The Adventures of Audabon

IMG_1974I went on a mission today - a mission for macarons! Well, it was more a mission for fresh veggies that somehow segued into a mission for macarons. Typical munchimonster… attempting to go down the healthy road, and then pulling a complete 180 to diabetes-land. My specific destination was Audabon, a cute micropatisserie in Chinatown.

This was actually quite the challenging mission since Audabon is so easy to miss if you’ve never been there before. In fact, I walked by it twice! I trekked through Slush Tundra, leaped across the Blackwater Bay, and pushed through the Forest of Chinese People to reach my destination. At least the weather was nice today.

IMG_1980Since it was a late Sunday afternoon, a lot of the macarons had been sold out. Sadness! But no matter, I got one of each macaron that remained. Clockwise they are: Japanese matcha green tea (green), Hong Kong milk tea (yellow), Vietnamese cinnamon (orange), and Adzuki red bean (red).

IMG_1991I am obsessed with matcha-flavored desserts so I tried this one first. I can’t say I was super-impressed by the cookie wafer itself, but the gooey matcha ganache was pretty darn good. The center portion was delicious, so I squeezed some of the out some of the ganache and tasted the delicate but firm, aromatic matcha. This ganache should be spread more generously throughout the macaron because it’s the best part. As for the wafer, the center portion was dense and chewy, the way a macaron should be, but the outside was a tad stale. Overall, a decent fix for munchimonster’s matcha and macaron cravings.

IMG_1990IMG_2001The Vietnamese cinnamon was actually my favorite. The wafer was properly made, with a crispy exterior shell and a chewy gooey center. It had just the subtle hint of cinnamon sugar. The filling was well-made too. There were two layers of filling: an outer ring of cinnamon butter cream and an inner circle of gooey filling (that resembled pie filling a little).

IMG_2003The Adzuki red bean and Hong Kong milk tea macarons were both kind of stale and un-photogenic. I think I would have really enjoyed the Adzuki red bean macaron if it weren’t for that poorly-made wafer that had air inside. The ganache was creatively made, using a combination of dark chocolate ganache and red bean cream. I quite liked the combination of Eastern-Western flavors, but was disappointed by its execution.

The same goes for the Hong Kong milk tea macaron. I loved the flavor; it was like aromatic bubble tea in macaron form. But again, the wafer was stale… It was also wayyyy too sweet. I think the problem is that whatever Hong Kong tea mix Audrey (the pastry chef) is using, probably already has a boatload of sugar inside. I would suggest recalculating the amount of sugar in the recipe to account for extra sugar in the mix. This should help put emphasis on the aromatic tea flavor rather than getting a mouthful of overwhelming sweetness.

IMG_1985Audabon is definitely a cute bakery-cafe with a lot of Eastern-inspired flavors that I really appreciate. I think the creative combination of flavors are good, but the execution needs work. I would love to try the pudding and ice cream sandwiches sometime, maybe when the weather warms up. Looks like there may be sequel to my Audabon adventures!

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Ramen Bars in Philly

IMG_1957The cursed ramen spot in Philly’s Chinatown 9th street had been changing owners for the past few years, unable to maintain the same name for more than a year. However, ever since its been changed to Terakawa Ramen, the business has been pretty stable. Curious and cautious about the ever-changing ramen spot, I decided to check out Terakawa based on the recommendation of my surgery intern, allegedly from Cali (a mysterious land that sure knows its Asian & Mexican fewd).

IMG_1954Emily and I started off with my favorite – TAKOYAKI!!! Takoyaki and taiyaki are two of my most favorite (and similar sounding) Japanese street food treats. Because come on, who doesn’t love fried balls of octopus dough (takoyaki) and red bean-stuffed cake in the shape of a goldfish (taiyaki)?!

IMG_1953I would say Terakawa nailed the concept of takoyaki with crispy fried balls that burst into warm, gooey, scalliony dough. The drizzling of takoyaki sauce, kewpie mayo, and bonito garnish also fit the bill. I love how the bonito flakes dance and sway to the heat of the takoyaki balls. The only upsetting thing about Terakawa’s takoyaki is that each ball contained only 1 piece of undercooked octopus, whereas usually takoyaki contains generous chunks of soft octopus. No matter, this totally satisfied my craving for Japanese street food!IMG_1960I was initially going to get the Mayu Ramen but changed my mind to the Kyushu Danji Ramen after hearing it was the same thing, only twice as big and only 1.5 times more expensive (do the math to get a better deal!) Both ramen dishes are cooked in mayu (black garlic oil) something that I, along with the rest of the world, has fallen in love with. In fact, I wish there was a stronger black garlic flavor in the savory, rich ramen broth. Still, this ramen is very delicious and well worth the price. For $14, I got a formidable feat of ramen noodles, with about 6 slices of pork belly (which is unheard of in NYC), shoyu egg, kikurage mushroom, and extra random vegetables. The bowl also came with classic Japanese red pickled ginger, which I absolutely despise and toss on the tray’s edge.

