The Incredible Adventures of Gourmet Gal

Friday, June 22, 2007

Eat Famously

Guess what?! It's totally NYC Restaurant Week again!

This year, after careful selections, I've decided on the following restaurants:

Morimoto (because I've had a huge crush on his food since the original Iron Chef TV show was only available on my Asian hook-up channel in Japanese)
Union Square Cafe (because believe it or not, I've never eaten there... ok, I know, I know...)
Aureole (because I'm curious about their food)
Gordon Ramsay's maze (need I say more? Maybe I'll be lucky and get to watch him wacking his sous-chef with a cleaver live!)

So make your reservations NOW!

Monday, June 11, 2007


Guess what?


Oh, man, time flies. I am more than certain that you are sooo sick of that pork fat headline by now. And no, I did not go on a diet, and yes, I still leap up at the thought of food. So check out the Queens restaurant list I wrote for Sally’s Place:

And (always, always) leave room for dessert …

Wednesday, November 08, 2006



163 First Avenue
New York NY 10003

I believe in heaven.

Suppose pigs also believe in heaven. For these creatures whose lifelong purpose almost always leads to the inevitable sweet sausage or Christmas ham, Momofuku is sure to be in their final prayers. Imagine ascending to a place where people constantly shower you with T.L.C. and gaze at you with awe and respect. Nothing could be better than this afterlife. The pork at Momofuku is in heaven, especially the fatty ones.

We arrived at this much-talked-about East village noodle bar on a Monday night. The place was small with modern designs and packed with trendy down towners, as well as European tourists. We settled elbow-to-elbow at the bar styled table which circles the open kitchen area, allowing you to see your meal as it is prepared. I enjoyed the view of three busy chefs, while browsing the menu with much enthusiasm.

J groaned, “Order whatever you want. Just get something that I can also eat.” He struggled to balance his heavy jacket and big backpack (containing, I’m certain, more than one back issue of some random video game magazines) on his lap. “I hate uncomfortable seats like these!” He fidgeted on the stool.

I ignored him and dove into the menu. It was divided in four categories - small dishes, local, fish, and noodle & rice - with brief heads-ups at the bottom like, “No substitutions or special requests“ and “We do not serve vegetarian friendly items expect Ginger Scallion”. The menu provided simple yet exciting items such as trotter terrine ($12), baby octopus salad ($13), and assorted ramens. Their pork reputation was too high to dismiss, so I settled on the followings:

COKE ($2)

J’s coke came in the old fashioned glass bottle which pleased him greatly. The roasted Brussels sprouts arrived shortly after. On a bed of scarlet kimchi puree, the sautéed sprouts bounced with bacon cubes which were lightly charred around the edges. I had a mouthful of everything and almost leaped for joy. It tasted simply divine. The spicy puree and crunchy vegetables harmonized gloriously with the sweet and savory bacon. No trace of anything artificial in the bacon, just good ol’ pork. The dish was truly one of those brilliantly simple ideas that left you with a memorable aftertaste. I just could not stop eating it. Even J liked it.

The steamed pork bun turned to be an upscale, mini interpretation of a popular Taiwanese street food called “split bun”. Our traditional version is a palm-sized flat bun split in the middle and filled with roasted pork, sweet Peking sauce, cilantro, and grounded toasted sweet and salty peanuts. The one at Momofuku was stuffed with pickled Japanese cucumber, roasted pork, and smeared with a sweet brown sauce. I took a skeptical bite - which was about half of the bun - and my eyes lit up.

The pork was excellent!

Not only did the fat melt in my mouth and turn into a delicious stream of rich juice, but the meat was also incredibly tender and savory. I appreciated the cucumber pickles for their slightly crunchy texture and clean taste - as they did not disturb the spotlight of roasted pork.

The momofuku ramen had the appearance of a promising bowl of Japanese ramen - tons of noodles (almost too much to my liking) in the middle, which was surrounded by a piece of roasted pork, slices of pickled bamboo shoots, handfuls of thinly chopped scallion with collar greens, shredded Berkshire pork, and a barely poached egg with two pieces of nori standing by the side. I tasted the broth, it was lukewarm and slightly muddy. I bit into the noodles, they were al-dente but not superbly textured like great noodles should be. The rest of the ingredients had the same mediocre effects - the lightly sour collar greens was competent and the shredded Berkshire pork tasted - well, cooked. It was not until my tongue touched the piece of roasted pork that I squealed with delight.

The pork was excellent!

Just like it was in the steamed buns, this piece of roasted pork was tender and burst with flavor. I savored every bit of it and wanted more.

J’s chicken and egg was quite a disappointment only in comparison with the extraordinary excellency of the roasted pork. It was basically grilled chicken with pickled cucumbers and an egg over rice. J was uneasy with the barely poached egg.

“What are you supposed to do with it?” He gingerly tapped at the surface like testing a water bed.
I waited until he finished inspecting everything else in the bowl and then pierced my chopstick right in the middle of the egg. “Like this.”
The look of disgust arose. He nudged the bowl away from him. J was horrified by the site of the running yoke. Too bad, this yummy lava would compliment the grilled chicken so well.

