Day trip to Providence

It’s sad that Providence is only an hour from Boston, and yet up until last weekend, I had never been. Actually, quite a few people I talked to from Boston have never visited this, or any other “second-tier” New England capital, and after taking a day trip there, I must say I think we’ve all been missing out. It has a quiet persistence and battered about look that I’m taken with, the sort of place that’s been beaten down but that has managed to pull itself back up for another round. That’s my first impression, at least, and it makes me want to come back for more.

L and I left Beantown around 8am and got into Providence in time to break fast properly at Nick’s on Broadway. Nick’s came highly recommended by several independent sources, so we arrived early and hungry. It has the outfit of a retro diner, with its bright red walls, metallic tabletops, and locals with their spreads of newspapers at the counter. That said, it’s a diner for serious eaters. House-made sausage and pickles, frittata of seasonal vegetables, and house-baked brioche are on the locavore-loving menu, alongside more traditional diner fare like breakfast sandwiches, pancakes, and omelets.

Throughout our meal, we also noted the small touches that separate a half-decent restaurant from one you fondly remember. For example, these unusual (but 100% real!) flowers on display from the florist down the street:

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I think the waiter told us they were protea flowers. Flora are not my thing, but this one’s massive, hairy bulb and delicate, colorful tendrils (bracts?) caught my eye. Check out this one.

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Downtown LA

A brisk conference schedule and lack of transportation prevented me from getting out and seeing/eating more of LA than I was able to. Los Angeles is a seriously pedestrian un-friendly city, and after a hard day’s work, my good intentions of braving the public transportation system couldn’t compete with the thought of a hot bath and room service.

That’s not to say I didn’t eat very well during my stay. On my first night I called it quits early, but not before a lovely French meal for one @ Café Pinot:

French onion soup – Gratinée with Comté cheese:

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Click here for more “Downtown LA”…

Weekend eats: Boston local food festival and Legal Seafoods

This past weekend, my friend L came up for a reprieve from her busy life as a law student in NYC. Friday’s petulant weather gave way to a beautiful Saturday, which we enjoyed to the fullest.  We had a lovely lunch spread courtesy of the Boston Local Food Festival, where we also sampled local cheeses, meats (sniffed out the bacon from five stalls over), and baked goods, and caught some cheese-making action and the beginnings of a seafood throwdown. Here’s a rundown of what we ate/saw:

Scones hanging out, looking pretty tasty, if a bit unconventionally shaped:

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Continue eating…

England, part II: Oxford

On the night of my arrival (a quick train ride from London), A took me to the weekly formal dinner at her college hall.  It was my first time stepping into the kind of student dining hall that the Harry Potter movies have immortalized, at least in my mind.  We were served a three-course meal with wine (risotto, lamb, dessert) and a cheese plate as well, and it turns out the formal dinner is a tradition I heartily approve of 🙂

The next day, A and I enjoyed an afternoon meal in the shadows of the Bodleian:

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More pics after the jump!

Zephyr on the Charles

is the restaurant at the Hyatt Regency in Cambridge. It overlooks the Charles River, which on this night was frozen still. My parents came up for the weekend and managed to secure a reasonable nightly rate there, and mentioned that there was a $39 seafood and dessert buffet. Knowing how frustrating and time-consuming finding parking in Cambridge can be, we decided to check it out, sacrificing a little money in exchange for the peace of mind of hassle-free parking. By the way zephyr means breeze or a slight wind.  You know you did not know that.

As I mentioned, the main body of the restaurant looks out onto the Charles, as the Hyatt sits right on Memorial Drive. The Boston skyline is not as spectacular as Hong Kong’s but there is something peaceful and subtly attractive about it. The view was worth the few extra bucks, especially since we could linger for as long as we wanted on a slow unharried night. The seafood and soup aspect of the buffet was supremely solid– the creamy clam chowder was slightly gritty but one of the more satisfying I have had in the city. I don’t eat clam chowda often so when I do I am a stickler for consistency and seasoning. They had plenty of mussels, clams, and raw oysters, but shame on me for not eating raw seafood so I cannot attest to the quality of the oysters. My uncontested favorite of the pickings was the shrimp cocktail. The shrimp were EEnormous, so plump, and cooked flawlessly, just so they developed that slight firmness that bursts blissfully as you bite in. The cocktail sauce tasted homemade, sweet and refreshing with a little heat. The only sadness was realizing I fulfilled my cholesterol quota for the month, sad especially because Christmas is around the corner.