IMG_1962The ramen noodles are firm and elastic – not the best I’ve had but solidly executed. The shoyu egg (one of my favorite parts about ramen) is wonderful, though slightly overcooked from swimming inside the ramen. I usually take my shoyu eggs in a separate dish to enjoy the gooey yolks thoroughly. The charshu pork belly was perfectly marinated, but may have been cooked inappropriately since the meat was on the tougher side. Something odd about the ramen was the presence of cabbage, carrots, and bean sprouts. Now, I am not a big fan of the bean sprouts and Emily is not a big fan of the cabbage. I think both veggies needed more cooking as they tasted too raw and crunchy, inconsistent with the ramen theme.

Overall, I think Terakawa has all the concepts of real ramen down and the ability to execute it. They need to brush up on a few techniques, but has the gist of it down. Another cool thing is that the waiters pack your leftover noodles for you, separating solid stuff from the broth. This is a sure way to prevent next day noodle sogginess, so I was really pleased about that. I’m happy to announce that there is now a place in Philly where I can get my ramen fix!

Sadly, I can’t say the same for Cheu Noodle Bar… I visited this place 2 weeks ago with Steff, since it was near her temporary home. There was a huge line for this cramped little noodle bar, so we were expecting something mind-blowing.

20150124_183700_LLSThe Pork Belly Bun was okay because the meat was decently fatty and tender. I think some sort of sweet sriracha sauce was used for flavoring. And the bun was not the classic fluffy, steamed 馒头 (mantou), but rather a denser breadier version… something resembling a crumpet? Anyways, it was a bit of a deviation from traditional, but still quite tasty.

20150124_183851_LLSWe also gave the Black Garlic Wings a go, but it was pretty lame. I’m not sure if actual black garlic oil was used in the making of these wings. Because if it was, then the taste had been completely masked by a strong salty-sweet base. It literally tasted like some spin-off on General Tso’s Chicken. Not that I don’t love my General Tso’s Chicken on take-out nights, but we were not expecting it for a dish advertised as “Black Garlic Wings.”

20150124_184915_LLSSteff and I both picked the Brisket for our noodle bowl. In retrospect, I probably should have tried the Miso Ramen instead, but the Brisket’s description just sounded more interesting with matzo balls, kimchi, and spicy broth. It was mediocre at best, and Steff (my brown-Asian, not yellow-Asian friend) completely agreed. First of all, my spoon had a bizarre chemical-ish smell that overpowered my broth. Even after going spoon-less, the broth was unimpressive, spicy, and oily. The kimchi used in the broth was gross, salty, poorly-made. I will admit that I have totally spoiled by H-Mart kimchi ($6 for a jar), but I promise that once you taste authentic, thoroughly fermented kimchi, you won’t be able to handle Cheu’s version. I will say however, that Cheu’s noodles surpass Terakawa’s. This is because Cheu prides itself in freshly hand-made noodles that are super-firm and super-elastic. The matzo ball was pretty good and the meat is decent, but that’s about all that Cheu has going for it.

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Super Bowl Scones

IMG_1946Can’t say I understand all the rules of football, but I can say I understand the rule of making scones: more butter is better! This year I decided to watch the Super Bowl, since I’ve started dabbling in game-watching. Who knew it could be so fun to watch giant men tackle each other to move across the field? Despite my lack of football knowledge, I managed to pick up the intensity and cleverness of plays between the Patriots & Seahawks. The teams were tied in the first half of the game, and then I drifted off during the second half for scone-baking!

IMG_1910I had basically stolen the recipe from Saveur: http://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/homemade-scones?Cmpid=pin

But I added some of my dried blueberries because I am addicted to those things! (Plus they would make the scones look white & blue like the Super Bowl team colors, hehe.) Pounding the butter in the dough was the most physical part of the process, as well as the most fun. Something about the combining the dry mix with the milk and butter, and then watching them condense into some spectacular scone dough is really rewarding.

IMG_1932Molding the scones into isosceles triangles!!

