Archive for the ‘Feature’ Category

Top Chef in Singapore

Sunday, September 12th, 2010 by virginia

I haven’t been so thrilled with this current season of Top Chef, as there was really no one that I wanted to root for. Tiffany made a good run towards the end but she fell a bit short, and the remaining cheftestants just don’t excite me very much. Kenny and Angelo were the clear frontrunners, and while it was easy to dislike Angelo’s cockiness, Kenny didn’t do much to ingratiate himself to me either. Even though I think Kenny did go home too early, his arrogance before he was eliminated annoyed me as well.

The bright spot of the season, for me, was finding out that the finale would be held in Singapore. It was exciting because this was the first time Top Chef was going somewhere out of the country, but also because Singapore holds a special place in my heart. In October 2007, Josh’s job sent him to Singapore for five weeks, and I took a leave of absence from my own job to go with him. It was an experience of a lifetime, being able to live in a unique city halfway around the world, and I wasn’t about to miss out.

We had a lovely corporate apartment that was bigger than our apartment in NYC, with a fully equipped kitchen, but we never even used it. You see, the food in Singapore is some of the best in the world, and it was cheaper to eat out every day for every meal than it was for me to buy groceries in the supermarket. So while Josh toiled away at the office for 12 hours a day, I was living the life of a lady at leisure. I slept in until noon every day and only got up to meet Josh and his coworkers for lunch. After lunch, when they headed back to the office, I explored the city. I would take a different route home each day, wandering through Chinatown, Little India, and Arab Street. I familiarized myself with Clarke Quay and Boat Quay, and hiked the hills of Fort Canning Park. On some days, when I was feeling more active, I’d take the bus or the train to the western part of the country, to see the Singapore Zoo or the Chinese/Japanese gardens.

After my afternoon jaunts, I’d head back to our apartment and take a dip in the pool to cool down (it was over 100 degrees every day). Then I’d watch TV or nap until Josh called me for dinner, and I’d go back out to meet up with him and his coworkers. They were eager to show us everything Singapore had to offer, and loved the fact that we were adventurous eaters. They took us to different hawker centers and would tell us to sit down while everyone else ran around to pick up various items from all the different stalls.

Basically hawker centers are similar to food courts we have at malls in the U.S. There are central tables, where people would reserve seats by placing packets of tissues on the table (imagine trying to do that here!), and then each stall sells just a few items. Usually a stall specialized in a certain dish, so you would pick up one dish from one stall, and then order another specialty dish from a different stall. Beverages were sold at a completely separate stall, etc. etc., and everything was outrageously cheap. For someone who likes variety, this was the best way to eat.

One of our favorite places was Lau Pa Sat Festival Market, a giant food court near Josh’s office.We had lunch there several times, and at night the outer rim of the market turned into a giant barbecue. There were stalls after stalls of people selling satays, the most tender and juicy satays we’ve ever had. The smells emanating from the market were absolutely intoxicating, and the atmosphere was lively and festive.

The exterior of Lau Pa Sat Festival Market

Beef, mutton, and chicken satays

BBQ stingray

So going back to part one of the Top Chef finale, Josh and I were beside ourselves when we saw that the Quickfire Challenge was held at Lau Pa Sat. It was fun to see the cheftestants sweating it out (literally) as they tried to recreate some of the street food they ate earlier in the episode. Ed’s noodle dish did look pretty tasty, though I have to give props to Angelo for trying to make chili frog legs, a take on the popular chili crab dish. Contrary to the name, chili crab isn’t very spicy, and is more tomato-y in flavor. If you’re looking for some heat and burn, try black pepper crab instead.

The Elimination Challenge was held at the Tanjong Beach Club, which is actually on the island of Sentosa, just south of the mainland. The only time that Josh didn’t work was on weekends, so we took that time to explore places away from the mainland. One weekend we took a five hour bus ride to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and during another weekend we took a short flight to Bangkok, Thailand. Our first weekend in Singapore, however, we took the cable car out to Sentosa to visit the southernmost point of continental Asia.

Sentosa is a resort island, with a beautiful stretch of beach that is actually man-made. There’s lots to do on the island besides sitting on the beach or people watching from the various clubs that line the water. There’s a rainforest jungle you can hike through, animal parks with animal shows to watch, adventure parks, rides, a fort, and the famous Songs of the Sea water show, among other things. We spent a full day there walking around both in the jungle and on the beach, and had some of the best chicken curry I’ve ever tasted at an outdoor restaurant called Coastes.

