Tuesday, September 16, 2014

California ! Snacking at The Boiling Crab & Snow Station

in Garden Grove, CA, USA
I spent several days in California recently to visit family.  We stayed with my aunt in Garden Grove in the last two days which entailed just sitting at home, marveling at the fruit from her garden, eating the fruit, and watching Vietnamese television.  

So in the downtime, when both aunt and mom lay on the couch and start falling asleep, I jaunt off to hang out with Jean to partake in the art of "snacking."

Garden Grove is in the heart of Little Saigon, and in addition to the dozens of pho places that dot every corner, there are also several cajun seafood spots in each marketplace - the most popular being The Boiling Crab.

The waits can be intense at The Boiling Crab, but once your lucky name is called, you are escorted to your table which is promptly covered with a clean sheet of white plastic.  A mound of limes is dumped on top for you to make your own salt and pepper dipping sauce.

Since we were here just to "snack," we just shared a half dozen briny oysters (also accompanied by many limes), a pile of cajun fries (which were long, crispy and delicious),

and a pound of shrimp in the 'whole sha-bang' style sauce, which is the kitchen sink of butter, garlic and spice.  The levels of spice you can order are: mild, medium or XXX - the medium ends up being just fine.

The shrimp were beautifully fat, perfectly cooked, and plump enough for dipping in the bag of sauce or your own handmade salt/pepper/lime concoction.  The pound of shrimp had Jean and me busy for half an hour as we sucked on heads, filling our bellies up with sweet, tasty shellfish.

After, we cleansed our palates and cooled our jets at Snow Station, a Taiwanese style shaved snow spot.  Sizes start in mini then baby bear and go up to gigantic loch ness monster sized plates.  The baby bear seemed ample.

The best thing that happens at Snow Station is after you pick your flavor (we did green tea), and the two complimentary toppings (jackfruit + lychee popping boba), you can pick a sauce which there are many options but you should only choose one: CONDENSED MILK.

And then the clerk will say, "Tell me when," as she squeezes the most giant bottle of condensed milk over your frozen treat, zigzagging back and forth until your mind will tell you to stop but your heart will tell them to go on.  

The clerk will then say, "Feel free to come back up for more sauce."  What?  Even more condensed milk is at my ready disposal?  Did I just die and enter heaven?

And the answer was, yes, I did enter heaven.  Each spoonful melted on my tongue like freshly fallen snow, melding with the creamy richness of the condensed milk, the fruity pop from each boba and the tender sweetness of good ol' jackfruit.

God, I love snacking in California.

The Boiling Crab
14241 N Euclid St, Garden Grove, CA 92843
Boiling Crab on Urbanspoon

Snow Station
9938 Bolsa Ave #117, Westminster, CA 92683
Snow Station on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 13, 2014

happiness at caffebene

in 333 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA
hello, there! many, MANY apologies for my long-time absence. with my wedding finally over, i am now able to indulge in all the delicious food i've been missing during my wedding diet (it was rough), and more importantly, able to share it with you!

the first thing i ate when i got back to boston after my nuptials was a huge chunk of BREAD (my favorite food group). namely, garlic and cheese honey bread at caffebene. this korean chain opened in boston only recently, and i'm so glad it's a stone's throw away from my apt!

because this:

the fluffiest bread with a slight honey sweetness, which becomes more noticeable on the bottom of the bread (which is nicely buttered), topped with cheese and garlic spread. and look at the the height on that thing - like texas toast on steroids. i was instantly in love.

a few days later we returned for the ginormous mango bingsoo... with the best ripe chunks of mango and a scoop of gelato on top. amazing, creamy gelato.

it's a lot bigger than it looks here. must be shared. i will be back for more. maybe tomorrow.

caffebene is a great place to eat happy foods and hang out with friends, or to plop down and study/work for the day. a welcome addition to my neighborhood. :)

boston folks, get yourselves to caffebene now! free wifi + all the best carbs = happy patrons.

333 massachusetts ave
boston, ma 02115
Caffé Bene on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sunny & Annie's: The Best Bodega in NYC & The Creative Little Garden

We already know that in the depths of Alphabet City lies some of the best fried chicken you will ever eat, but what you should also know is that it has so many other things to offer like

The Best Community Garden in NYC - The Creative Little Garden, a hidden little oasis with bubbling waterfalls, benches and a handful of tables tucked throughout the beautifully kept space.

