some sort of meat on the side, usually pulled chicken. This has been popping up in social media, usually as a brunch entree. I chose to go to Field and Tides Restaurant up in the Heights. Nothing like the Heights to keep up with the young and the trendy foodies…

This is off-the-menu. For critiquing only. I had the sauce on the side because I didn’t want it drenching the egg. Instead of pulled chicken, it had pulled pork. Absolutely amazing!
D had Tomato and Crab stack. It’s actually fried green tomatoes, really good.
Fried Oysters and Brussel Sprouts. The brussels were a surprise delight. Crispy fried with really good chili honey glaze

We did our usual trek to Trader Joe’s to forage the foods we will never get in our neck of the woods. Why, oh, why, can’t they open close to Sienna???

We picked up Beans  so we can use our newly minted membership cards at iPic to watch Guardians of the Galaxy. Ipic is a movie theater with plush seating and gourmet foods.

The reclining seats were definitely great

Gourmet food? I wouldn’t go that far. All the fried things we ordered came in cold. D had a great filet mignon slider, though.

The drinks pretty much made up for all the food transgressions. Meet my Lookbetternaked margarita. D said  that his Bordeaux was pretty good too.

When we got home, we opened more than a week’s worth of all snail mail (because you know, we’re cool…not!) and found out we had a letter from our new HOA saying that our gate shows signs of rust and needs to be repainted. We had ten days to do it or face a fine. Tenth day is on Monday. WTF.

At the crack of dawn of Sunday, we went to Lowe’s to get all we needed to paint over the rust. There’s no way we can get someone to come in on a Sunday and do the job so we just have to MacGyver it. And MacGyver we did. We finished before 10am for less than $30. We felt that a reward was in order so we booked a table in Tasting Room.

Loved my Sauternes flight! I will not divulge how much it cost. let’s just say that it was like drinking a very good dry-aged steak…from Japan…!
Here’s my wild mushroom pizza
My only dessert for this week —caramel bread pudding.

It’s the start of the week now, the dreaded Monday. It’s pouring like crazy. Clinic is slow so I’m finding time to post this all and thank all those I needed to for all the yummy things I had this week. I should really strive harder to have more weekends like that. But for now, back to the day job….

 

 

 

Mother’s Days

Most women relish the idea of breakfast in bed during Mother’s Day. I don’t. The mere thought of what transpired in my kitchen to produce a mediocre waffle, coffee and orange juice makes me cringe. My favorite peeps — Beans and D— know me well enough that I would probably just wolf down the food as fast as I can so I can go clean up the crime scene in the kitchen that they left behind. So we just skip this warm and touching tradition and hop over to do the things I like best—eating and shopping.

This year, I totally forgot when Mother’s Day was. So i picked up a shift at work for this weekend in anticipation of my upcoming vacation for which I have accumulated a grand total of ZERO in terms of paid-time-off. Since I can’t do backsies once I’ve sign up to work, I had no choice but to celebrate it starting a week before while we were at Fredericksburg.

Began the day with my mimosa flight at the Herb Garden.
At Baron’s Creek with my favorite port
At Alexander’s Vineyard with another favorite, Sauterne

By noon, Beans was finally up and joined us. We were going to get some boots for me but the selection wasn’t very good, so we went home and I took a nap. Yes, napping is a way of celebration for me. I love napping. And I love it even more if no one disturbs me to tell me that the puppy peed out of the pee pad. So they left me alone.

After a restful nap, it was time to get some dinner. We drove over to Kerrville to dine in 1011 Bistro.

This is gorgeous restaurant sitting right next to Guadalupe River.
I just realized I haven’t done a review on this restaurant. Would have to do one next time. I have a better one coming up.

By Wednesday, I still don’t have any Mother’s Day present. It’s time to go to my mother ship—Houston Galleria. It was also a good time to check-out the Michelin star restaurant that my friend from Houston Chronicle was writing about—  Yauatcha.

Yauatcha earned one Michelin star last 2005 from their Hawaii restaurant. Technically, the one here in Houston is not starred. But since none of the restaurant here are, this is the closest to the real deal. As a foodie, it is a travesty that I have not eaten at a Michelin starred restaurant. That will soon change when I go to San Francisco next month.

