Monday, October 23, 2017

Beijing: Lamb Hot Pot

My friend Gang wanted to be sure that I tried one of Beijing's signature dishes so he took me to this restaurant as soon as I arrived. Hot pot is known throughout Asia and widely enjoyed in Beijing. Their favorite meat to put in the pot is lamb.

Here is our hot pot. Live coals are in the middle of the pot---this setup is not for amateurs. The pot itself is divided into two sections. One was set up as non-spicy with some mirepoix-style ingredients thrown in. The other side was spicy thanks to the addition of a bag of intense-looking sauce. As we ate, a server stopped by every few minutes to add water from a giant copper kettle.

I munched on these treats as we waited for the water to heat up. The cloves of garlic were marinated in vinegar and sugar. I had never tried this before and I really enjoyed it. I plan to try to make it myself at home.

Sauces came in a single bowl. The brown sauce is sesame, my favorite.

We enjoyed a wide range of meats and vegetables: lamb, beef, prawns, mushrooms. Gang rightly pointed out that the trick is to start with meat to flavor the boil, then throw in some vegetables. The food was delicious and this style of cooking is a great aid to conversation.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

DTW: Leo's Coney Island

I flew through Detroit on my way to Beijing and wanted a little snack to keep me going for a few hours. What better way to kick off a trip to China than a hot dog? Leo's Coney Island magically appeared before me and enchanted me with visions of goodness.

The dog came with the classic thin chili and chopped onions. The dog had a nice snap. At first, I thought the chili was underspiced but 15 seconds later the spices came through, just enough to give a nice afterglow. One chili dog was just right to send me off.

Monday, October 16, 2017

College Park MD: Pho D'Lite

We had a great lunchtime meeting with the students at Pho D'Lite. It is located across from the University of Maryland campus and does a brisk lunch business.

This is my tofu pho with chicken broth. The chicken broth was very rich and flavorful. The noodles had a great texture. The tofu was nicely cooked with a good toothy texture.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Columbia MD: Jesse Wong's Asean Bistro

Shuvra introduced me to Asean Bistro, a family favorite. The menu and décor are both pan-Asian. The overall ambiance is upscale and they offer a nice selection of wines.

I ordered the dan dan noodles, something that I really like but rarely get the chance to order. The noodles had great tooth and the sauce was very satisfying. Everyone else reported that their meals were similarly enjoyable.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Asheville NC: Little Pigs

I passed Little Pigs on an earlier trip to Asheville. That night, I was headed to one of the trendy BBQ spots, but I knew that one day I would visit these cute plastic piggies. Tonight was the night and I enjoyed a very satisfying meal. This is a very traditional Southern restaurant: order at the counter, pull up a table, wait for your platter to appear back at the counter. (Their motto is "We are as full service as you need.") The staff was very friendly and clearly proud of their food.

This is my BBQ and ribs platter. BBQ in this neck of the woods means, of course, chopped pork. My BBQ was quite good and sufficiently moist to not really need sauce. I did try both of their sauces, one brown and the other tomato/vinegar; both were good. I've never seen the ribs presented in quite this way. They were sloppy and fall apart tender. The hush puppies were excellent in both taste and texture. The cole slaw was similarly of high caliber. The beans were fine but not the highlight of the meal.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Westwood: Stan's Donuts

Stan's Donuts has been in Westwood near UCLA for 50 years. I had noticed it on earlier visits but never at a time of day conducive to donut consumption. An early morning constitutional gave me the perfect opportunity to try their wares. The shop is impressively small but that just adds to the atmosphere.

I couldn't resist an apple fritter. It was delicious, soft and about as delicate as a piece of fried dough can be. It was sweet but not overpoweringly so; I could taste the apple. The coffee was relatively mild, which I think is exactly what is called for with a donut. An assertive coffee would detract from the fried goodness. Stan's coffee helps refresh the mouth for another bite.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

UCLA: Wolfgang Puck Express

Mani mentioned that UCLA's campus has excellent food choices. After our visit to the Student Center, I have to agree. We enjoyed a very nice meal at Wolfgang Puck's. I started with these potato chips, which I really enjoyed. They were thicker than factory potato chips but still very crunchy; I enjoyed their heft.