They also had a self-service salad bar, which looked passable but I didn’t dip my fingers in. More appealing were the numerous prepared salad-type dishes, including a piquant potato salad with baby fingerling potatoes, a sesame noodle salad, and a Mediterrean-y eggplant dish with raisins that called me back for seconds. Can you believe after all this we still each had an entree (choice among prime rib, salmon, swordfish, and lobster) and unlimited desserts? We told the waitstaff to pack our entrees w/o even bringing them to the table, which drew an exaggerated roll of the eyes but whatever my parents are Asian and if they are paying you, deal with it. I was very glad we did that because the desserts there should not be passed over. The coconut macaroons were finger-sucking good, crusty and caramelized on the outside, soft and sticky on the inside. I have no clue if thats what a traditional macaroon is supposed to be like but to hell with supposed to’s b/c it was one delicious fist-sized treat (oh right, I succumbed to two). Also present were a trio of cakes, two tarts (one nutty and one fruity), ginormous gingerbread cookies, numerous bite-sized tartlets or mini-tarts (adding -lets makes me think of a smaller version even if it’s not a word). I could only sample so much without bursting, but I approved of all that I had and left very satisfied.

I have been a negligent food blogger of late as a result of a combination of things, though none being because I haven’t been thinking about food.  I really have been considering how radically my outlook on food has changed since TLG was conceived. Writing changes, indeed shapes perspective, and I approach food in so differently than I did a year ago. My fundamental relationship to food has evolved into a downright obsession, which may or may not be healthy, as my life is dictated by food now more than ever– what I read, what I look at, what I talk about, who I commingle with, what gets me going. At a certain point, as with most relationships, I think it’s reasonable to question how viable one’s interests are, to evaluate your investments and re-adjust if necessary. This is what I have been doing recently, which has not been the easiest thing to food blog about– hence, my silence. But I don’t want my silence to be mistaken for a lack of engagement with food. Obviously I’ve needed to eat to live but I meant that it has been on my mind perhaps even more than usual, if that’s possible. I think the collision of new and old that takes place at the end of each year has put me in this especially reflective state.

I am leaving for NJ next week, then on to Philadelphia for a work conference that is conveniently located within walking distance of the Reading Terminal Market, where I’m told Amish bakers proffer their delicate sweets and cheap, tasty food abounds. I am excited and excited for the blog posts to come.

Cider donuts, apples and fried seafood

against the backdrop of picturesque New England autumn.  After some early morning showers, the day brightened beautifully, allaying my initial concerns of being soaked and being grumpy as a byproduct of being soaked.  I was still grumpy, but only then because that’s just who I am 🙂

I digress.  Today I lost my virginity.  My apple picking virginity, to be precise.  I tagged along with a buttload (nearly a full hayride’s worth) of Asian people to Russell Orchards, in Ipswich, MA, about an hour”s drive from Boston.  Unfortunately, the Honeycrisps were long gone but there were still plenty of Macouns, Cortlands, Galas, and MacIntoshs to go around.  I enjoyed sampling all the varietals, indulging in the freedom to bite and toss as I please.  It’s only recently I’ve cultivated a deeper appreciation for apples and the incomparable first bite of a fresh, crisp, clean, juicy specimen.  I think the reliable Galas and Fujis are still my preferred snacking apples, although I discovered today that the Macoun is nice as well, firm and crisp with a gorgeous white flesh.  I also picked up a few Cortlands that will hopefully make their way into an apple crisp on tomorrow’s brunch menu.

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Eats: Phu Quoc Island

The last stop on my Easter vacation was Phu Quoc, a small, relatively undeveloped island in the Gulf of Thailand off the coast of Vietnam. PQ is famous for its fish sauce and beaches, and has yet to be overrun by tourists and tourist-driven establishments.  In the early mornings I practically had the beach to myself, and would take a leisurely dip before breakfast while the sun lazily meandered its way over the horizon.  The complementary breakfast at the hotel was one drink and one item off the menu, and I mostly stuck with hot coffee, an omelet, and baguette.  In the spirit of laziness, I didn’t bring my camera to the breakfast table or whip it out as much as I usually do.  Here are some of the highlights:

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Home away from home

Yesterday I hit up my aunt’s place for a belated Chinese New Year’s meal.

