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Archive for January, 2009

//blog.mook.com.tw/agogovicki/239/20071208/1151

Ribera del Duero official logo (from http://blog.mook.com.tw)

Three weeks from now, Jon and I (along with our friends at Philatraveler) are going to spend a week in the Ribera del Duero, the part of Spain that’s home to wines like Pingus and Vega Sicilia.

We’ve rented a house near Penafiel/Valladolid (for cheap because it’s low season), and we’re in the process of making appointments to visit different vineyards (bc the area’s not quite like Napa, where everyone and their mother has a tasting room that’s open every day).

So here’s the Key Question: Where should we eat?

I’m doing the usual browsing of Chowhound, Slow Trav, and on-line fora of various guidebooks, and yes, there’s always good ol’ googling. But if you’ve got fave restaurants in the Ribera del Duero, I’d love it if you shared! You can either leave a comment below or email me directly at AmericanLondon1 [at] gmail [dot] com.

We’ll have a car, and we’ve got nothing planned except to cook, eat out and drink. So bring it on.

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Chili Fried Crab

Chili Fried Crab

To celebrate the Year of the Ox, my friends Phu and Aaron sent me this glowing Observer review and suggested we try out Gourmet San.

I’ve now been to Gourmet San twice, and while about half the dishes I tried were eh, the other half were very good, and all were very cheap – most mains were £7 and showy ones like the chili fried crab topped out at £11. It’s a bit of a schlepp to reach Gourmet San (it’s so far east on Bethnal Green Road that it’s no longer Trendy Dodgy – like Green & Red – and is more Truly Dodgy), but it’s a fun place to go with friends, and everyone will surely leave with full stomachs and full wallets.

Both times I visited Gourmet San, the chili fried crab (pictured above) and the grilled lamb skewers (£1 per skewer) were outstanding. The former, while somewhat tricky and messy to eat, were lightly battered and fried and then covered in numbing Szechuan peppers, garlic and scallions. The lamb skewers were smoky, juicy and spicy from a chili-and-cumin rub.

grilled lamb skewers at Gourmet San

grilled lamb (Xinjiang) skewers at Gourmet San

Speaking of the grilled lamb skewers, Gourmet San has a rep for being Szechuan, but when you see the lengthy menu, it’s obvious that the resto serves dishes from all over China. The skewers, for example, are a classic example of Xinjiang cuisine, in northwest Chna. But so what if they’re not Szechuan? They’re delish. Don’t even bother with the other skewers (e.g., prawn). They pale in comparison to the lamb.

“Sizzling beef,” recommended by our server, was very good. Soft, tender beef (probably tenderized with a dip in corn starch before some light frying) served with sweet red peppers and onions.

gourmet-san-fish-and-chili

fried fish stir fried with chillies and green peppers

And both the fish and chicken stir fried with chillies were tasty, though the chicken (like the fried crab) was a bit annoying to eat. There were lots of bones to spit out, so if you decide to order it, make sure you’re eating with good friends. Gourmet San is not the place to go if you want to appear a demure and tidy eater.

spicy tofu and seafood

spicy tofu and seafood

Ironically, the classic Szechuan dishes I tried were disappointing. For example, thinking I’d mix it up a bit, I passed up the mapo tofu in favor of a spicy seafood tofu, but basically it was a giant portion of tofu in a slightly-spicy-but-flavorless sauce.

rice vermicelli and minced pork

rice vermicelli and minced pork

The “ants climbing up a tree” (aka rice vermicelli with minced pork) was sadly pedestrian. The dish could’ve used more spice and minced pork. Instead, it was just a large portion of noodles and soy sauce.

spicy dry-fried string beans

spicy dry-fried string beans

And I love dry-fried string beans so much that I tried this dish twice at Gourmet San, despite being disappointed the first time around. Both times, the string beans were limp and lacking in bite. They were just oily overcooked beans. Sad.

The food seems to be hit-or-miss at Gourmet San, but the prices are low enough, and the good dishes are good enough that I’ll keep visiting until I’m able to order only the tasty dishes.