The jungle side of Sentosa

The beach side

More scenery

Small bridge that leads up to the southernmost point of continental Asia

Mickey the monkey who sat on our shoulders with his big red butt

Giant merlion statue - the merlion is the mascot of Singapore. It has the head of a lion ("Singa" means lion) and the body of a fish.

The best curry chicken ever

It’s too bad that Top Chef didn’t show any scenery from Sentosa because it’s a really beautiful island. The Elimination Challenge I thought was a bit contrived, but I’m glad that everyone turned out really good food. It was hard to predict who was going to be eliminated, and I was sad to see Kelly, the last woman in the competition, end up packing her knives. I’m looking forward to the final episode, not to see who wins Top Chef, but to see what clips they’ll show of Singapore. Josh and I spent most of the episode yelping whenever we recognized a location in one of the shots.

In conclusion, I know this post really has nothing to do with Top Chef, but it gave me the perfect opportunity to wax nostalgic about our time in Singapore. It’s a place with an amazing blend of cultures, and that is reflected in the food. We had fantastic Chinese and Malaysian food while we were there, and the best Indian food I’ve ever eaten anywhere. The people are so friendly and hospitable, and yes, the city is incredibly clean. Josh thinks he might have to go again for work in December, and I’m already seething with jealousy because I don’t have enough vacation time to tag along this time. If you ever have the opportunity to go to Singapore, don’t pass it up! It’s an amazing country, full of amazing people and amazing food. I sincerely hope that having Top Chef exposure will encourage more people to visit this wonderful place.

Spooning in the Kitchen

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010 by josh

The second most useful tool in my kitchen are my tongs (knives are first).  I have 3 pairs: long metal, short metal and short plastic tipped (for use in non-stick pans).  I use them to lift and replace food in the pan, remove hot pot lids, adjust hot oven racks, retrieve food bits that have fallen out of the pan and into the flame of the stove, toss salads, serve food at the table, etc., etc.  They are multi-purpose and, much like my knives, work perfectly as a heat-resistant extension of my own arm.

There are times when my plastic tongs are covered in Caesar dressing from recently tossing a salad, the short metal tongs covered in coddled egg (from when the dressing was made) and the long tongs covered in grease splatter from the stove top because I left them too close to the pan.  When these situations arise and I need a delicate touch to, say, flip croûtons on a baking sheet, I reach for my tong substitute: chopsticks.

We have many pairs of plastic chopsticks.  While great for feeding oneself, they are poor tong substitutes.  I have exquisite chopstick technique (so I’m told) and have eaten fancy business dinners in Asia without embarrassing myself, but I am thoroughly convinced that Asian people conceived plastic chopsticks specifically to confund Westerners.  There is no reason that a device that depends on friction should be made from the slipperiest material available.  I presume glass was too expensive for common chopstick manufacturing?  Second, plastic melts.  It is ill designed to fetch morsels that have fallen below the pan next to the flame.  I’m not sure wood would be better in this case, although it does remedy my first gripe.  Lastly, chopsticks are not strong enough to lift pot-lids or adjust hot oven-racks.  That, or I am not a strong enough chopstick user.  (Sidebar: cool idea for a new world’s-strongest-man event – who can lift the heaviest item with chopsticks? Someone call ESPN.  This idea is ™TFB.)  So, despite the flair with which Ming Tsai uses them in the kitchen, I’ll say, for me, chopsticks are a poor substitute for tongs.  But, alas, I have found a new substitute: spoons.