I started out with Hakka—
Belvedere vodka, junmai sake, lychee, lime, coconut, passion fruit

There’s a whole bunch of dim sum. They are a lot tinier that what you would normally get. on the flip-side, portions are diet-friendly.

Sticky rice in lotus leaf
with chicken and egg yolk
Har gau–
prawn and bamboo shoot. Not kidding about the prawn. It’s a big-ass prawn
Scallop shui mai

In my experience, a true measure of a good Chinese restaurant is on how they cook duck.

Crispy Duck shredded tableside.
Home-made pancakes on the side! Yum.
D had the Seared Red Fish.
For dessert – Chocolate pebble
Alto el sol single plantation chocolate, brownie, caramelized white chocolate

My verdict—-ugh, so difficult to be honest. I’ve had better. This statement should be taken in a context that I am an Asian whose had an entire lifetime of eating the real deal. If this were a fusion restaurant, I would see it differently. But the dishes we ordered were hard-core Cantonese dishes, so I really have to say, I’ve had better.

Unlike most of the negative reviews I read about this place, I will not balk on price. I hate it when people do that. Their menu and their prices are online. If you find it pricey, don’t go then complain about it. Given their location, brand and decor, I think it’s priced appropriately. The service could use an improvement. I don’t get all the hype that this place generated and I don’t really see how the Michelin was garnered, but should I be shopping at the Galleria and feel like getting some dim sum , I would definitely be back.

Went to Galleria for my present. LV didn’t have my shoe size so it had to be ordered from New York. D, however, found his own present. As of press time, my shoes have not been delivered yet…

 

 

 

 

 

 

The (3rd) Best Burger in Texas

In this Yelp-driven world we live in, a business with 4.5 stars out of 250 reviews, is no easy feat. A lot of businesses would kill for that, I know mine would….(ok, not “kill” but more like “go out of one’s mind), to get those stats. When I read about Alamo Springs Cafe being the third best burger in Texas, I was dubious. Not that I doubt the credibility of the writer, coz we all know that food writers are the pillars of integrity (cough-cough!). But when I searched for the reviews, there it was. Four point five stars in Yelp and Google, on over 400plus reviews! For a restaurant that is so laid-back it doesn’t even have a website, that is pretty cool.

It has a hole-in-the-wall vibe, it will never win awards in design. But there’s award-winning smell of the burgers all the way from the parking lot.
I recruited a highly qualified individual to help me review this burger—my teenager!!!
We started with this roasted garlic with goat cheese tostini. 
This is the burger in question. Is it pretty? No. Is it the third best burger i’ve had in Texas. Hell to the YES!

This is the kind of burger that I would make if I decided to make a burger. I am still on a diet  (I ate only 1/4 of this— I declared today my cheat day for the sake of this effing blog). I weighed myself yesterday so I know that it would be a loooooong while before I make these kind of dishes. But if I did, it would be like this — made of the best meat available, best blue cheese I could get my hands on, cooked in medium-rare perfection, and tucked in the middle of the best buns which I would probably bake from scratch. Thank God, this place is just about ten miles from Fredericksburg. Just thinking about the amount of labor that would go into making this, makes me want to crawl back to bed and sleep off my burger craving.

And just for kicks, they have the Jefe’s Challenge. It is a sight to behold.
This is how the challenge works.
Onion rings for sides.
My favorite kind of fries—crusty fries!

Alamo Hills Spring Cafe embodies the thought of food being done right. While most of the food they offer are not healthy by nature (fried avocados—enough said), it is cooked in such a way that it justifies an indulgence. They also have an honor system in their drinks wherein you can just grab anything off the counter from soda, beer to wine, and just declare it as you pay for your bill. It’s a wonderful touch! It is definitely not a fast-food even if the offerings are similar to that of Whataburger or MacDonald’s. Here’s what’s hanging in one of their walls:

If you ever get in my neck of the woods, this is a fun try. It is in the middle of nowhere but the drive is wonderfully scenic. That plus a big, juicy burger, it is worth the trip!

