Sunday, July 31, 2016

Chattanooga TN: Tasty Donuts

Grant and Marie also introduced me to a bright spot on the Chattanooga map, Tasty Donuts. Their cases are filled with a large variety of donut varieties, ranging from Coca Cola to banana.

Here are close-ups of a few of the donuts we sampled.

Chattanooga TN: Mojo Burrito

Grant and Marie introduced me to a local mainstay in their new hometown, Mojo Burrito. It's a local chain with several locations around Chattanooga.

Here are my veggie tacos, a tasty combination of pinto beans, rice, salsa, lettuce, and tomato.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Guest Blog from Bangkok: Nahm

My friend Diya Bhattacharyya sends this guest post from Bangkok. Thanks, Diya!

Thailand is home to some of the most flavorful, rich, and comforting food in the world. The city of Bangkok especially provides many options that both foreigners and locals will enjoy. One restaurant in particular stands out for its bold and extravagant food. Nahm is an acclaimed upscale Thai restaurant that is considered to be one of the top 50 restaurants in the world (http://www.theworlds50best.com/list/1-50-winners/Nahm, visited on 07/28/2016). The dishes we tried burst with flavor and spice, exceeding our expectations of what Thai food could be.

First, the waiters presented us with a tasty "amuse-bouche" that consisted of minced pork with spices, peanuts, and palm sugar topped on a slice of pineapple. The tiny starter packed a sweet and sour punch that was a great way to start the meal.

The main meal was a "Panang curry of Wagyu beef with peanuts, shallots and Thai basil". The intense flavors of the spices blended together well and were balanced out by the sweet elements of the peanuts. The beef was incredibly tender and complemented the spices well.

Overall, Nahm is an elegant restaurant that does justice to Thai cuisine. Nahm is a restaurant that highly deserves its reputation as one of the best restaurants in the world.

South Carolina Farmers' Stands Part 1: Route 25

Route 25 in South Carolina grows a lot of fruit and, it seems, a bumper crop of fireworks as well. On the way to Asheville, I spied a number of small stands. On the way back, I stopped at one of them for some fruit. As you can see, peaches were the highlight. They also carried some tomatoes, blueberries, and blackberries, as well as some preserves and pickles. As I was busy studying the peaches, a man stopped by to ask the owner if she needed any blueberries---you can't get much fresher than that. I left with a basket of beautiful peaches, including the basket, and a quart of blackberries. The blackberries will go into a cobbler for breakfast in the morning. Some of the peaches are destined for the freezer as filling for winter peach pies. I will probably succumb to habit and make another batch or two of preserves, too.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Asheville NC: Karen Donatelli

Karen Donatelli stands out in a town full of bakeries and chocolate shops. Their baked goods are outstanding, served in a gracious and welcomingly low-key atmosphere.

This is my berry tart with chocolate ganache. As you can see, it was beautifully prepared. The fruit was perfect as was the light glaze on top. It was also delicious. If I'm not mistaken, the chocolate had just a hint of heat. The pastry holding it all together was perfect.

Asheville NC: Early Girl Eatery

Early Girl Eatery serves up a great breakfast. It is located on Wall Street, a cozy and pedestrial-friendly lane. Inside, the space is filled with light. The service is extremely warm and helpful.

This is my vegan tofu scramble. Their take on this dish is more greens-oriented that I've seen elsewhere. Although a tiny part of my brain screams that green stuff at breakfast is a plot to sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids, the rational part of my brain really enjoyed this dish. It was hearty and flavorful without being overbearing. The large greens component helped smooth out my morning and give me lasting energy without feeling logy. The biscuit was great, too.

I also had to try their pancake, which was outstanding. It wasn't showy at all but it was tasty and thick.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Asheville NC: India Garden

India Garden is across the street from Asheville Mall. The d├ęcor is attractive with a huge painting of the Taj Majal as a centerpiece.

Here is the Visible Veggie Samosa. The crust was great and the filling good.

I really enjoyed my paneer with a chili sauce. It had a light crust on it that held up well in the sauce and gave a very nice texture. The sauce had a bite but wasn't overwhelming.