Sometimes the strangest things intrigue me.  Virginia and I had a really nice meal at Daniel for our anniversary a while back and I noticed the waiter using spoons as tongs to serve the bread.  I had seen this many times before and each time I thought is was a cool technique, but this time something struck me that I’d be able to leverage this in the kitchen.  I was particularly interested when I noticed a chef on Top Chef using the spoons-as-tongs technique to flip a protein in a frying pan.  Immediately I went to google and searched “spoons as tongs”.  No instructions.  There was one link that mentioned its a good idea when camping (so you dont need to pack the tongs) but no advice as to how to do it.  Naturally, I refined the search: “spoon as tongs” “how to”.  Again, no results save for the one that said fancy restaurants should serve bread using spoons as tongs.  I continued for a while, trying more generic searches “spoons” “tongs” “how to” (which at least yields an interesting article about how to spoon feed a baby parrot).  No instructions anywhere on the Internet.  Surely, the all-knowing all-powerful Internet couldn’t be so uninformed.  Google had failed me for the first time in a long while (the net-neutrality thing hadn’t happened yet).  Really though, let’s face it, if Google can’t find it, it doesn’t exist on the Internet.

Months of agony passed, I labored in the kitchen dropping slippery foods from my no-friction chopsticks, until Virginia’s birthday rolled around and we found ourselves at Daniel once again.  The opportunity presented itself and, with prodding from my mother who had just listened to a rant not unlike the one you’re reading now, I asked the waiter to show me.  Ironically, his name was Bing (j/k).  So, without further ado, I present to you, TFB reader, the only known (to me and Google) set of  instructions on the entirety of the Internet:

How To Use Spoons As Tongs

Step 1:

Take your hand, palm side facing you, with your fingers spread.

Step 2:
Weave a spoon, concave side towards you, through your pinky, ring, and middle fingers.  Pinky and middle fingers underneath, as so:

Spoons As Tongs - Step 2

Step 2: Holding the first spoon

Step 3:
Grasp a spoon between your thumb and pointer finger so that when making a fist, the two spoons meet (concave to concave or concave to convex depending on how tight of a grip you need).  If it’s more comfortable, rest the handle in your palm.

Spoons As Tongs - Step 3

Step 3 - Grasp the second spoon

Step 4:
To use, move ONLY one spoon.  Just like chopsticks.  I find it easier to move the woven spoon from step 2.

Step 5:
Use to grasp, capture, lift, adjust, retreive, serve anything youre strong enough to lift.  Once I had this technique down I started using spoons to pick up everything in the apartment.  I can get our smaller cat by the scruff.  Just kidding, although I smell another world’s-strongest-man event in the making (™TFB).

Spoons as Tongs - Step 5

Now you can pick up anything!


Tuesday, June 29th, 2010 by josh

I realize I’ve been a bit silent on the blog-posting front – 274 posts and only 9 by me. I’ve still been struggling about what to write. Virginia does great reviews of all our meals and there’s not much I can add on that front. I do travel a lot and, as a result, have plenty of meals on my own, but Virginia gets seriously jealous if I eat too well when I’m on the road. Occasionally I have musings, like how restaurants do a miserable job on website design, but I lack the confidence to put them into writing. I spoke with a few friends and came up with a few different ways I can get more involved as the features writer on TFB. For starters, I’m taking a page from Claire‘s book and I’m committing to post at least once a week going forward (much easier than promising to run 26 miles and then having to follow through). I can’t promise that any of it will be good, but I’ll have more features, book reviews, cooking tips etc. Also, while this might get me in trouble, I’m going to start writing about the good meals I have when I travel.

I wanted to start off my new posting-spree by introducing a theme, kind of like Virginia’s quest for the best pizza delivery. It would be a nice go-to topic for the weeks when I won’t have something prepared. Initially, I thought a grand search for the perfect post-coital snack would be fun but Virginia wasn’t willing to do the necessary research. No worries, I will come up with something. Since that idea went to bed (for now), I’m going to start my blog resurgence with something different.

Although I have been lacking in my posts, my role at TFB has not been non-existent. Besides being the webmaster I am also the press secretary. Virginia reads a lot of other foodie blogs and points me to contests we should enter, events to attend, and places to cross-post her musings. Believe it or not, Virginia is quite shy and when someone emails us at TFB for an interview, for example (yes, it’s happened), Virginia always asks me to follow up, and I do. This is the story of my first television audition.

Virginia sent me the casting call for a show called “Vacation Food Dude” that was (or is?) to be on the Spike network. The request was simple enough, fill out a form which asked questions about who you are and your food passion. I got called in for an audition the following day, right around lunchtime. My instructions were to bring my resume along with something to eat and talk about in front of the camera. I admit, I put more thought into what food I was going to bring than on preparing myself for the awkwardness of eating in that manner. I wanted something different that no one else would bring, with a complex flavor I can talk about at length. Also, my general sloth factored in and I wanted a place close to the casting office, so I picked up some Go Go Curry.