It is also the very best place to enjoy any of the sandwiches you get from Sunny & Annie's, what I will decree as the very best bodega in NYC.  Not only is the carrot juice, always kept on ice outside, sweet and refreshing, the inside stocked with all sorts of sweets and treats to favor Asians and people's peculiar dietary needs (vegan, gluten-free, health-nut, you got it!), but the sandwiches.  Oh my gosh, the sandwiches.

You can see them listed in front of the deli-stand in multi-colored sheets of 8.5 x 11 paper, each sandwich an amalgamation of a million different ingredients, and you'd never think they belong together, but then when you actually see them together like this, you'll think, "I'd eat that."

And then when you taste it, you'll wonder what has taken so long for those ingredients to get together!

I haven't been able to deviate from the Pho #2 sandwich since I first took a bite of it.  Fresh slices of crisp sweet apple, tender chunks of tofu, thick slices of grilled chicken, sweet and tangy hoisin, oh so creamy avocado, spicy fresh green pepper sauce, cilantro and lettuce all jampacked into a hero.

How they do it in the tiniest ol' space, I will never know, but the sandwich is infinitely fresh, astoundingly flavorful and just mesmerizing.  I savor each final bite like it's an old friend, one that always gives me such warm memories and one whom I can never wait to see again.

Han's Nonsensical Rating: Best sandwiches in the city.

Sunny & Annie's
 94 Avenue B, New York, NY 10009
Sunny & Annie Deli on Urbanspoon

The Creative Little Garden
530 E 6th St, New York, NY 10009

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Lee-Lee's Rugelach "from a Brother"

Exactly one block from my apartment has been the best hidden treasure I've ever found: Lee Lee's Baked Goods.

What is rugelach?  I have no idea.

I just know it's exactly $1, and it looks like this.

Inside the flaky, cinnamon-sugar dusted pastry is a buttery, delicate interior studded with giant raisins, nuts and a creamy apricot filling.  It's absolutely brilliant, disappears within seconds and has you wanting more.

On the day we went, there was only apricot, and the lady speculated that Mr. Lee might make chocolate the following day.  If the apricot was this good, I just wonder how good the chocolate would be.  Ugh.  They just know how to keep us coming back, one amazing, buttery bite at a time.

283 W 118th St
New York, NY

Friday, August 22, 2014

Spanish Tapas & Paella at Barca

in New York, NY, USA
The boy and I had visited Plan B on Mulberry St a couple years ago, excited to try their snake sausage, however, they did not have any the time, had no clue when they would, and we stayed, and somehow ended up spending so much money on so little food that wasn't any good.  (The worst possible outcome to that short story, I know.)

And so Plan B's plan b came through, and Barca has since replaced the restaurant, maintaining the same space, but with a new chef behind the helm and an updated menu more focused on Spanish cuisine.

The rebranding seemed effective - the restaurant was jammed with lots of people nibbling at small plates, sipping sangrias and having a gay ol' time.

Compliments of the kitchen appealed to us immediately - fresh, young stalks of asparagus wrapped tightly with salty, serrano ham and a drop of herby, marscapone cheese.  A very good start to the meal.

We continued with the restaurant's namesake ahi tuna appetizer, with plenty of chunks of fresh tuna, but little seasoning and never enough bread for the likes of my fat face.

The braised brussel sprouts were barely bitter, just tender and deeply fragrant with thyme.

We deviated from the tapas menu to sample one of the four paellas on the menu: the arroz negro.  Arriving in the signature paella pan, the squid ink rice is speckled with bits of tomato and seafood.

And after the first, second and third bites of hard rice in my mouth, I wondered if maybe I don't know what paella is supposed to taste like.  Is the paella rice supposed to be as al dente as true Italian pasta?

The flavor of the paella was actually quite nice, but the rice was overwhelmingly undercooked, though the waitress expressed that you could have the chefs cook the rice longer, if needed, but yes, this is how it is supposed to be.  One day, I will go to Spain and confirm that, but  in the meantime, I do know that the shrimp was painfully overcooked, rubbery to the core, and the mussels a little too goopy (yes, a technical term!) so really, it's just a mishmash of unfortunate circumstances.

As was the tres leches cake that was somehow dry and also hard - as in hard texture and hard to eat.