Greenville SC: Duke Sandwich Company

Fate brought me to sample Duke Sandwich over a series of events. First, I passed their establishment on an earlier trip. I tagged it in my mind as a potentially interesting, old fashioned restaurant. Then, on a later trip, a BBQ restaurant I wanted to try was closed for vacation, and GPS brought me over a series of tiny roads to Duke's doorstep.

A little online research shows that Duke Sandwich was founded in 1917 when Ms. Duke started to sell her chicken salad sandwiches to the troops at the local base. The chicken salad made use of Ms. Duke's mayonnaise recipe, which she licensed and is still manufactured today. Her family still runs the business and it shows. The restaurant is bright, clean, and efficient. The staff all wear crisp, lively-colored t-shirts. When I expressed an interest in trying the chicken salad, he asked someone to bring me a spoonful. Later, our tray was delivered by an extremely courteous and helpful server.

I am not a big chicken salad person, but I must say that my sample was excellent. The chicken came through cleanly and mixed beautifully with the excellent mayonnaise. Fresh, crispy celery accented the mix.

Duke serves a full complement of sandwiches. For my lunch, I ordered the grilled cheese. The perfect grill marks are an outward sign of the tastiness of the sandwich inside. The cheese was rich and creamy. The toast was a perfect balance of softness and toasty crunch. I didn't get a chance to try the BBQ pork but I observed that it didn't last long.

This place reminds me of some of the old time spots in New Jersey. As with those spots, Duke's serves simpler food from a simpler time. People used to have less money to eat but they also had fewer transportations options to search out their food. Inexpensive, good food spots were important for sustenance and a sense of place. I am grateful that places like Duke's are still around for us to enjoy.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Decatur: The Corner Cup

A car repair appointment gave me the pleasure of trying The Corner Cup. It's in the Pea Ridge shopping center, which seems to be a hoppin' spot these days. Their format is traditional morning coffee spot.

In addition to a variety of coffee styles, they have a huge selection of huge pastries. I didn't see a lot of small, dainty ladyfingers in these cases. These pastries are designed to get you going in the morning. I sampled a large cup of refreshing coffee and a huge apple turnover that I nibbled on throughout the day. I was very pleased to see unusual items like the turnover. Pastries clearly are not relegated to second class status here.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Honolulu: Koa Pancake House

My trip back to Japan included a layover of a few hours in Honolulu. I didn't have a lot of time but I was definitely in the mood for a hearty American breakfast. The airport's options were depressingly limited. Renting a car for a few hours would have cost an exorbitant amount of money so I walked down the road from the airport. Along the way, I was able to soak in the sun and enjoy the natural beauty that spills over into even the most mundane locations.

My destination was Koa Pancake House. It is tucked into a small mall surrounded by the joint base that includes Pearl Harbor and Hickman Field. The place was hopping, with a constant stream of individuals and families. The format is a bit like a southern BBQ restaurant: order at the counter, wait for your food to come out either at a table or for takeout. Most of their business must be takeout given the volume of people flowing through.

I ordered a veggie omelet, which came with a stack of pancakes. Everything was very enjoyable. The omelet was tender and filled with nice vegetables. The pancakes were amazingly thick and fluffy. I walked back to the airport in a very satisfied mood, enjoying more flowers along the way.

Home Grown

Home Grown is a very popular Reynoldstown spot. I was able to get in on a Saturday morning because I arrived early, fresh off a redeye. But any later and the parking lot is likely to be full. Quite frankly, although I enjoyed my meal, the restaurant seemed like an urban version of Cracker Barrel, a heightened-reality version of a Southern restaurant, complete with a Southern knick-knack gift shop.