There were two people ahead of me when I arrived. One had a bag from Bar Americain and the other was in the room doing his audition. It sounded like he was screaming at the camera in there, and I got nervous for the first time. I picked up a form and started to fill out the necessary information, most of which I had already filled out on the form I emailed in. Isn’t there a more efficient way to do that? My nerves subsided (thinking sarcastically about the world helps).
After Bar Americain was done, I got up to begin and handed in my “acting resume” (my actual resume coupled with several printed posts from this blog) and my headshot (one from Kuala Lumpur on the street drinking from a coconut). There were two people in the room, one who I assume was the casting director and an assistant who operated the camera and gave me prompts and instructions.

I was calm and casual when being introduced. We exchanged pleasantries and talked briefly about how I got into food and what I do for a living (not related to TV at all). Then the camera started rolling and my first surprise came: “If you had a device that allowed you to travel anywhere in the world in seconds and I asked you to use it to take me for breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner where would we go?” – @#$%, weren’t we going to talk about Go Go Curry? (I started to picture the travel machine invented by Mr. Garrison from South Park. Somewhere in the annals of the audition library of that casting company is a video of me with the smile of an immature 14 year old boy).

Well, ok, so I wasn’t prepared for that question, but I can think quickly on my feet. When my friends or clients come to New York I love taking them out to new places and introducing them to new things, I can do this. Breakfast, something unique, something the other candidates probably didn’t say… Dim Sum!!!! Virginia and I love Jing Fong in Chinatown, but that’s not really taking advantage of my teleporter… Dim Sum = Dumplings = Xi’An, China. Ok, we’re going to Xi’An for dim sum for breakfast. Although at the time I had not been to Xi’An (and now that I have I know I wouldn’t return just for the dim sum), I was able to go through the various dim sum and make it work.

Now I’m in my groove, hitting my stride, working my magic, some other cliché, and I decide that it’s afternoon, I bought this Go Go Curry and dammit I’m going to eat it. So lunch = back to NYC for some Go Go Curry. The casting lady tells me “nice segue”, @#$% that broke my concentration. I open the box and try to make a show of smelling, tasting and savoring the katsu. Damn, that was a big piece a put in my mouth. Chewing. 30 seconds of silence is a lot longer than it sounds. Still Chewing. Yum. “Describe the flavor” she tells me. Here’s where I really messed up. Describing flavors is not tough, I am usually very good at it, but under the gun is totally different. I deliberately chose the one food that is a complex mix of smoky barbecue, salty garlic mixed with sweet porky goodness. How do you describe that? The words are on the tip of my tongue. Damn, silence again. Oh yeah, “its a complex mix of smoky barbecue, salty garlic mixed with sweet porky goodness”. Boo-yah. That felt good.

Next up is the snack. Now, I figured I just had two Asian meals and I’m ready for a change of pace. There is no better snack than pizza and the best pizza is at Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn. So I take the opportunity to use a magic machine that can transport me anywhere in the world instantly to travel 40 blocks downtown and across the east river (I’ve named this magic machine, the “#3 train”). By this point, I’ve totally wasted the novelty of this exercise. My mind immediately jumped to what I would really want and where I would really take someone in the non-fantasy world. I have a bit of a New Yorker evangelist complex. I love to show off the best spots in the city to visiting friends and clients and I guess I drew on my standard operating procedure as food ambassador. In New York, getting 4 great meals a day doesn’t require suspending reality. Ok, so I suspend reality when it comes to my stomach capacity, but that’s it.

Last up is dinner. Here, I struggled with a dilemma. There are a few restaurants I really want to try and a few that I know are good. Trying to impress at a new place is a big risk and can end in big disappointment (see the upcoming Jean Georges post). Going to a reliable place is a lock. Well, the goal here is to take someone else around for 4 meals in a day. If there was one place I’d want to go back to it’d be Alinea. Again, a waste of the “machine novelty” but the honest choice, I went with it. BOOM, another roadblock. How do you describe Alinea? Man, talking about food is easy, writing about food is harder, but being in front of camera and trying to come up with details to talk about on the spot with no prior knowledge of the specific topic is really tough. As tough as trying to describe the meal at Alinea. I think the casting director has lost interest.