IMG_1938And bake until golden brown! Spread on some Speculoos Cookie Butter from Trader Joe’s and you’re good to go~

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Sushi & Burritos

20150109_194404After moving back to Center City Philadelphia (been away in Queen Lane for 2.5 years), I am pleasantly surprised by the explosion of sushi restaurants. Back in the day, I remember that the decent but limited sushi bars (Fat Salmon and Aki Sushi) dominated the sushi scene in Philly. Now the number of sushi options have tripled, which hopefully means that competition will drive down the price and raise the quality of Philly sushi!~

20150109_194441The first Friday, I had dinner with Steff at Kabukiza on 13th Street. Steff is adorable because she hates raw fish, so we opted for three of the mostly cooked chef specialty rolls. She picked the Black Dragon Roll, made with delicious cooked eel, unagi sauce, tempura, and cucumber. This is an excellent choice because if one does go with the cooked sushi, grilled unagi with its signature sauce is the way to go!

20150109_194416I picked the Kabuki Roll, which has a few bits of raw tuna and yellowtail along with eel. (I love yellowtail and eel!!) This was drenched in spicy sauce and unagi sauce, which was a bit too much for me. I can be a purist when it comes to sushi, so I prefer to taste the raw fish in its natural form. Perhaps I was a pelican in my past life… However, I think a small amount of spicy tuna sauce, unagi sauce, or even creative fruit sauces/salts/spices/dips can really complement raw fish. Kabukiza just overdid it a little for my taste.

20150109_194424I would say that the Crazy Friday Roll was one of my favorite of the night, because it was basically a spider roll wrapped in a sexy dress of pink rice paper. However, I was not a fan of her cheap makeup – the “chef special sauce” was merely hoisin sauce. Hoisin is a flavorful sauce commonly used in Canton-style stir-fry, which while delicious on Chinese vegetables, feels like a cheap knock-off of unagi sauce on sushi. Nonetheless, the sauce could not detract from the spider roll’s inherent deliciousness – soft shell crab tempura made with real crab meat, minced spicy tuna, cool cucumber slices, and rich avocado.

Overall, I’d say Kabukiza makes some solid fusion rolls (pretty similar to Fat Salmon’s) for a decent price ($10-13), though I’d have to try some of their classic raw rolls to be certain.

20150116_191603My second Friday night, I spent trying Weshima’s new favorite food spot of Philadelphia: Hai Street Kitchen. This is a relatively new spot by 18th Street. It looks like a trendy new food spot, with minimal seating and a layout like a froyo bar. What makes Hai Street so cool and trendy is that it specializes in “sushi burritos“, which to me seems more like a clever marketing strategy than an original idea (since hand rolls have long existed in Japan to support its busy workforce). Still, to package sushi in the form of a burrito is pretty creative, so I’ll give credit where its due.

I tried her highly recommended Slammin’ Salmon burrito with fresh tataki salmon, a variety pickled veggies that I don’t even recognize, and delicious spicy sauce (gochujang?) I asked for extra spicy sauce and wasabi guacamole, hehe. I really enjoyed this roll because it tasted crisp and fresh with all the raw veggies. (I think there might have been some pickled in ginger sauce.) My only wish is that they added more salmon to the roll, because the fish is really the star of the show, but the veggies took over the stage. And realistically for $10, I think they could have been a bit more generous with the salmon.

20150116_192920Although I have to say from a purist standpoint that the Spicy Miso Soup definitely not miso soup, it was pretty darn delicious!! I didn’t taste a bit of fermented soybean, classically used in miso. There was no seaweed, seafood, etc. The only classic ingredient present was tofu. However, however, however… it had wonderfully roasted eggplant, crisp cabbage, and a variety of other veggies, all mixed in a savory, spicy soup. I would definitely come back for this spicy non-miso vegetable soup!

20150116_200006It may be too cold for ice cream, but it’s never too cold for gelato!!! After dinner, Weshima and I went to Capogiro (our fave) for dessert. She swears by the pistachio, hazelnut, and macademia flavors because she’s a lu-nuttic. I always get my favorite – the dark and serious, scuro dark chocolate. I also tried Capogiro’s new flavor: burnt sugar, which was also really yummy. In fact, Weshima couldn’t stop stealing this flavor from my cup! (Hehe, silly Weshima.) I don’t blame her though, because the burnt sugar was essentially crème brûlée in gelato form. Capogiro really nailed the indescribable taste of crème brûlée’s difficult flame-caramelized cream shell.

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RW Lunch Steal – Zahav

IMG_1828When taking part in Restaurant Week, one must be wise about selecting the most delicious restaurant with the most delicious deals. Most of the time, restaurants are overcharging a $35 dinner course-meal that’s in the ballpark of a prix-fixe menu. However, getting a $20 lunch at a fancy Middle East restaurant like Zahav is totally worth it!

