Saturday, March 25, 2017

Champa Garden: Thai/Lao in Oakland

Robin observed: "everyone eating here looked like they were eating their favorite dish." I'm pretty sure this is the oldest Thai-Lao restaurant in the Bay Area, and they have sister locations elsewhere, including San Francisco and Redding. Family vibe: friendly, informative, open and light of heart.

Thai-style Papaya Salad. Tangy, spicy, slightly sweet, and a panoply of texture. Lime juice, garlic, dried shrimp, papaya and carrot strips, peanut garnish, vermicelli and cabbage on the side, chile, long bean, & tomato. 

Seafood Salad. Squid, scallops, & shrimp cooked to perfection, tossed with lime juice, fish sauce, chiles, onion, cilantro, carrot and celery. Soft and crisp texture contrast, all very fresh and bright.

Laotian Pork Lemongrass Sausage. Best version I've had yet. Great contrast between the lemongrass and the pork. Perfect complement to the rice ball salad. 

Greens for eating the Rice Ball Salad. Mint, cilantro, romaine leaves. Break the lettuce in half, fill with the Rice Ball Salad, and some cilantro and mint.

Rice Ball Salad. Crispy fried rice, preserved pork, chiles, cilantro, green onion & lime. Up there with all the best versions around here.

Drunken Noodles (with chicken). Nice char on the noodles, as there should be, with rice noodle, basil, bamboo shoot, onion, mushroom, peppers, & chicken. Like everything we had, up there with the finest expressions of the cuisine we've had the pleasure to experience. Sublime.

Champa Garden
 2102 8th Ave, Oakland, CA 94606

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Mehran Restaurant: Indian & Pakistani Cuisine in Pittsburg, CA

Here's a place Robin's been to before, similar format of most Indian restaurants with lunch buffet followed by dinner menu at night. Also, like some other restaurants we've seen in other parts of the SF Bay region, this little strip center connects with other rooms one can rent out for catered events, weddings, corporate dinners, etc. Very affordable prices, huge portions, and absolutely delectable cuisine.

One of the best Bhindi Masalas I've ever had, remarkable for the fact that all the ingredients tasted so fresh. Okra cooked in onion and spices--much less cooked than most places, rendering a version that's  more about the natural flavor of the okra.

Above: Goat Korma, tender and still on the bone. Typically, I've found Korma dishes to not be quite this color, as they are usually yogurt based, sometimes cashew based, and given the flavor and aroma of this version, I'd say the color comes from the extra spices, notably turmeric and ground chile powder, along with many other spices, and a good quantity of them, some clearly roasted and ground recently, given how keenly vivid they are on the palette. 

Lamb Palak, boneless lamb cook with spinach. Somewhat similar to Lamb Saag dishes we've had, but once again, Mehran doesn't skimp when it comes to spices. There's so many spices happening in every bite, it's challenging to detail the entire panoply. Mehran is up there with the finest Indian & Pakistani restaurants in the Bay Area.

Mehran Restaurat

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Porchetta & Morels

Porchetta, Morels, and Butter Lettuce Salad.
Freshly-picked Morels. Robin found these growing here in Vallejo.

Making Morels with a cream sauce--a bit like making sausage--not that glamourous. She browned chopped shallots, added sliced morels, half and half, dry sherry, fresh picked thyme and sage.

Here you can see the morels sauteeing.

Meanwhile, doing the porchetta took most of the afternoon. Above you can see it, right after we put it in the oven. We used the NY Times recipe as a guide. Got a great deal on Pork Butt, took it out of the fridge a few hours ahead of time, then butterflied it, and scored the fat. Lightly seasoned all the pork with salt from the jar where I keep my salt-cured anchovies. Then spread, along the inside, the herb spread: freshly picked rosemary (new growth), purple sage, fennel fronds, zest of one Meyer lemon from our little tree; freshly roasted fennel seeds, black peppercorns & chiles (mostly arbols), which then got ground up; all this got blended into a paste with extra virgin olive oil. Oh and a LOT of garlic, as always. I dusted the outside of the entire pork roast with more of the fennel seed, peppercorn and chile mixture. Then we tied our mother down with some kitchen twine, put the oven on 450, and roasted for 35 minutes.

At this point, it's already gettin' roasted, so we turned the oven down to 325, and let that thang roast for another 2 hrs 45 minutes. The whole house was smelling lovely, and Frances (our dog) was going nuts the whole time.

Here it is, out of the oven.

Another shot, from the backside. Always let your meat rest for at least 15 minutes, though 30 minutes or more is a good idea. 