That wrapped it up. I didn’t feel great about my performance but I was proud of myself for having gone and tried out. I left thinking about all the things I didn’t do right: I looked at the interviewer instead of into the camera. I spent too much time thinking and probably wasn’t peppy enough. My sweater fit awkwardly. Oh well, it was a unique experience, certainly fun and educational. We had drinks with Alissa (an actual actress) the next day and she told me if I didn’t hear back right away it meant I didn’t get the part. I figured as much the moment I left the studio. I guess I am left with my current job that sends me on projects all over the world and offers me the opportunity to eat at all kinds of places. (I collect my frequent flier miles so Virginia can come with me sometimes too). In reality, I am already the “Vacation Food Dude” and I wouldn’t change it for anything.

Trying to Follow 10 Rules for Food Blogging

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010 by virginia

One of my favorite bloggers, The Amateur Gourmet, aka Adam Roberts, just came out with his ten rules for food blogging. The Amateur Gourmet was one of the first food blogs that I started reading, and I love Adam’s witty style of writing. I even bought his book, also named The Amateur Gourmet, as a gift for Josh, as I think some of his stories hilariously match up with some of our own experiences (particularly those relating to his mother!).

In hopes of having some sort of success with my own blog, I’m taking Adam’s rules to heart:

1. Have a hook. That hook might be cooking your way through a cookbook, deriding disastrous cakes, or advising fellow workers on where to eat in midtown.

This piece of advice was also given to me by a classmate from high school who has since become a published food writer. With so many blogs out there, you need to carve out a niche in order to stand out. I’m still trying to find mine, though it’s been tough. Lots of my favorite bloggers are hungry Asian girls, just like myself. I’m basically just an untrained amateur cook who loves to eat. I’m the first to admit that this blog is neither unique nor special, but I would like it to be! Anyone have suggestions on something that I can focus on to help make Two Fat Bellies more noticeable in the food blogging community?

2. If you don’t have a hook, have a name. Like this guy or this guy, both of whom made a name for themselves in the food world before starting a food blog.

This is kind of a strange rule, as most people don’t “have a name” before embarking in the food blogging realm. I’m definitely not famous, nor do I plan on giving my name out anytime soon. Even though Josh and I aren’t exactly in hiding, and I do talk about tidbits from our personal lives, we do refrain from stating our full names or posting pictures of ourselves so that we can retain some anonymity right now. That might change in the future, maybe as we (hopefully) gain more exposure.

3. If you don’t have a name, have a singular, stand-out voice that’s unlike any other voice out there.

I’m not sure what is meant by a “stand-out” voice. I do have a particular writing style that I’ve carried since my days as a sports writer for my college newspaper, but I also take on a more casual tone in my blog posts. I’m definitely less formal in my posts and try write like how I would speak, if I didn’t have a fear of public speaking.

4. If you don’t have a singular, stand-out voice, take beautiful pictures of beautiful food and include recipes.

I definitely do take a lot of pictures, though that’s something I’ve been struggling with lately. We recently bought an SLR so there may have been some improvements in our photos as of late but we’re still learning how to use it. We have a lot of trouble when it’s really dark inside a restaurant, but I try not use flash, unless it’s appropriate for the venue.

However, I felt very conspicuous busting out a big SLR in restaurants such as Daniel, Aureole, and A Voce Columbus. Those are places where we definitely don’t use flash yet I still feel uncomfortable clicking away sometimes. I try to do it discreetly but when you have servers hovering over you constantly, it’s hard to prevent them from noticing. I don’t know if that results in better or worse treatment for us, but fortunately we haven’t run into any issues yet.

With regard to recipes, I haven’t posted any full ingredient lists and line by line instructions because that’s just not my style. I rarely follow any recipe to letter, and when I do, I don’t feel right posting someone else’s recipe so I’ll either link to it or just refer to the book that I used. I don’t want to run into any copyright issues or try to take credit for something that I didn’t create. To the lawyers who read this blog, are there any repercussions to posting someone else’s recipe, even if I give credit where it’s due?