I had never before tried Chef Puck's signature pizzas, so I ordered a margherita. I found it to be very satisfying comfort food. The sauce and the cheese were of very high quality. My only quibble is that the crust could have used just a little more chew.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Delta's Unreliable Food Service

Delta advertises wonderful food available on its flights. Unfortunately, that food isn't always available. I'm not talking about the short flights under two hours---they state they don't offer food on those flights. On several occasions, I and many other passengers have not been able to purchase food on our flight. Today, the food ran out extremely early; a flight attendant told me that they loaded very little food. On another flight, the flight attendant told me that they didn't load any food at all.

Delta doesn't tell you before you board whether food will actually be available, although they very easily could do so. My travel agency tells me that they can't figure out in advance how much food will be available on a flight. I suspect that they load food based on the weight of the air plane, making the food supply essentially a random function.

Once you are 35,000 feet in the air, it's way too late to buy some food. I recommend that when you fly Delta, you plan on bringing any food you plan to eat: either buy it at the airport or bring it with you. Not only can you not count on their advertised food service, but giving them revenue for an unreliable service only encourages more poor service. Using alternate suppliers is the good, old fashioned capitalist solution. And making something that is both tasty and travel-proof is a fun challenge for someone who likes to cook.

UCLA: Plateia Restaurant at Luskin Conference Center

I kicked off my visit to UCLA with breakfast at Plateia, the restaurant at the Luskin Conference Center. The Luskin center is pretty new and conveniently located in the center of campus. Everything about my breakfast---the veggie omelet, the potatoes, the seven-grain bread---was expertly prepared. The service was gracious and unobtrusive enough to allow us to talk. And the coffee kept coming.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Los Angeles: Napa Valley Grill

My UCLA friends greeted me with a very nice dinner and very lively discussion at Napa Valley Grill in Westwood. The décor is elegant with recalls to Napa Valley. The service was attentive and gracious. Service started with some pillowy bread.

As my first course, I ordered the Autumn Harvest salad: butternut squash, apples, nuts, cheese, among other entries. Everything was very fresh and the composition was nicely balanced. After such a big salad, I probably should have enjoyed a cup of soup and left things at that, but of course that isn't what I did.

I don't have the chance to order tuna very often so I enjoyed my medium rare preparation. It included a crust to provide a texture contrast.

Our discussion was in full swing so we ordered some dessert to enjoy as we talked. I enjoyed this key lime pot au crème, very rich and creamy.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Brookhaven: Ruchi

Ruchi opened recently on Peachtree in Brookhaven, next to Galla's. It offers Bangladeshi food in a very nice environment. (Is Bangladeshi a new trend?) Although the kitchen was a little slow when I visited, the service was very warm and welcoming.

A few pages of the menu.

These are pappor, served with tamarind and mint sauces. Although the name is different, they seemed to be identical to Indian papadum, crunchy and flavorful.

This is shobjir korma, which turned out to differ from the Indian kormas I am used to in some very nice ways. The sauce does not include tomatoes. Instead, the main flavor note is a pleasant buttery taste. The sauce envelops mostly green vegetables, with a little bit of carrot and potato thrown in. The spices were different as well, although I couldn't successfully identify them.

My naan was very pillowy and soft, a wonderful treat.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Chamblee: La Confianza

I was in the mood for a quick, simple, light lunch so I headed to a place I have passed many times, La Confianza. It is located at the corner of Buford Highway and Shallowford Road. I knew that it was a grocery store that also sold prepared food but I wasn't sure how big the restaurant side of the operation would be.

The restaurant, as it turns out, offers a very complete menu, heavy on seafood. A separate counter offers a wide range of desserts. A bakery case presents several different Mexican baked goods.

Spanish is the first language here but the staff was very gracious and helped me order. I took a seat at the counter and they brought my dish a few minutes later.

