Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Malaysia- Jalan Alor

 I was thwarted by the unexpected Malaysian heat. Little did I know that Autumn in Malaysia still lends to sweaty armpits and diminishing appetite. But I came prepared..
Being the diligent blogger that I am, I scoured foreign blogs for good eats in Malaysia. I came up with a compacted list of must try hawker food stalls.

1. Wong Ah Wah's Chinese Malay Cuisine . Wong Ah Wah, started out with a small hawker stall selling notoriously good grilled chicken wings. News of the chicken wing spread like a virus and attracted hawker trotters from all over the world. Thus, one stall turned into three restaurants.

Aromatic basil, chili and garlic stir fried with clams. Fiery flavors oddly cooperative in this sweltering heat.
 Wong Ah Wah suggested the pairing of ice cold beer to temper the spicy dishes and tropical heat. Amidst panting and fanning, I managed to squeeze in momentary sighs of bliss as the ice cold beer hit my palate.

Ahh.. the infamous grilled chicken wings! A hybrid of Western BBQ wings and Asian teriyaki wings, it managed to achieve the best of worlds. Delicious!

2. Meng Kee Fried Sting Ray
In hindsight, tearing on stingray flesh should be the last thing a diver should be enjoying. After all, wasn't I frolicking with one only a few days later. Guilty as charged.

Upon my research on Malay eats, I was intrigued to find oyster pancake a top contender. This version is pan fried with less starch which lends to a crispy crust, slightly different from the Taiwanese version we are accustomed too.

Jalan Alor, one of the biggest food hawker centers in Malaysia, is a kaleidoscope of colors, smells, sounds, and people. Interspersed amongst locals are vaguely local foreigners (if there such a thing!) brushing away hawkers and their persistent laser lights and trinkets. Clamoring of pots and pans, fanning of charcoal grills and bilingual hawkers urging you to "sit and eat" encompass only a tip of the iceberg of Malaysia's exotic multi ethnic society.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Tickets, Barcelona

Tickets is the culminating end of our food journey in Spain. Maybe not the sole reason I'm here in Spain right now, but if Chef Frania was not able to score me a seat at Tickets, I would still be in the planning phase of our Europe excursion. Albert Adria helms the kitchen of this highly regarded tapa joint in Barcelona. Tables are booked three months in advance and is much sought after since the shuttering of El Bulli. El Bulli has always been THE restaurant of my dreams and it is no surprise that being an avid fan of the Adria brothers, procuring a seat here was mandatory.

Unlike El Bulli's white linen, over the top, molecular extravaganza, Tickets is much more subdued. Less of molecular gastronomy and more of simple, fresh ingredients. Chef Adria appears to enjoy the focus of one singular ingredient and playing it up a few notches. Expecting smoke, bubbles, and eccentric food puns, I was surprised that his creations were simply ..simple. This did not bother me at all. In fact, this highlights the difference between the two brother's culinary style and allows Albert to pave a road of his own.

The jamon of all jamon - Joselito. Instead of curing the jamon for 12 months, this morsel of meat was cured for 5 years. Cut paper thin, this was by far the BEST jamon I've had to this day. Even A, who avoids pork at all costs, described it as "lovely".

Of course, spherication of olives is the gold standard of everything Adria to Andres.
 The Spanish olives compared to Bazaar's were much bolder in flavor and instead of one, we were able to try 4 different types of olives.

Of the 20 tapas we ordered, our favorite was unanimously the white anchovies marinating in olive oil. Umami, a word often abused and misused, is most likely the best word to describe this blissful creation. Never has a single item, untampered by enhancer or chemicals, tasted this umami.

Filaments of toro belly, with salmon roe, and nori. We were instructed to roll it into sushi with miniature tweezers, much like the instruments I tweeze my eyebrow with. A very  novel idea indeed!
Another encounter with papillote this trip! This item was not on the "English" menu and was served only to Spanish speaking diners. Fortunately, I noticed with my beady eyes right away and was able to get us one of this beautiful pea papillote.