Slicing it up. Notice charred bits of pork that stuck to the pan. I simply spatulaed that up later, no biggie.

Another shot of the slicing. The green herb paste is so intense.

And there's the plate: local inexpensive Zinfandel ($3.99 at Grocery Outlet), Porchetta served with Kamut grain, Butter Lettuce dressed with EVOO & lemon, and a bit of the Morels in cream sauce.

Arguably the best food photo I've ever taken. Butter lettuce, morels in cream sauce, and roasted porchetta. 

Mayflower: Exquisite Dim Sum in Milpitas

Scallop dumplings! Saved the best for last.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Mian: Gourmet Chongqing Noodle in Los Angeles

House Beef Noodles at Mian.

The highlight of our journey to Los Angeles last year was going to eat at the two Chengdu Taste locations. Since then, they've opened up a third location in Las Vegas, and now this new restaurant, dedicated to making Chongqing Noodles from scratch. As their website says, "Noodles from Chongqing city in Sichuan is one of the favorite traditional Chinese dishes to 13 million Chinese people." Definitely eating at Mian was one of the highlights of our Los Angeles trip this year.

To the left is slightly pickled cabbage authentic Sichuan restaurants serve as a starter, and to the right, two cups of soup broth, chilled and recommended for drinking along with slurping/eating the noodle dishes you order.

Chengdu ZaJiang Noodles with Pork. Ground pork, noodles, baby bok choy, scallion, and a rich bone broth.

House Beef Noodles. Very tender beef, noodles, scallion, baby bok choy, and a bone broth that tasted intensely of chile and classic Chinese five spices.

Close-up of the House Beef Noodles. Amazed I finished it, my face was all red and bathed in sweat.

Closeup of the ZaJiang with Pork Noodles. Great stuff, very affordable and absolutely tasty. A bit reminiscent of the ramen craze, and perhaps places like this will inspire a Chongqing Noodle craze.

Here's a funny story. We got there right when it reopened on Sunday at 5pm, and only one other table was seated: Boomer Anglos. I overheard one of them complaining about how there was nothing but noodle dishes on the menu (actually not true, technically, as there's plenty of non-noodle appetizers). I don't understand why you would go to a Noodle place if you've got a Gluten-Free diet.

301 W Valley Blvd, #114-115
San Gabriel, CA, 
United States 91776


Shamshiri Grill: Persian Cuisine in Los Angeles

Fesenjan at Shamshiri Grill.

Above & below: complimentary appetizer of freshly-baked Lavash (Persian flatbread) served with butter, mint, radish & red onion. From the start, Shamshiri was signalling that it does things differently from other Persian restaurants I've been to.

Pomegranate juice & fresh mint tea.

Shirin Polo: slivered almonds, pistachio, orange peel mixed with basmati rice in a sweet Saffron sauce. Can't think of many rice dishes I've had better than this.

To accompany the Shirin Polo, we chose Lamb Shank. It was completely tender, falling off the bone, and appeared & tasted like it was braised in a mirepoix (or Sabzi, in Farsi). Utterly sublime combination.

Thinking it couldn't possibly get any better, they brought out the Fesenjan, a sweet & tart stew with grated walnuts, pomegranate juice & pomegranate molasses, served with Basmati rice (suffused with some Persian saffron, I think). Again we chose Lamb Shank. This tasted a bit like sweet dark Oaxacan Mole, which I had on my mind since I had just bought some at Grand Central Market, but is that so far off? Dark moles are made using sweet chiles like Pasilla & Ancho, and nuts (typically pumpkin seeds and sesame), plus I'm sure there was minced sauteed onion, probably some garlic, and even some spices like cumin, cilantro and black pepper--perhaps not, but spices like those could easily be a part of this rich dish. 

At long last, it was time to loosen a button on the waistcoat and reckon with the leftovers, of which you can see there was ample. Without a doubt one of the most memorable meals I've ever had. 

Shamshiri Grill
1712 Westwood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90024

Monday, February 13, 2017

Grand Central Market in Downtown Los Angeles

Mexican cuisine at Grand Central Market. Great place to start our culinary adventure, with kinds of choices, & convenient parking garage next door.

We didn't expect to find a gourmet take on some Berlin classics. Above is Currywurst's take on Sauerkraut that was so delicious we'd almost finished it before I got a snapshot.

Bratwurst Breakfast with eggs.

Currywurst with bread.

Huge line for the hipster breakfast spot Eggslut, soon coming to the Bay Area.

Mexican grocer with all kinds of Mole on offer. I got some Oaxacan Negro & Verde.

Scallop Ceviche.