5. Update frequently, at least three times a week. Even if you’re not a great photographer, include pictures in your posts; preferably, a lead picture at the top and several illustrative pictures studded throughout. (Edit these pictures in Photoshop, for maximum effect.)

I generally do post at least three times a week, though I aim for more. At one point I was posting almost every day but I’ve come to realize just how tough it is, given my current workload and general state of mind.

With much encouragement from Josh, I started this blog almost a year ago as an outlet for some of my frustrations at the time. I was having trouble figuring out what I wanted to do with my life and what I was truly passionate about, and the only thing that came to mind was food. But I wasn’t (and still am not) ready to make food a career choice, so this blog was the next best thing. It was a way for me to keep in touch with the world of food and to hone my writing skills. It wasn’t meant to become a second job for me.

There are times when I stress over the fact that I’m not posting enough, or that my posts are poorly written and uninteresting, and that’s when I start to pull back from the blog a bit. Writing this blog was meant to be a hobby for me, and an enjoyable one at that. When it starts to become to taxing and stressful, then it ruins my purpose of having a blog in the first place.

Overall I do love having Two Fat Bellies and enjoy writing posts for the site. I take a lot of pride in my hard work, and I do hope that people recognize that it’s not always easy to keep updating. But your encouragement and support really does mean a lot to me and definitely helps me to push through when things start to get tough. The last people I want to disappoint are my readers, and that provides a lot of motivation too.

6. Spend time on the design of your blog. If you’re not a design person, pay a designer to make it look great. It’s a worthwhile investment.

We did make a conscious effort to redesign our site after our initial WordPress template launch. We commissioned our good friend John to design our top banner and we absolutely love it, so we don’t plan on changing it anytime soon. I guess we could be fancier with the fonts and stuff, but I think everything is pretty straightforward and easy to read through. Maybe our next project will be to clean up the tags, since there are a lot of them right now!

7. Interact with your readers. Prompt them for comments, acknowledge their comments in your later posts.

Please comment!! I love comments! Even critical ones, as they’ll only help me to make the blog better. We do take your comments to heart, and we definitely try to respond to comments where appropriate.

8. Offer your readers various ways to read your blog: syndicate your blog through RSS, send it out over e-mail, if you’re techno savvy (and I’m not) create an iPhone app.

I’m definitely not tech saavy, and am impressed that I’ve simply learned how to put up posts by myself. I’m going to pass this rule on to Josh, as he runs the technical side of this blog.

9. Tweet. Nowadays, a great way to call attention to your blog and what you’re blogging about is Twitter. Build up a large Twitter following and then link to your posts when you write them.

This rule is a tough one, as Josh and I are famous in our group for avoiding social networking. We don’t have Facebook accounts and we don’t use Twitter. Sometimes, I don’t even check my personal email for days. Not purposely, but the only time I can use these sites is from home, as they’re all blocked at my office. When I have a rough day at work, the last thing I want to do when I get home is jump on the computer, since I stare at one all day. But maybe it’s time for us to stop shunning social networking, as it’s definitely a good way for us to try to gain some more exposure and get a few followers. Perhaps we can compromise and just use it for blog promotional purposes, rather than for cyberstalking former classmates (though the temptation will always be there!). What do you guys think?

10. Be exuberant. No one wants to read a shoulder-shrugging blogger. If you’re passionate, you’ll get a passionate response.

I admit, sometimes I do shoulder shrug when I write up a restaurant review. There are times when I absolutely love a place and I’ll rave about it. And there are also times when I absolutely hate a place, and I’ll tell you exactly why. But for the most part, a lot of restaurants do garner a shoulder shrug reaction. They’re either good but not great, or they’re bad but not awful. I don’t keep it so black and white because if I go back to a restaurant that I tell my readers was terrible, doesn’t that make me a hypocrite?

For the most part, a lot of where we eat is dictated by our budgeting constraints. I would love to eat at three star Michelin restaurants all the time (now THAT would be a cool niche to corner the market in!) but it’s just not realistic. Right now we’re eating at and posting about places that are easily accessible to ordinary New Yorkers who don’t have a huge amount of disposable income. When we do get to go to interesting or upscale places, I’m excited to post about them and you can probably tell that based on my reaction to the experience, good or bad.

But I’ll definitely try to be more decisive from now on. Just please don’t take any lukewarm reactions to certain restaurants to mean that I’m not passionate about eating (and I’ve got the fat belly to prove it)!