 

Welcome To My Kitchen

As you’ve probably seen on my Facebook posts, I am now a proud mom of four adorable puppies. For the longest time, we always maintained two. But as I unwittingly followed Facebook feeds of Pomeranian breeders, I instantly gained access to adorable puppies looking for a forever home. Truffle is a puppy Pom that I got from North Carolina and Tofu is a year old Pom from Russia. He was imported by a breeder here and was meant to be a show dog until his teeth started overcrowding, which, I was informed was a big no-no in AKC standards.

Isn’t Tofu the fluffiest thing in four legs???

Anyhooo…How do these furry babies equate into my present kitchen?  The first two pups, Cookie and Mochi, always hang around in the kitchen. They know very well that when I cook, scraps of food fall to the floor, so they’re always on a look-out. Naturally, when the two newer ones joined us, they caught on to that as well. So I now have four dogs, yipping at my heels every time I cook. Oh joy!

I once saw a video of a Pom breeder and it was a scene in her kitchen where she had almost a dozen fluff balls running around. I thought that was the coolest thing! I only have eight more to go to have my dream kitchen. Ha!!!

These are my kitchen buddies. Three smiling Poms and one Yorkie wishing he was an only puppy.

Enough of my puppy insanity…. Let’s get cooking! I am on week 3 of my low-carb cooking. I’ve been having lettuce/cabbage, fruits and sashimi. Surprisingly, it’s almost painless. I have discovered a slew of flavored vinegars and spices which jazz up the dish without bringing on the calories. I am, however, close to being sick of raw salmon and tuna (let’s not even go on how expensive those are ).

Innovation is the mother of necessity — said by some philosopher who was tired of paying $29/pound of sashimi-grade tuna.  So I will whip up the next best thing — lean turkey. Here is my Cilantro-Lime Turkey Wrap.

Get a pound of the leanest ground turkey you can find. Saute lightly. It will look like it’s one huge stretchy piece, but be patient, it will break apart as it starts to cook. As it breaks apart, add salt and pepper.
Add Lime Ponzu sauce, about 3 tablespoons.

It will look soup-y and you will feel like you’re doing it all wrong. Don’t despair, it WILL dry up. As it dries, it will concentrate the flavor of lime. This is really needed because when you work with super-lean meats, the low amount of fat makes it difficult to hold flavor. Hence, you need to cook in the flavor.

When dry and broken-up add freshly cut cilantro, about 2 teaspoons.
Wrap in cabbage and lunch is ready!!!

Check-out my folded plate. Got it for $12 at Home Goods. So pretty! It makes up for the atrocity of my wrap. I still haven’t figured out how to separate cabbage leaves without tearing, so I always end up with odd pieces that make it difficult to wrap well.

If you can stand to lose a pound or two, this is a good dish. Very flavorful, calorie-friendly, cooks fast and uses only one pan! In my book, it can’t get any better than that.

 

Bosscat Kitchen and Libations

Dining with wine is always delicious. I soon found out that dining with hard liquor is even more so! This liquor-themed restaurant located in River Oaks district is very impressive, considering that it just opened 12 days ago. Many of their dishes are cooked with whiskey and bourbon. Its original location is in Newport Beach and judging by the way things look and run, they were pretty much a success there too.

D is in whiskey heaven. We were told that the restaurant boasts more than 300 bottles of whiskey from all over the world
He can literally live and die here….
I had Kentucky mule made of Larceny Bourbon and D had a 38 Special which was made of Bulleit Bourbon
We started with Bourbon Chicken Flatbread. I forgot to take a picture up-close…I got so flustered with the delicious drink we had…
For my entree, I had CAJUN BRICK CHICKEN —Pasture-raised chicken, crispy skin, Charleston gold heirloom dirty rice. The rice is really good, spicy without being over-powering
D had CAROLINA BARBECUE SALMON
Faroe Islands salmon, Carolina barbecue mustard, butter bean succotash.
For sides, we had SWEET POTATO MAC + CHEESE
Smoked ham chips.

There’s only two kinds of dessert,  so naturally, we ordered both…

CHOCOLATE BOURBON POT DE CREME
RED VELVET CHURROS — I bit into it to show the yummy red color inside. I really love this. Such a nice twist from the a dessert classic

Everything was good. All the liquor, both drank and eaten, did not make me drunk! This is why I really love dining out. There is so much to learn and discover. It’s the start of Spring Break so there’s a lot more dining adventures in the works. Can’t wait!!!