This still taken while fiddling with my camera’s features as my aunt was preppping the food. Unintendedly nice photos are happy.  I also realized that I need to start taking better advantage of my camera’s capabilities…So expect a higher standard of photos in the near future!

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The spread. At the end of the day, Chinese food made by the family, for the family, puts all my other food cravings to shame.  It resonates with every part of my being.  This particular homecooked meal was especially therapeutic for my spirits, as I’d been feeling out of sorts of late.

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Steamy claypot stew of sea cucumbers, abalone, mushrooms, dried shrimp, and other delectable items. Loads and loads of umami.

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Amazing chicken wings, and photogenic to boot. The aroma stopped me dead in my tracks and had me scrambling to the dining table and seated in no time. I coaxed the recipe from my dear aunt — basically boiling the meat in a simple combination of traditional Asian ingredients and then letting it rest in the cooking liquid (kind of like a reverse marinade).

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Beef stir fry with crisp asparagus and red onions.

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Over the years, experiences like these have won me over to the idea that nothing says home like sitting down to a meal o’ love.  That and getting some thick ‘hong bao’ 😉

Seafood in Sai Kung

Taking advantage of one of the numerous public holidays that Hong Kongers celebrate, I finally caved in and headed out with some folks to Sai Kung, where fresh seafood abounds.  After getting into the main town area, we walked around for a bit along the boardwalk, checking out restaurant after restaurant with gorgeous sea creatures on display:

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Check out the size of those clams (upper right)!

Here, a man is removing the spines off fob sea urchins (haha i crack myself up)…but yea, a spine in one’s throat would not be a laughing matter.

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Needless to say, we soon sat down for some seagrub. We made our pickings and eagerly waited. Dish numero uno was lobster in ‘soup’, which actually turned out to some kind of viscous sauce, which was fine by me.

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This dish was pretty darn tasty (please excuse my use of plebeian adjectives; I’m almost a week removed from this experience).  Most of the lobster pieces were still shelled, which was a good thing because the shell fragments trapped the lobster’s juices and sauce, which were, in turn, just begging to be slurped out.  The lobster meat was plump, sweet, and juicy, nearly on par with the insanely creamy, melt-in-your-mouth lobster tail meat I downed in Cozumel.  I generally have a personal preference against meat that’s described as ‘melt-in-your-mouth,’ but that lobster tail was one for the ages.

Next dish: fried cuttlefish, which was not bad. The breading was not overbearing, and I enjoyed the mild sweetness of it. Not sure how wrong one could go with frying fresh seafood.

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Dish three: sea scalloops topped with vermicelli and garlic…and some more garlic…and some more. I’ve had this dish a few times in Hong Kong already, so I’m assuming it’s quite popular here. Can we all please look at those heaping mounds of garlic?

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As a garlic zealot, it took all I had within me to restrain myself from doing a jig on the table. I could have done without the vermicelli, although the noodles were useful for picking up the excess garlic that didn’t make it in with my scallop. I really like the simplicity of this preparation, especially since that simplicity translates into such a delectable dish.

Oh, did I mention the garlic?

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We next laid eyes on some gigantic prawns fried in oily, garlicky goodness. The skin was crunchy and edible, and while the meat was good, it was on the meager side. I think these prawns might have been underfed, poor things.

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Last, and least, was our steamed fish with scallions and ginger:

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I have yet to have steamed fish comparable to my dad’s back home, which disappoints me greatly. This fish meat was bland, lacking the naturally sweet flavor that I’m accustomed to, and I believe that fish is frowning because s/he let me down.

I thought this was a solid meal, though slightly disappointing in light of our high expectations for it.  We reckoned it might have been the restaurant we selected, so I look forward to going back and trying again. After walking around for a bit, we took a sampan to a strip of ‘beach’, where we leisurely occupied ourselves for the remainder of the afternoon. I’ll leave you with some pictures.

Seafood for sale:

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A sampan:

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The ‘beach’: pint-sized, in true Hong Kong fashion.

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