Despite over-ordering both times I visited, my tab was never more than £15 a person, which covered multiple starters, mains and beers.

Gourmet San, 261 Bethnal Green Road, E2 6AH; 020 7729 8388; closest tube station: Liverpool Street (and then it’s a 5-minute bus ride down Bethnal Green Road on the 8 or 388).
Gourmet San on Urbanspoon

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I wished I were in DC today, or that I’d had time during the day to watch the Inauguration live. But just now, I watched it all on line, and I’m pretty happy.

This being a restaurant-food blog, my tie-in to Inauguration Day is that having gotten home late tonight (around 9:30 pm), and wanting to eat something “American,” I decided on the following “menu”:

Kraft macaroni and cheese - the dinner of champions

Kraft macaroni and cheese - the dinner of champions

And then, luckily, I’d done some baking over the weekend, so after my uncharacteristically-pre-packaged meal, I had two classic American dessert options. And I chose to eat both, of course.

homemade cupcakes

homemade cupcakes

I always get good results using the 1-2-3-4 cake recipe from the Joy of Cooking, as well as the classic French buttercream recipe from Susan Purdy’s The Perfect Cake.

homemade chocolate chip cookies

homemade chocolate chip cookies

And of course I use the recipe on the Nestle toll house packages for my chocolate chip cookie needs. The keys to success are (1) using a Silpat and (2) pulling the cookies out of the oven when they still look pretty raw. (And while I’m on the topic – yes, I’ve baked the cookies using Valrhona chocolate bars that I’ve crushed, but I love whatever additive is in Nestle chocolate chips to prevent them from just melting away into the cookie dough. My Valrhona experiments always turned my chocolate chip cookies into chocolate cookies, which isn’t bad, but it’s not a chocolate-chip cookie).

Well, so that was my culinary tribute to Inauguration Day. I was mildly disappointed to have missed out on the free donuts offered today at Krispy Kreme to Americans, but I figure Obama’s inauguration means more than a free donut. So I’ve made peace with my no-free-donut status.

I’m so proud of my country. Cheers!

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cheese trolley at No. 9 Park restaurant

cheese trolley at No. 9 Park restaurant

Normally when I travel, I look forward to finding good places to eat and then blogging about it. But for some reason, I think of trips back to the US as somehow not “counting” as travel. And so I rarely blog about places I like in the US. Which is stupid.

So let me tell you about a restaurant in Boston where I enjoyed a leisurely, tasty, sophisticated lunch a few weeks ago: No. 9 Park.

oysters starter at No. 9 Park

oysters starter at No. 9 Park

No. 9 Park sits on the Boston Common, which prides itself on being the oldest public park in America (dating back to 1634 – LOL). The dining room was simple and comfortable – I felt like I’d walked into a well-renovated (a Gordon Ramsay-owned, even) gastropub. And I liked that. I liked that a much-hyped “special occasion” restaurant in Boston felt so casual. I know Americans occasionally push the casual envelope a little too far, but I do wonder: why does a well-cooked meal using high-quality ingredients served by attentive, knowledgeable waiters have to come with thick carpeting and showy chandeliers (a la France)?

foie gras starter at No. 9 Park

seared foie gras starter at No. 9 Park

No. 9 Park falls into the popular category of “New American” (which has its English equivalent in the equally-non-descriptive “Modern British”). The ingredients and sauces are identifiably French, which is fine by me. I never say no to oysters, foie gras and duck confit, and with the seared foie gras in mind, I’d say No. 9 Park knows how to source.

duck confit at No. 9 Park

duck confit at No. 9 Park

None of the dishes were especially creative (meaning there were no flavor or ingredient pairings that made me wonder “how’d she think of that?”), but everything I ate was well prepared and delicious.

At $42 for a three-course meal that included foie gras and several cheeses from the chock-full-of-interesting-local-and-French cheeses trolley, No. 9 Park struck me as great value. It was an elegant, welcoming place to grab lunch and catch up with old friends.