 

 

 

World Championship Barbecue

I’ve been a Texas gal close to ten years and the I’ve been living the phrase “everything is bigger in Texas” (my waistline attests to this).  Cheesy as it may sound, it really is true. We live life here in the superlatives which is not really a good thing at all times, but seldom are things done half-scale. The World Championship Barbecue Cook-off is the biggest, baddest contest,  drawing both local and international competitors. The wait-list just to compete is 4 years. All this is set on no less than the huge Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo which attracts more than 2million visitors each year.

We got our cowboy gear on! There’s a lot of walking to be done, and these boots are up to it!
This is the tent that we got the invites to
Each contestant has a tent which is roughly 4 times this size, my camera can’t pan the entire room.

The counters you see are the bars (open bar!). Because of the scale and magnitude of this competition, contestants have sponsors, and sponsors get invites to the event. And that is the only way to get into these tents, by invitation. No tickets are for sale. I was told there’s a black market for this with invites selling for more than a hundred bucks per invite. Seriously? What kind of appetite does it take to eat a hundred dollars worth of barbecue?

The open bar features a lot of local liquor. Particularly loved Tito’s Vodka. I can’t count how many trips I made to this bar.
This is one big-ass hog. The tent can dish out three of these each night. It tastes nowhere like the Filipino lechon that I’m used too.
Here are the other goodies –brisket, potato salad, barbecue chicken, mac n cheese, corn. As much as you can, all night long. Oh my…
What’s a party without the band?  I guess I got so food-logged that night, I totally forgot the name of the band

Outside the tents, festivities (and more food) abound. There is something for everyone (except the vegetarians…)

Everything fried. If it fits in the frying pan, we fry ’em and serve ’em…
More carnival food treats
What a night!

That was quite an experience. For once the weather was great and so ideal for all the walking. Unfortunately, when we got back, Beans had a fever (flu!), so we did not go back the following night. Just as well because it rained all day. Will definitely make plans for the rodeo and carnival just so I can feature all the fried goodies. Ahhh…the life of a foodie….

 

 

 

 

Healthy Eats

As I promised in my latest Facebook post, I was going to make poke at home. Poke (pronounced as po-kay)is a raw fish salad in Hawaiian cuisine. I remember having this  10plus years ago in Honolulu. I was not a big fan of raw fish then. I was also 20 pounds lighter and can don a swimsuit without fear, so safe to say, a lot of things  have changed since then. I love sashimi, so the thought of mixing it with great fruits and veggies plus a savory sauce makes it very enticing.

We went to North Shore Poke Company. This is a restaurant which started at Huntington Beach and they now have branches in Cerritos, Costa Mesa, and most recently, H-town!

An order of poke would first have a base of rice or veggies. You will then pick a choice of raw fish  (salmon or ahi tuna) or octopus. Extras would comprise of mango, avocado, masago, crab, crispy garlic, ginger ,sweet onion. This would all be topped by a savory sauce. There’s a variety of sauces to choose from, depending on the restaurant.

My bowl – brown rice, salmon,mango, masago, blue crab, sweet onion and Ponzu sauce
D’s bowl- brown rice, ahi tuna, pickled ginger, masago, Wasabi Shoyu Sauce

I knew I had to have more of this so I vowed to make some at home for dinner. And also for Beans who was still asleep when we left. We stopped by at Nippon Daido grocery to pick up some sashimi grade salmon and pink snapper. This is my version:

Base is wild rice and some lettuce. Fish is a mix of salmon and pink snapper. I added mangoes and avocado. For the sauce i mixed ponzu and sesame oil. Ah-mazing!

This has really been a wonderful day, food-wise and weather-wise. We ate this outdoors where we recently just cut the grass. I love the smell of freshly-cut grass. It smells so clean. For dessert, we had the cream puff pastry I picked up from the Japanese grocery store. Since the North Shore didn’t serve alcohol, we thought we’d just drink at home. It’s a weekend and it’s past 5 and the weather is awesome, it would be a crime not to…