Albert Adria at work
By mid meal, Albert Adria dropped by Tickets and even manned the stoves himself! This is unheard of in the US! Someone of his status would never be seen ladling sauces much less cutting fish. Albert Adria's restless nature is apparent as he zips one from one table to another and appears almost seconds later in the kitchen.

As our Spain trip comes to an end, I've grown to love wine and understand what "tapa" truly is. At the same time, there is growing resentment of how Americans have butchered the concept of tapas. Miniature pizzas should never be labeled as tapa and wine CAN be served in cups. Spanish cuisine is much more diverse and complex than just pinxchos and tapas and this trip has barely scratched the surface. Hence, there is still much to see and learn. Next up, San Sebastian...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

El Quim de la Boqueria

Hidden in a remote corner of Market Boqueria is El Quim. El Quim is not a hidden secret. This is and Bar Pinotxo is most likely where every tourist, local heads first on an early morning hunt for breakfast/lunch/brunch.

The menu is extensive, ranging from your typical sausage breakfast to baby eel and calf's head. Not feeling especially daring after a long night of bar hopping, A decided to go for the sausage... steamed mussels in tomato broth..I grimaced internally as she said, "Mussels". Mussels? Did we really fly thousands of miles to have steamed mussels?? But she got lucky. The mussels were indeed the best I've had. The broth was an unworldly tomato concoction, pungent with spices and herbs - perfect for hangovers. The mussels were fresh as can be, succulent, sweet. Of course, she smirked, "See, I know my food." Sure.

Being the daredevil that I am, baby squid on fried egg was a must. Perfect squid, only miniature sized, and much more tender. Hit!

Seared foie over a fried egg and a ****load of wild mushrooms. By the time this dish presented itself, we have already ingested three artery clogging dishes - at 10 am in the morning. Thus, enjoyment of foie gras over egg was rapidly declining.

Nonetheless, El Quim in the Mercado Boqueria is a must for adventurous food lovers. The market itself has a bounty of fresh exotic items and food stalls that would make a gourmand gasp. For the less adventurous, there are also finds of imported fruits and common snacks. Word has it that many of the famous chefs shop at this market every morning to replenish their supplies.


 Tapas24 would be our last tapa meal for the trip. Frankly, I'm near tapa'd out. As much as I love jamon and goodies on toast, there is no way I can live like this everyday. Wine.. tapas... pinxtchos.. wine.. cava.. jamon.. olives. I'm only glad tonight's meal will NOT be another "toast" centered feast.

Tapas24 is sister to Commerc24, which is the more formal of the two. Both establishments steer towards modern, fun tapas yet retains some of its Catalan heritage. Fortunately, we arrive early, 8 pm early, and able to get a terrace seating immediately. A 30 minute line,chock full of tourists start to form as we get comfortable.

You would think this being Spain and all, the sangria should be excellent. To our dismay, the sangria we've had so far have all been diluted with fruit juice. Just about ready to give up on sangria, this white prototype saves the day. Refreshing, natural tasting, perfect!

Bikini Sandwich - shaved black truffles, jamon, cheese. Small, delicate, full of flavor!

Potato Bravas - spanish fries, garlic aioli, spicy tomato sauce. Meh

Beef carpaccio, capers, lemon cream sauce. Very fusion'y. Very familiar. Maybe a little too familiar..

They call it the McFoie Burger. A beef patty cooked to medium rare, sandwiched between brioche toast, with a dollop of foie gras whipped cream. It's sinfully good. Although, a slab of foie hidden between the bread would have been even more exciting.

Senses dulled by now with the onslaught of too much sangria (wine for me is like overdosing on sleeping pills), we decide to make our way to the renowned Barcelona beach.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

El Born Tapa Crawl

When in Barcelona, one MUST make a trip to the El Born area in La Ribera. If one has a deep, rooted love for tapas, then El Born is the answer. The entire area is packed with tapa bars - loud and boisterous to the inconspicuous and tiny. This area is the Gothic district of Barcelona with the prominent landmark, Santa María del Mar Church.


One must wander through dark narrow alleys to arrive at tapa central.