I devoured every piece of pork product in sight while eyeing the neighbor’s trotter terrine. As a long line had started to accumulated outside the place, the waiter came more than once to check on our possible departure. J asked for the check. It came up to $53 without tip, not cheap for two bowls of rice and noodles, but absolutely worth every bit of my hard-earned money. And frankly if I had a way with pigs like chef David Chang does, I would so totally charge that much for a bowl of noodle soup as well.

R.I.P. Charlotte, Babe, Miss Piggy, Porky and all the other pigs that were satisfied for my dinning pleasure. Next time, pick your script more carefully.

P.S. Momofuku’s Iowa Berkshire pork came from Berkridge & Piccinini Brothers and their bacon hailed from Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams - all this was stated affectionately in the menu.

Friday, November 03, 2006




Halloween, the evening before All Saints’ Day, the night when the spirit and the normal world allegedly become one. A time that’s considered the second most exciting night next to Christmas eve for kids and adults alike. All I could think about was the just-revealed winner for the 2006 Vendy Awards.

The curiosity was eating me alive.
I must have Sammy’s Halal food.

So J volunteered to go out into the cold. Okay, he didn’t. I begged. A good husband comes in handy all the time.

He came back thirty minutes later with two heavy takeout containers of Sammy’s goodies.
“Was there a huge line?” I was curious.
“Nope. But the guy’s cheesy. He’s got the trophy on top of his cart.”
I gave him a strange look. “Wouldn’t you do the same?”
He shrugged. “It’s freezing out there.” J took off his thick jacket and rubbed his hands.

Men exaggerate.

A whiff of intense aroma arose the minute I lifted the Styrofoam lid. One box contained grilled cubes of chicken with shredded lettuce on top of slender gains of basmati rice. The other had chopped beef and lamb kebab with the same rice and salad (slices of raw radishes were added onto it). I had asked for white sauce and just a tiny bit of red sauce. The result was a beautifully messy landscape. I dug in eagerly.

The beef and lamb kebab was indeed robust, savory, and full of satisfying Middle Eastern spices. So was the lightly charred grilled chicken. What surprised me the most was the rice. It was not the usual limp, yellow jondus looking crap you get from the generic Halal vendor you frequent. Samuil Haque’s basmati rice tasted healthy, chewy, and just plain delicious. Accompanied with the meat, it was a dinner of heaven at mere $5.

Here’s to Sammy the winner!

That being said, I woke up the next morning with intense heartburn. What went down smoothly the night before was arguing with me ferociously. Maybe I should have only one plate of Sammy’s Halal instead of two. Or maybe it was the five Jack Torres chocolate, one grande maple macchiato, and the bowl of Kettle Corns that I consumed after the meal that did the voodoo. Whatever it was, I am so totally going back Sammy‘s again. Next time, I’ll try the gyro.

For more info on The Street Vendor Project:

Thursday, October 19, 2006




No?! Then your bowl is in for a treat.

Pho is like the other, other beef noodle soup for the Vietnamese. In America, they are generally big bowls of aromatic soup containing slightly chewy rice noodles and various types of beef (raw, cooked, flank, eye of round, brisket, etc.). The order also comes with a handful of fresh bean sprouts, springs of Asian/Thai basil with mint, and wedges of lemon on the side to add crunchy texture, luscious fragrance, and acidic excitement to the whole shibam. I was told that the real authentic pho in Vietnam is much simpler than the ones we get in America; just noodle, slices of beef, and savory broth. After all, pho is considered more of a breakfast food or snack than a main course in its native land.

For me, the key to a successful bowl of pho is the soup base. It has to be piping hot and intensely flavored with a lingering hint of sweetness. I always take a sip of the natural broth (sans herbs and lemon juice) as soon as my bowl is brought onto the table. The first impression is everything. One sip determines the fate of the pho.

Then, I like to place the bean sprouts and the herbs in the bowl, and burry them along with any raw slices of beef under the noodles. The heat from the soup will further cook the raw ingredients and release the fragrance of the herbs. While waiting for this one minute process, I like to concoct my dipping sauce by mixing sweet hoisin sauce (the dark brown squeeze bottle on the table) with Vietnamese hot chilly sauce (the bright red squeeze bottle, also on the table). Then I would take a bite of the rice noodles to judge if they were au dente. Only after that, would I dip the meat of my choice ( normally the raw/ barely cooked ones first) into the dipping sauce and savor it with a smile. Mmmmm, it's time to take another spoonful of the heavenly broth.

Very Tampopo, don't you think?

Pho Bang Restaurant in Elmhurst, Queens gets a gold star for its reliably good pho. With eight branches located in NY, LA, AZ, and TX, this chain restaurant provides fresh and sumptuous Vietnamese fairs at a reasonable price. The one in Queens is a glass window-shield triangle situated on the edge of a Chinese supermarket's parking lot which is adjacent to a line of Hong Kong, Thai, and Vietnamese restaurants. You can literally smell the sweet scent of basil, lemon grass, and simmering beef bone soup base permeating out of the restaurant from three blocks away.