This is a corn tortilla enchilada with chicken. The tortilla was thick, nicely crusted from the grill, and very flavorful. The chicken was moist; the cheese gave it a snap and a rich texture. This lunch was just what I had hoped for and I went away satisfied.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Atlanta: Drip Coffee

Catherine and Elle introduced me to the Glenwood Park neighborhood and to Drip Coffee. I realized later that I had already visited Drip's other location in Hapeville. We really enjoyed our visit: great drinks, wonderful snacks, and a very helpful staff.

We went all out. Our drinks were a mocha, a hazelnut cooler, and a Pellegrino. We couldn't help but order the chocolate cake, which was superb. The cake was moist and tender. It was complemented by a buttercream icing, chocolate pudding center, and flakes of chocolate on the side. We had to eat it in small bites, not only thanks to its richness, but also to be sure we enjoyed all the flavor components.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Eating Around Georgia Tech: 4 Rivers Smokehouse

4 Rivers Smokehouse opened up a few months ago in the old firehouse on Marietta across from Georgia Tech. They offer a variety of meats: beef, pork, chicken. They also serve a very wide selection of sides. A very helpful staffer explained that they are a chain out of Florida; this is their first out-of-Florida location. They food is prepared in their central kitchens and brought here.

I ordered a burnt ends sandwich. The meat was tender and with a bit of texture around the edge; the sauce was fun, a little spicy but not hot. The collard greens were quite good. I really enjoyed my fried grits cake with its ideal combination of comfort food components.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Chamblee: Chong King Hot Pot

I don’t think have tried this restaurant before. The Formosa food court provides an embarrassment of choices.

I was in the mood for dan-dan noodles. The sauce was a little thin but the noodles were wonderful, soft and just firm enough. Overall it was a very satisfying meal on a gray day.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Chamblee: Sweet Hut

The place was bustling on Friday night when I stopped by for a treat. They have a counter for drinks. The baked goods are displayed in clear bins. The tongs that everyone gets make everything just that much more tempting to grab.

I went for an almond and taro roll. That is a combination I wouldn’t have thought of but it worked pretty well. Their rolls are very inexpensive, too, making for a nice change of pace.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Apple Strudel

I consulted the wonderful book Classic German Baking for ideas on what to do with my treasure trove of apples. I decided to make a true apple strudel, which turned out to be an interesting adventure. It has surprisingly little sugar but makes up for that with lots and lots of butter.

The dough is surprisingly simple and based on oil, not butter. The book suggests kneading it by hand for ten minutes. Being an impatient American, I threw it into the Kitchenaid for about 4 minutes. The result was a nice little ball that went into the refrigerator to rest.

A base for the apples is made from bread crumbs, butter, sugar, and vanilla. (The authentic choice would be vanilla sugar.) The combination is roasted to a toasty brown. The result is amazingly tasty.

I next peeled, cored, and sliced the apples. They went into a bowl along with sugar, cinnamon, and raisins.

I ground the cinnamon with my spice grinder rather than using the pre-ground stuff. What a difference---so much more aroma.

The dough is rolled out part way, then stretched by hand to its final size. The book suggests preparing the dough on a towel. I didn't have a towel with a fine enough grain in the fabric so I used parchment paper; this has the wonderful benefit of being oven-friendly. The dough is stretched with the heel of your hand. The technique is different from that used for pizza dough but the result is very similar---an amazingly thin dough. I tried to repair my occasional tears in the dough which ended up contributing to its misshapenness. Oh well, I guess I will have to practice with yet more strudels.

The bread crumbs go down first on one side of the dough; they serve to soak up the juices from the apples. The apple mixture goes on top. You then lift the paper to roll the dough around the filling, then turn it into a circle. The thinness of the dough makes this operation much delicate than is the assembly of a pie. My result was messy.

The strudel is baked in three 15-minute steps. Before each step, the strudel is smothered in melted butter. The result is a very crispy crust. The recommended procedure for eating a strudel is to apply powdered sugar, then vanilla ice cream. It's hard to argue with those instructions.