With much difficulty, we nailed it down to 2 tapa bars. There are self serve tapa bars with all the small bites displayed on counter tops and the other type is where the server comes and takes your order. The first stop was the latter type.

sangria and belini
 The anchovies drenched in olive oil woke up our wine drenched senses right away, a sharp salty flavor loved by all Catalonians.

foie gras deluxe

 With the upcoming ban on foie, I tried ordering it everywhere we went. This version was by far the most memorable. A big slab of foie, perfectly seared. It hit the spot.

grilled prawns

Our second choice, Sagardi, is a self serve tapa bar with 20ish choices of jamon on toast, olives stuffed with jamon, salmon cream on toast and many other unrecognizable items.

After one too many pinxto's,cavas, and sangrias, we roll our way out of the maze like alleys, just as  the evening sun set (10 pm). With the setting of the sun, El Born becomes a hub where women of the night, pickpockets and such congregate. We hastily make our way back to the comfort of  touristy Las Ramblas.

El Club Allard (The Club Allard)

El Club Allard will be our first fine dining, michelin star experience in Spain. We have been told that it holds 2 michelin stars and is located in a prestigious private club. Private it is... We walk down the block, from one end to the other, countless times, with no signage of El Club Allard. Finally, after asking multiple people, we realize we are standing right at the front door!

Chef Diego Gruerro makes an effort to introduce the menu personally to each customer. A nice touch that is unheard of in LA. Chef in the kitchen?! That's sacrilegious!

We arrive at the table to find 2 white business cards sitting side by side on the table. A few minutes later, the servers brings a bowl and instructs us to dip this card into the sauce and munch on it, like you would nachos! Hesitantly, we abide with his instructions. Crunchy, tasteless, like rice paper. Ok... I get it. Molecular Gastronomy. But I'm from LA and I had better.

game truffle with foie and mushrooms
Another mo-ga moment, black truffle by appearance but game-like meat in taste, accompanied by shaved, freeze dried foie. Not impressed. But the dish is elevated by the smoking presentation.

"perretxico" mushrooms and Navarre asarragus papillote
This wild mushroom papillote is an example of simple but very well executed dish. No smoke and mirrors, just simple good food.

Skrey is a Nordic fish, a common staple of Icelandic folk. Vague memories of having dried Skrey in Iceland still remain. But frankly, they weren't fond ones. Today's skrey is clean, firm and laced with wild mushroom broth. Much better.
veal cheek doughnut

Veal cheek doughnut... which my dining companian, lovingly, called "poop". The veal is stewed to soft, thready consistency, then shaped into a doughnut. Not the best presentation and the flavors do not pop.
the fishbowl
Now onto the fishbowl. Cute, ingenious, tasty. Now this is molecular gastronomy! True to its name, you have the tank, the coral, the kelp, and the abalone shell. Taste? Green tea sponge cake, cream, chocolate, foam. Chef Gruerro, we need more of this and less of veal doughnuts!

poche egg

The poached egg is another one of his signature dishes. White chocolate, coconut gelee, and the yolk is a mango sauce. This is a dish which elicits oohs and ahhs as the spoon gently cracks along the egg shell.

Has Chef Gruerro fallen to the trap of signature dishes as many famed chefs eventually do? Probably. The clientele appeared to be mostly tourists and his menu, suspiciously, never changes. After much research, and after seeing countless fishbowls and poche egg, I came to the conclusion that his menu has barely changed in the past year. Ergo, the high number of tourists and waning number of locals.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Mercado San Miguel, Madrid

Of all the markets, Mercado San Miguel may be the most cosmopolitan of them all. Only recently refurbished, the steel beams are the only remnants of the original market.

San Miguel is a food lover's playground. You can find anything from cocktails, wine bars, champagne oyster bars, fruit stalls, cheesebar, jamon, and of course.. tapas y pinxtos.
cocktail bar - mojitos, cairpirihna

This prawn is the most memorable of our market excursion. Bright red in color and much more sweet than the prawns in the US, I found the hefty price tag of 15 euros acceptable. Pointing a finger and grunting "uno", the vendor immediately tossed the single prawn on the grill and sprinkled some sea salt. Clean, simple, delish.