#1 – Alinea – The best 5 meals of my life (so far)

Sunday, December 6th, 2009 by josh

Chicago, IL USA. June 2009
The Tasting Menu
There’s not much to say that Virginia didn’t already. In fact, there wouldn’t be anything I could write even if Virginia hadn’t posted already; this meal simply left me speechless. Trying to describe it to friends and family after the fact was hard. The reaction was always along the lines of “really, and that was good?” There is no way to convey how good this experience was. Alinea has raised the bar for restaurants in my mind, and it has been raised significantly.

#2 – Le Bernardin – The best 5 meals of my life (so far)

Sunday, November 29th, 2009 by josh

New York, NY USA. March 2009
4-course prix fixe
I developed the desire to try Le Bernardin after reading about the chef, Eric Ripert, in Michael Ruhlman’s books and seeing him as a judge on Top Chef. The restaurant didn’t disappoint in the slightest. Everything was cooked to perfection and the flavors were light but delicious. My meal began with a Geoduck ceviche with sweet dried corn from the “Almost Raw” section of the menu. Next, from “Barely Touched” I had Bacalao with arugula/lemon confit pesto, almond and chorizo oil. During this course Virignia had zucchini flowers stuffed with peekytoe crab in a black truffle sauce that, before visiting Alinea, might have been the best thing I had ever eaten anywhere. My main course came from the “Lightly Cooked” section and was Wild Striped Bass – Langoustine with confit tomato, agnolotti, bouillabaisse consommé and curry emulsion. Before dessert, Eric Ripert stopped by our table (we had told the waiter that we’d like to meet him). My sister embarrassingly told Ripert first off that Virginia and I were fans of his and he looked at us and coyly asked “are you still fans?” He was extremely nice, wishing me a happy birthday and letting us know his favorite desserts on the menu before heading back to the kitchen where the stove hoods must be built into the ceiling to accommodate his seemingly twelve-foot frame. For dessert, I ordered the Grapefruit (vanilla cream, grapefruit sorbet, tarragon coulis, crisp meringe), which was not recommended by Ripert but was different than what everyone else at the table ordered. We did get to try his recommendations (chocolate/peanut and the hazelnut desserts) and the kitchen sent us a free dessert (pineapple panacotta I think) because it was my birthday. Overall it was a fabulous meal, one of the few where I remember everything I ate even though we took no pictures of the dishes.

#3 – Kikugawa – The best 5 meals of my life (so far)

Monday, November 2nd, 2009 by josh

Taipei Taiwan. November 2008
This was a meal I will never forget, although it took me six weeks to find the name of the restaurant. This was my second time to Taiwan and one of the reasons I was so excited to return was because the food, the sushi especially, remained in my memory. Some time on the 4-day drive from Taipei to Tainan I had mentioned my, and my family’s, affinity for Japanese food to Virginia’s uncle while she and her siblings slept in the back seat. When we got back to Taipei, my parents and sister arrived for our wedding banquet he arranged this meal the night before we returned to New York. It was a 16-course omakase-style meal. Here was the progression:

Crabmeat and Vegetable Maki

Crabmeat and vegetable maki

Yellowtail Sushu

Yellowtail sushi

Shredded sweet potato with ikura and shiso

Shredded sweet potato with ikura and shiso

Snapper sashimi

Snapper sashimi

Torched salmon sushi and tuna sashimi

Torched salmon sushi and tuna sashimi

Torched halibut sashimi

Torched halibut sashimi

Sashimi - Taiwanese native fish

Sashimi - Taiwanese native fish

Marinated raw snapper

Marinated raw snapper


Tender Octopus

There are no words to describe how good this next course was.  Until I had the “truffle explosion” at Alinea, it was the best single bite of food I’ve ever had:

Lettuce wrap with rice, toro, ikura and uni

Lettuce wrap with rice, toro, ikura and uni

Melt-in-your-mouth beef

Melt-in-your-mouth beef

Sturgeon filet atop soft tofu

Sturgeon filet atop soft tofu

Toro maki

Toro maki

Shrimp and Scallop in the lightest tempura batter

Shrimp and Scallop in the lightest tempura batter

Clam soup with basil and garlic

Light clam soup with basil and garlic

Red bean soup, mochi, and green-skinned orange

Red bean soup, mochi, and green-skinned orange

No doubt the best Japanese meal I’ve ever eaten.