And then we glanced down the stretch of tables and saw that most people stuck to tapas, and that maybe that's what we should have to and our experience would have been much different, because the asparagus was brilliant, the brussel sprouts enjoyable, and the drinks pretty healthy and strong.

Han's Nonsensical Rating:  Stick to the tapas if you must, or just skip altogether.

244 Mulberry St
New York, NY

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Philly ! Beck's Cajun Cafe

in Philadelphia, PA, USA
If you ever find yourself in Reading Terminal on a Sunday, and your excitement for the day is immediately quashed when you discover that half of the terminal is closed (because the Amish must rest!), do not fret.

Wipe away those tears and head straight to Beck's Cajun Cafe.

If you are there in the morning, please, please, please order the breakfast sandwich.  I beg you.  Eat andouille sausage for breakfast and love it!

If you are there after breakfast, order yourself a shrimp po boy.

Thrive in the beauty of fried splendor piled high in toasted baguette doused with spicy mayo and hints of lettuce.

Or order a platter of fried oysters.  Sure, they are a bit heavier on the batter, and sure, they do not quite resemble oysters, but they still taste like them, they're crunchy and great.  The homefries are addictively dusted with cajun seasoning, and the buttered cornbread is basically cake.  Freakishly delicious.

And then plot your way back to the market on a non-Sunday to really do your life right by eating a dozen apple dumplings and sticky buns.

Beck's Cajun Cafe
Reading Terminal
12th & Arch
Philadelphia, PA
Beck's Cajun Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Chicago! A Bunch of Meats: Hot Doug's & Publican

in Chicago, IL, USA
Chicago, why has it taken me so long to visit you?  Why do you continue to haunt my dreams?

Diana and I spent about an hour and a half in the hot, hot sun waiting in line with other schmucks at Hot Doug's.  We just had to.  Ol' Mr. Dougie said he's going to stop serving these dawgs in October, so gotta git it while the gittin' is good! (Is this a saying that anyone recognizes outside Texas?)

We thought Friday early afternoon is a good time to do this.  Everyone and their mother and their girlfriend and their brother had the same idea.

When you wait in line that long, you contemplate a lot of things, like, "Why are we doing this?" (To eat delicious hot dogs!) and "When is this ever going to be over?" (When we are eating delicious hot dogs!)

You also get time to look at all their cool stuff.

I need these sort of credentials.

And then finally, after two sweet hours of bonding and sharing what slivers of shade the tiny awning outside can provide, you can stare down at beauts like these!

We just ordered a bunch of specials, and you really can't go wrong with any of them.  The toppings are fresh, the cheese tangy,

the sauces completely decadent,

and the ones with fruit essence, like this one with pear wine reduction, make the dog so sweet, savory and wonderful.

I wish I could remember more,

but all you really need to know is that the encased meats are fantastic, with great snap and texture,

and they are often oozing and gooey with cheese, and that's just how life should be.  Cheesy, over the top and great.

And of course, don't forget the duck fat fries.  (No one forgets the duck fat fries.)

A couple hours later, we made enough space for a dinner at The Publican Restaurant.  The space is interesting, with corralled booths on the sides, and a U shaped community table setting around the perimeter of the restaurant.

In a tucked away corner, Diana and I shared smoked mackerel, which was by far the largest mackerel I've ever had, with lots of oily, tasty meat and slivers of fresh citrus,

a side of fried cauliflower - and as delicious as cauliflower naturally is, it is that much more delicious fried.  Completely crisp, ungreasy and awesome.  I may have eaten this whole thing myself when Diana wasn't looking.

The platter of porchetta is honestly enough for at least 3-4 people, but Diana and I tackled what we could, which was easy since

the porchetta was tender beyond belief, requiring no chew at all, disintegrating immediately like a phone from Mission Impossible.  The skin was so flavorful, so fatty, and so ridiculously good (as all pork fat should be).

And after you finish feasting on all the variety of quality meats the Publican has to offer, immediately order the vacherin.

It's a cake of sorts, layered with crispy, chewy meringue and bright citrusy ice cream.  It's nothing short of brilliant.

Han's Nonsensical Rating: The hype of Hot Doug's is deserved but figure out a better time to go (early lunch midweek?).  Publican is a positively great place to go with friends, order a bunch of platters and go to town. I just want that porchetta fat to coat my throat and the insides of my arteries again.

3324 North California, Chicago, IL 60618
Hot Doug's on Urbanspoon

837 W Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607
The Publican on Urbanspoon