Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bacchus Bar & Bistro Buffs Up Irvine Wine Scene

[Giveaway details at the bottom of this post] In the quiet of the Quail Hill Shopping Center in Irvine, there is a spot that contains within its walls the community buzz that has been steadily growing for wine and dining. The former Bacchus Secret Cellar wine bar that was in the back corner of the center refreshed itself and relaunched as a more formidable Bacchus Bar & Bistro at the start of the year, resulting in an impressive accolade - the 2014 Wine Spectator Award Of Excellence. Equipped now with a kitchen (albeit modest with only a convection oven and small refrigerator), the establishment can now put forth thoughtfully complementary foods. As a wine bar foremost, Bacchus has extended its hospitality in a way counter-intuitive in the restaurant world by pairing its food to the existing wines whereas most places look for wines to pair with the food. It is a unique stance, and one that we happily experienced upon invitation one early evening when we came in to see what Executive Chef Charity Smith had up her sleeve in her humble kitchen.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Eatery - The Whale Wins (WA)

The Whale Wins on Urbanspoon

3506 Stone Way N Seattle, WA 98103 (Neighborhood: Wallingford)
Pricing - $$/$$$ | Dining - Dressy Casual | Cuisine - American (New), Small Plates

It feels odd to chide a place for not meeting expectations, especially when expectations started high, but when the letdown is worse than even a normal experience would turn out, it is downright disappointing. We don't like to say anything negative without some constructive comments but we also aren't chefs so take the post with a grain of salt. We were just incredibly surprised that we could have had one of the best meals we've ever had in the sister restaurant of this spot that we thought was a terrible way to cap off an evening.

The Whale Wins was recently named in Bon Appetit as one of the Top 50 New Restaurants in the U.S. so when our travel plans took us to Seattle, we were excited to give it a try. After all, the magazine has some clout behind it, and to be listed as one of 50 of who-knows-how-many in the country that excels is an honor. We absolutely loved our time at The Walrus and The Carpenter, sister to this newer joint, and were in high hopes for this one. Surprisingly, the evening turned out 0/5 for everything we ordered...

Monday, October 20, 2014

Boathouse Collective Rises to Keep Costa Mesa Cool

There seems no end to the expansion that Costa Mesa's restaurant scene has seen in the past year or two. The highly anticipated multimedia space of Boathouse Collective is the newest addition to the good vibes at the end of the 55, opening October 8th to much fanfare. Owner Clayton Peterson, Orange County native, has been in the space for 10 years with the grand goal of making it a venue for both great family-style food and undeniable art and music. Teaming up with Executive Chef Mathieu Royer (of Pizzeria Ortica, Hinoki and the Bird in Century City, and Morimoto in Napa Valley and trained under master sushi chef Gen Mizoguchi) easily put this venture on the map for guaranteed good food, and the locale had already made a name for itself as a hub of interactive industrial design. Why wouldn't there be excitement for its opening? Invited pre-opening, we were immediately smitten with the layout, use of reclaimed materials, and commitment to local, organic, and seasonal ingredients.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Eatery - Biscuit Bitch at Caffe Lieto (WA)

Biscuit Bitch at Caffe Lieto on Urbanspoon

1909 1st Ave, Seattle, WA 98101 (Neighborhood: Downtown)
Pricing - $/$$ | Dining - Casual, To-Go | Cuisine - Breakfast/Brunch, Southern

On our way to Pike Place Market in Seattle, I knew we needed breakfast and landed my eyes on a bold place called "Biscuit Bitch." Sounds edgy enough, and I sure can't say no to good biscuits. Give me your crudeness but follow it up with something delicious please! They certainly delivered on it, and we came away from the experience knowing we'd be back the next time we were in town. Established with the intent of making everyone feel at home (we all know that area of Seattle is a total tourist trap), Biscuit Bitch kept to their promise and we did not feel like we didn't belong. It was great and the food...the food was bitchin'.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Recipe - Cannellini Bean & Caper Crostini

We recently had some guests over that I really wanted to make small bites for because they hadn't had my cooking yet. When one indicated that she was vegetarian, that got me thinking about how I could put out a few appetizers that would all be tasty but still cater to her lifestyle. I had a large jar of capers still in the refrigerator so wanted to hinge a recipe on that but still keep it fulfilling. After all, who wants to eat a bunch of bites but not get full in the least bit? Beans were next on my mind so a little mixing put these two lovelies together on top of some citrus-flecked toast. Voila - a savory but light vegetarian delight (in just five ingredients)!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Your Childhood Dream Come True: Elbows Mac 'N' Cheese (+ Giveaway!)

[Giveaway is now over - thanks for participating!] When you think back to your childhood, what are some of the most iconic dishes that come to mind? Is Kraft's Blue Box mac-n-cheese one of them? I remember the radioactively orange powder that got dumped into saucepans when we would beg not to eat Asian food on the weekends (on the rare, rare occasion my mother would allow it) and how it wouldn't dissolve completely sometimes, leaving a gritty texture with each forkful. As I grew up, mac-n-cheese did too to the school cafeteria version that was with softer pasta to the casual restaurant or buffet version that was slightly watery but felt more wholesome. Then I entered a world that understood the toasty, baked crust of a mac-n-cheese that contained sumptuous, umami-laden ingredients and showcased strings of oozy, melting cheese. No going back save for nostalgia's sake!

So what to do now when you just want that goodness without having to also order an entree (since it's usually a side order)? Enter Elbows Mac 'n' Cheese. The success of their Cerritos location led to their second spot in downtown Brea, guaranteed to garner attention. Created to "blend classic American home cooking with gourmet international inspiration," the restaurant is focused on more mac-n-cheese variations than you could imagine (though they do serve salads and sandwiches too). It reminded me of the mac-n-cheese spot I visited in St. Louis but with a simpler feel and more homestyle inspirations. We were invited in one afternoon to indulge a little and boy, did we!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Test Kitchen - Teochew Porridge with Chai Poh (Salted Radish) Omelet

Our latest Test Kitchen ingredient was the wonderfully non-photogenic salted radish which is primarily used in Asian cooking. It is a radish or turnip that has been preserved in a mixture of sugar and salt and usually comes sold by the half pound in bags. I recall how often my mom would use it in just a handful of simple go-to dishes when I was growing up. I was unable to shake that from my mind though as I tried to figure out how to use the ingredient. Therefore, I resulted to some comfort food.

I tell people that I am Chinese but there are so many variations of it that if I had to be more specific, I'd tell you I was Teochew. As I get older, I am beginning to distinguish more and more what was Teochew in my childhood and what was a mash of cultures - one of those things was the porridge we'd eat. Teochew porridge is basically watery rice that is so bland (and made from only those two ingredients) that having something quite salty as the side dish was necessary. I would usually double or triple up the amount of porridge I'd have to the accompanying dish so each bite was balanced. Salted radish (aka chai poh) in an omelet was a solid regular in our meals so I decided it was time to recreate the dish. Luckily, it was easy!