I ordered two items: a veggie omelet and an order of biscuits and gravy. The omelet was fluffy and rich, with creamy cheese for added richness. The cheese grits that came with it were pretty darn perfect. When I turned to the biscuits, I found the gravy to be very thin, although nicely flavored with porky sweetness.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

KIX: Rice Cake

Kansai Airport is built on an artificial island, a pile of rocks in the middle of Osaka Bay. The buildings are designed with spare Japanese efficiency. Most of the restaurant options are before security; there isn't much at all to choose from near the gates. In any case, I wasn't very hungry before I boarded the plane but I did want a snack. This rice cake fit the bill. The wrapping is very clever: on the shelf, it appears that the seaweed is wrapped around the rice, showing its final presentation; in fact, the seaweed is kept dry and crispy with a separate pouch. I wrapped my rice cake and enjoyed. Inside was a bit of red bean paste to enliven things. A few minutes more waiting, then onto the plane.

Nara, Japan: Mochi

Jiang wanted to be sure that I was comfortable on my flight, so he gave me this special treat. Mochi is made all over Japan; this is a special Nara version. The basic mochi ball is made of glutenous rice. The Nara version has a gentle green powder on top and red bean paste in the middle. They have a very soft and comforting texture and just enough sweetness to make the mouth water. The effect is a little like marshmallows but richer.

Osaka: Botejyu

Yuan, Angela, and Andrew treated me to an excellent meal of an Osaka classic, okonomiyaki. It is a pancake stuffed with all sorts of ingredients---anything goes. I have seen it made in New York but never before tasted it. The batter is poured, the mixins added. After cooking on one side, the entire contraption is flipped over.

Botejyu was founded just after the end of WW II. Mayonnaise was one of the many new foods introduced to the Japanese public by American troops. Botejyu figured out how to use this rare ingredient with classic okonomiyaki. Despite their very different origins, these foods do really go together.

I ordered the Moonlight Special. Underneath that egg are several kinds of meats: beef, cuttlefish, and something else that I can't quite remember. Both mayonnaise and BBQ sauce were added to moisten everything and round out the flavors.

This is rich, hearty food and deeply enjoyable. I think that Waffle House could score a big hit with this one---call it the Flying Pig Special.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Osaka: Dononbori

I had a free afternoon and took the train to Osaka to explore its famous street food. The Dotonbori district, near Namba station, is a famous tourist area for both Japanese and foreign visitors. Osaka is known as Japan's kitchen and Dotonbori has an amazing variety of foods on display as you walk down the street.

This view greeted me as I first entered the street. The signs are gonzo advertising, the sort of thing that would make a Times Square emporium blush. And these signs show the huge variety---crabs and sausages nestled next to each other.

It took just a few steps for me to find my first objective: octopus balls. The young lady cooking them on the street was impressively competent in English and very adept with the grill.

I ate mine as I walked down the street using toothpicks to spear them. These puppies were hot. And they were delicious. Each ball seemed to have two large rings. They weren't in the least tough. I ordered the sauce half-and-half, with a white sauce on one side and BBQ on the other; the white sauce was my favorite.

After enjoying the street and the river that runs by it, I headed south.

After a few blocks, I noticed this octopus ball cooker. Tempted as I was to buy one to open an octopus ball emporium at Lenox Square, I decided to put off those entrepreneurial ambitions.

As it turns out, I had stumbled into the restaurant supply district. The stores displayed everything from stylish dishes to used kitchen equipment. The stores themselves were generally less industrial and more attractive than their American equivalents.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Nara, Japan: The Tea House at the Nara Hotel

Andreas and I used a conference planning meeting to enjoy a restful tea service at the Tea Room at the Nara Hotel. We sat down at a beautifully appointed table with this perfect little view. Our service was both crisp and very welcoming.

Here is our tea set, each with a pot of tea and a cake of our choosing. I ordered oolong while Andreas ordered English breakfast. Our tea arrived in white pots with blue trim. On the side was a petite inverse egg timer. It was made of lava lamp materials, with blue oil suspended in water. Rather than pouring down to count time, the blue oil poured up. When all the blue bubbles reached the top, we removed our bags and enjoyed perfect cups of tea. Andreas ordered the cheesecake while I tried the pine nut cake. The cake was delicious and just the right size, big enough to enjoy but not too large or sweet.