The place was always packed. On the Monday night we were there, a line had accumulated by the door even though it was only 6:30 P.M. But the service was efficient - if not a bit brusque - we were seated within five minutes.

The appetizers featured standard American favorites such as Cha Gio (Vietnamese crispy spring rolls) and Goi Cuon (Vietnamese non-fried summer rolls). The main courses were divided into sections of Pho, Banh Hoi (angel hair noodles), Bun (rice vermicelli), and Com Dia (rice dishes). We ordered the followings:

CHA GIO (Vietnamese crispy spring rolls) $3.75 (for 4)
TAI NAM SACH (combination rice noodles, beef soup w/fresh eye of round, navel, tendon and omosa) $4.35 (regular bowl)
COM SUON NUONG (grilled pork chop on rice) $4.25
RAU MUONG ZAO TOI (Chinese watercress with garlic) $6.25

The deep fried Vietnamese egg rolls were satisfying with a mouthful of crispy rice paper and a mixture of pork, chicken, crabmeat, black mushroom & clear noodles. I loved to wrap them inside lettuce leaves with a sprig of mint, and dip the fat bundle into the sugary vinegar sauce. The result was a happy marriage of hot and cool, savory and sweet.

J's grilled pork chops arrived glistening with fresh grilled marks and faintly charred edges - all signs of a great barbeque. The lemon grass and fish sauce mixture, which the pork chops were marinated in produced such a deep layer of sultry tang that I couldn't help but gnaw on the bones like an eager puppy.

The Chinese watercress sautéed with garlic was prolific but not excellent. It was a little under seasoned - perhaps more salt, or even better, if some shrimp paste was added. Shrimp paste for the South East Asians is like anchovy paste for the Italians. The fermented pink paste has a potently pungent scent - I'm talking about the smell of rotten fish mixed with soiled blue cheese. A simple teaspoon mixed into sautéed Chinese watercress would yield such a sumptuously robust taste, that it's totally worth having a jar in your kitchen and drive everyone in the house insane.

The dessert menu showed the French colonial influence on Vietnamese cuisine, from Ca Phe Sua Nong (espresso special filter condensed milk coffee) and Soda Sua Hot Ga (soda with egg york and condensed milk) to Nhan Nhuc (dried longan in syrup served with ice) and Soda Xi Muoi (salty plum soda). I opted for:

CHE BA MAU (three colors sweet beans, jelly mung beans & coconut milk, served with ice) $1.75

It arrived in a see-through glass with red, green, white - three colors of zig-zag-edged small strips of jellies - and sweet read beans, mung beans puree with dense coconut milk. What a cheerful sight! I slurred the mixture happily while J wrinkled his nose. "No thank you," He shook his head before I even thought about offering him some. I loved it. It was milky and sugary - just what I liked after a toothsome meal.

As we looked around, almost every table had ordered a bowl of pho - something that J had a hard time understanding. He thinks that the only time a person should craze for hot soup is either when they are not feeling well, or it's freezing cold outside. Apart from the practical reasons for pho's existence in Vietnam - that the weather is always scorching hot, it is important to have sufficient water and salt intake - I think it is just plain and simple why everyone's addicted to pho, IT TASTES GOOD! And until the day J achieves this enlightment, Gourmet Gal's incredible adventures shall continue.

Monday, October 16, 2006


Red beans are red.
Lotus roots are beige.
Mooncakes are tricky.
And so are the Chinese.

Red bean paste has a maroon to brown color and tastes slightly grainy and heavier than the cream colored lotus paste. It also tends to be cheaper than the lotus version. That being sad, it is totally possible that you've been tricked by my cousins in California.

Friday, October 13, 2006


So what is a moon cake?

A moon cake is something of a mystical confection made by technologically advanced Asians from the moon. They are typically round or rectangular puck-shaped pastries. The relatively thin, chewy crust surrounds a rich, dense, filling of sweet bean or nut paste with salted yokes - totally freaking awesome. They are almost always savored in small wedges with green tea while viewing the full moon with your dysfunctional family during the mid-Autumn festival. Modern variations of moon cakes have a glutinous rice skin, similar to that of a mochi. These addictive freaks-of-nature are known as "snow-skin moon cakes" or "ice-skin moon cakes".

In the early nineties, Haagen-Dazs followed on this innovation and created ice-cream moon cakes. I myself have released a restraining order against them for fear of an overdose. Because of the high lard content in traditional moon cakes (well why do you think they taste so good?), there are healthier versions of moon cakes made with yogurt, jelly, and sacrilegious fat-free ice cream. In my opinion, pork fat rules. And seriously, If you want to be a real Asian, you gotta eat the nasty stuff.

During the mid-Autumn festival which falls around early or mid October - depending on the moon calendar, you can find moon cakes in Chinese supermarkets and bakeries. They come in colorful tin boxes with drawings of super FOB (fresh-of-the-boat) looking girls on them. Check the expiration dates carefully since the rich fillings are prone to spoilage. I tend to buy the locally produced ones for fear of food poisoning.