#4 – Bouley – The best 5 meals of my life (so far)

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009 by josh

New York, NY USA. March 2007
4 course prix fixe
My favorite food author, Anthony Bourdain, says his first oyster was what made him realize that food could be special. I remember what I ate that made me feel this way too. The Grand Marnier soufflé at Le Cote Basque on my sister’s birthday sometime when I was around 9 years old, was, up to that point, one of the most unique things I had ever eaten. I don’t know how it happened, but I became a soufflé nut. I’d look for restaurants that made it well. For example, Chez Madeleine in Bergenfield, NJ was a must for chocolate soufflé, and even its successor, Madeleine’s Petite Paris (with far inferior savory food) maintained the chocolate masterpiece. I even took to making my own soufflé and was given all the necessary materials and tools by my aunt on a particularly young birthday. It should come as no surprise then, that on my birthday, I commonly request a French meal, particularly at places that serve dessert soufflés. Bouley seemed a perfect choice: renowned restaurant and it has chocolate soufflé for dessert. Although we ate this meal way before Virginia began photographing food, I still remember what I ate. Tuna tartar, “Return From Chiang Mai” (Lobster), lamb chops and, of course, the chocolate soufflé. All this, combined with good wine, amazing bread, and impeccable ambiance and service, was unmatched at the time.

#5 – Cervecería Catalana – The best 5 meals of my life (so far)

Sunday, August 16th, 2009 by josh

Barcelona, Spain. December 2006


One of the best meals of my life was also one of the most unexpected. The first time I was at Cervecería Catalana was in the spring of 2000 and I didn’t think anything more than that I had found the best tapas restaurant in Barcelona. When I returned in 2006 with Virginia, because Virginia would complain about how much I talked about Barcelona, we ate there twice in three days. Thinking back, I’ll confuse what I ate at each meal, but it was all fabulous. Pimientos de padron, garlic shrimp, calcots (only in season due to a freak warm spell), chiperones, calamares rellenos and more. The mood of Barcelona and atmosphere in the restaurant that’s crowded even at 1AM both contribute to the overall experience.  I recommend this place to all my friends who travel to Barcelona and can’t wait to return myself and try more offerings. The only downside to this trip was that I didn’t get to see my friend Ana, whose email address I lost when I moved several years ago and a computer died.

The best 5 meals of my life (so far)

Saturday, August 15th, 2009 by josh

Since Virginia has been posting details about our various dining exploits it doesn’t make much sense for me to duplicate those. I’ve been thinking for a while, as you can tell from my absence on this site, about my role here. Besides writing about my independent dining experiences, the result of my job’s travel requirements, I’d like to be able to contribute on a more regular basis. I suppose I could be considered the TFB “features” writer. Is there a word for “amateur writer”?

With this role in mind I decided my first post had to be positive. Since we’ve started the blog I’ve noticed that I’ve become more critical about my meals and have begun to notice things that irk me. For instance, servers at a fancy restaurant reaching across me to lay a plate or clearing the table before everyone’s finished. I don’t want to use my space here to kvetch (although I will one day), but to fulfill the spirit of TFB: our love for food and how it can make you feel. The feeling after a wonderful meal is unique and memorable. I was reminded of this after Virginia wrote her post on Alinea; just looking at those photos still makes me smile like an idiot.

My next five posts are going to be about the best five meals I’ve ever had. Writing about them isn’t as enjoyable as eating these meals was, but the memory of each keeps that stupid grin on my face. Two thoughts linger in my mind after re-reading what I wrote (and am going to post over the next few days): 1) I am extremely blessed and lucky to have had the opportunity to eat like this over the last few years and 2) how many great meals there are to look forward to as chefs raise the bar over and over again. This list will be a living feature on this site. I will update it as it changes; I just hope it changes often.

  1. Alinea – Chicago, IL. June 2009
  2. Le Bernardin – New York, NY. March 2009
  3. Kikugawa – Taipei, Taiwan. November 2008
  4. Bouley – New York, NY USA. March 2007
  5. Cervecería Catalana – Barcelona, Spain. December 2006