Food Wastage

The Guardian, a British news paper, is publishing a series of articles on food wastage in the United States; here is the latest article in that series. It turns out that quite a bit of produce is rejected for purely cosmetic reasons. Some of this food is fed to animals; others is simply discarded. I hope that we can keep in mind the role of food in everyone's lives and remember to be grateful for what we have.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Nara, Japan: Breakfast at the Nara Hotel

Our yearly MPSoC Forum is back to Japan. We are lucky enough to hold the meeting at the Nara Hotel, a century-old historic hotel. The hotel is located at the edge of Nara Park, ancient capital of Japan and home to a 1200-year old Buddha. The hotel itself has welcomed Japanese emperors, royalty from Europe, and movie stars. The entire building is beautiful and refined. Breakfast is held in a particularly grand room with a view of a wonderful garden.

My friend Steve Lin joined me for breakfast. He ordered the Japanese breakfast. I was in the mood for a hearty breakfast---I had arrived from Atlanta the night before and woke up early to take a run through the sauna that is Japanese summer. On the one hand, an American breakfast sounded appealing. On the other hand, the American breakfasts served in Asian hotels can be disappointing. But I was very pleased with the Nara Hotel's version.

My breakfast was a complex affair with many small courses. They arrived over several minutes and were too plentiful to fit into a single photo. This shot shows my oatmeal, a small salad, plus several condiments: ketchup and Swiss fruit preserves.

The next courses provided the heart of the meal. That's a parsley omelet; it was cooked with a delicate skin and soft, creamy insides. The sausages reminded me of British sausages. The pancakes were excellent, thick and soft, and served with syrup.

The beautiful setting, gracious service, and excellent food gave Steve and I a wonderful chance to catch up. Quite a way to wake up on the other side of the world.

On day two, I sat down to this view and ordered the Japanese porridge breakfast. I have had Asian items for breakfast on many trips. But this is the first time that someone has set out the entire tableau for me, giving me insight into the experience of Japanese breakfast. Americans love a big dose of sweetness in their breakfast. Not so for my porridge breakfast, a festival of umami, salt, and savoriness. A bowl of red berries, which I assumed were sweet things to add to my porridge, turned out to be very salty. It was interesting and satisfying but definitely a cross-cultural experience.

My breakfast on day 3. What a view...

On day 4, Jiang and Wei joined me for another wonderful breakfast. I went back to the American breakfast and sampled their bacon. It was perfectly crisp. Crispy bacon is a rare commodity in Asia. Most bacon comes out so limp and pink that you can hear it squeal. The chef's mastery of bacon is another sign of the quality of the breakfast.

KIX: Food Court

I landed at Osaka Kansai International Airport in a hungry state and ready for some comfort food. So I headed for the airport food court. These sorts of food courts are common in train stations and airports in Japan, with lots of small vendors serving a variety of quick meals. Subway was in one booth but most of the food is very Japanese. One of the restaurants specialized in eel---very popular in Japan but not so much with me. I chose this spot with their appetizing grill out front.

Here are my pork with noodles. The sorts of Japanese food we see in the U. S. tends to be light and refined but the Japanese also excel at hearty, gut-satisfying dishes. My noodles were flavorful and savory with a hint of ginger and another taste I couldn't quite identify. The dish had just enough pork to add flavor without being too heavy. This is the sort of meal that hits the spot after 12 hours crossing the Pacific in coach.

And in case you have any lingering doubts about the Japanese palate's affinity for fried food, I offer exhibit 1, which I found just after eating my meal---a poster for a restaurant that combines two of Japan's favorite chains, MOS Burger and Mister Donut.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Yet More From the Tucker Farmers' Market

Blueberry season has been very productive this year but will end soon. I have made two separate visits to Sugar Bugg at the Tucker Farmers' Market. They are blueberry specialists and I have become entranced with the taste of blueberries.

Here are a few of their wares. The farmer explained that their blueberries are organic. They certainly taste delicious. I bought about two gallons of these babies. I have frozen some for pies in the deep, dark winter. The others are in temporary storage waiting to be made into preserves.

And by the way, the mark of a true farmers' market is the farmers themselves. It is always a pleasure to meet the people who grow the food that I enjoy.