Our servers seemed a tad too chirpy, but that’s likely just me reacting after months of more reserved service in Europe. I loved that my (tap) water glass was never empty, and our servers always seemed happy to answer our questions. I felt right at home. You will, too, so drop by the next time you’re in Beantown.

No. 9 Park, 9 Park Street, Boston, MA 02108; +1 617 742 9991; closest T station: Park Street
No. 9 Park on Urbanspoon

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photo of Hamilton Island from hotelchatter.com

photo of Hamilton Island from hotelchatter.com

I saw this article on the BBC website today (be sure to play the video).  Despite being someone who gets bored during a beach holiday, I was sorely tempted to apply:

Tourism officials in Australia are describing it as “the best job in the world”.

They want someone to work on a tropical island off the Queensland coast.

No formal qualifications are needed but candidates must be willing to swim, snorkel, dive and sail.

In return, the successful applicant will receive a salary of A$150,000 ($103,000, £70,000) for six months and get to live rent-free in a three-bedroom villa, complete with pool.

I mean, it’s no Frank Bruni gig, but it definitely beats commuting to Canary Wharf.

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Happy new year! Eight days late, I know.

I had a fantabulous trip back to the U.S., full of family, old friends and good food. I hope you and yours had a happy holidays, too.

Now I’m back in cold, foggy London. My gym is packed to the gills. Accumulated email at work is driving me nuts. So it’s definitely January, and I thought I’d kick off 2009 with a quick look back at 2008 with my five favourite London restaurants last year.

In choosing the restaurants for this highly-esteemed list, I considered only the places I visited at least every two months in 2008, or in the cases where it’d be cost prohibitive to drop by that often, restaurants that served me a meal so good in 2008 (and with service and decor so nice) that I think constantly of returning. [For the complete list of London restaurants I've blogged about, check out the London Restaurant Reviews page of my blog.]

In alphabetical order:

  • Barrafina - Everything I ate at Barrafina last year was a hit. The main deterrent to my going more regularly is the prospect of having to queue to get a coveted bar stool. But the tapas at Barrafina is so head-and-shoulders above that of its closest competitors, Tierra Brindisa, Tapas Brindisa and Moro, that if time’s not an issue, it’s Barrafina for me.

    54 Frith Street, W1D 4SL, 0207 813 8016; Closest tube station: Leicester Square

  • Mangal Ocakbasi - This Turkish grill is worth the schlepp to Dalston. At least five times last year, Jon and I found ourselves gobbling down the mixed grill there. The kofte and lamb chops particularly rock my world. Although it’s annoying (especially in cold weather) to get jammed up in the entryway because of Mangal’s popularity, one look at that massive indoor grill and hood, and you know it’s worth the crush and wait. The meats here are always cheap and always good.

    10 Arcola Street, E8 2DJ; 020 7275 8981; closest tube station: Highbury & Islington, I guess, but Dalston Kingsland Overland is by far the closest mass transit point if the Overland is at all handy for you

Of course, it was tough for me to keep my list to five, which I guess is why making lists can be valuable. Pearl Liang, Hakkasan, Le Cafe Anglais, Tayyabs, Tomoe and the Marquess, for example, were places where my money and time were consistently well spent in 2008 (and 2007 and 2006 . . . ). But even listing them in this paragraph is cheating on this concept of my top 5.

Now, looking forward to 2009, I’m following in the footsteps of my fellow bloggers and listing the places I’d love to visit during this coming year. Right now, Galvin Bistro de Luxe, The Square, Chez Bruce, and a return to Murano to try out the dinner menu are in the cards. Maybe a trip to Gordon Ramsay Royal Hospital Road thanks to Intoxicating Prose’s rave review in November 2008. (I was so disappointed by my Fat Duck visit in April 2006 that since then I’ve been wary of 3-star Michelin experiences – and expenses – in London).

In any event, here’s to Jon and my staying employed so we can keep on eating and traveling in 2009 . . . .

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