IMG_1827First of all, Zahav was very generous to provide complimentary salatim & hummus (salad & hummus) with the RW lunch menu. For our table of 8, each group of 4 received four small plates of salatim, consisting of: fresh pickled onions (upper left), cucumber-squash salad (upper right), purée beet salad (lower left), and carrot salad (lower right). As someone who usually hates onions, I was astonished to find myself favoring the pickled onions. They were crisp, tart, and a tad sweet. There wasn’t the slightest hint of onion-iness left, which shows that these were quite masterfully pickled. I also enjoyed the mini-cubes of cool cucumber and sweet squash, which left a refreshing aftertaste.

Weshima loved the purée beet salad the best, and I can see why. The beet salad had the most complex flavors, with a rich earthy sweetness derived from the natural beets, and sourness from either lemon or vinaigrette. There must have been a few other spices added, creating a multidimensional taste. The carrots were less memorable, but we ate them for our beta-carotene.

IMG_1831But don’t even get me started on the hummus. As a disclaimer, I am a hummus-lover at heart and will eat all kinds of hummus no matter what the origin. However, this hummus is probably the best I’ve ever eaten. It was rich and creamy without being overbearing. The chickpea flavors were also prominent throughout. I think the red stuff must have been roasted pepper-olive oil of some sort. Anyways, I could not stop spooning large portions of hummus onto my warm laffa (warm dough that resembles chapati sprinkled with parsley) It was sooo delicious, I had to stop myself from shamelessly licking the bowl.

IMG_1834For my first course (Mezze), I selected the Fried Cauliflower based on my friend Pri’s recommendation. In general, I am a fan of broccoli/cauliflower, so I could enjoy these without the labaneh sauce. They were crispy and cooked in a way that brought out the natural flavor of the cauliflower. Steff loved the labaneh sauce because it was minty. Indeed, it resembled a delicious minty tahini.

I also stole a bite of Weshima’s Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Steff’s Grape Leaves (no photos). The brussels sprouts were also quite good, embellished with a sweet ricotta-like feta. The grape leaves were excellent (which again surprised me because I usually don’t like grape leaves). These thin, chewable grape leaves had a grilled meaty filling that resembled some sort of sausage kebab.

IMG_1841We also received a serving of Crispy Haloumi, on the house – say what?! Maybe because we were such a large group of people (we maxed out with a group of 8), or because we were a group of attractive young ladies (at least my friends are), or because they thought I was a disguised Zagat editor with my dSLR (hahaha, if only). Or you know, Zahav’s chefs (James Beard & Michael Solomonov) could just be a really nice guys!~ Anyways, the Haloumi is definitely one of Zahav’s best Mezze dishes. These cubes of fried cheese were delicious, with a firm, layered, not-too-creamy, not-too-cheesy consistency inside. It was almost like a slightly salty, non-sticky mozz. Very hard to place a finger on this cheese, but it’s quite addicting. What made the Haloumi more special was the topping of sweet dates, walnuts, and urfa. It was the perfect combination of sweet & salty, and cheese! Honestly, I could have made a meal out of just the Haloumi, Grape Leaves, and Fried Cauliflower.

IMG_1845Especially because my entrée really pales in comparison to the Mezze dishes. I won’t deny that this Spiced Eggplant is a beautifully presented piece of work, but my tongue didn’t think it lived up to the expectations of my eyes. The eggplant was skillfully grilled with some spices, but didn’t feel special. The lentils were out of place, not to mention boring. (They tasted just like flavorless canned beans.) Siri was equally unimpressed with her Chicken Shishlek. Perhaps the Branzino (fish) would have been a better choice.

IMG_1851Most of us got the Kataifi for dessert, which is traditionally sugar and honey with Kataifi dough (all the little stringy pieces that look like a bird’s nest). It’s known to resemble baklava, except made with stringy Kataifi dough instead of phyllo dough. Inside the bird’s nest, there is a bundle of warm dark chocolate ganache that oozes out, yum! On top, there is a thin layer of passion fruit “soufflé” sprinkled with crushed pistachios. To me, the “soufflé” has more of meringue/pavlova consistency. Either way, it’s really tart, fruity, and delicious. I wish this layer was thicker because the rich chocolate greatly overpowers the passion fruit (not that I’m really complaining because I love chocolate). But for a better balance between chocolate and fruit, I would recommend the pastry chef try infusing the passion fruit into the chocolate ganache.

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Pesto Fried Rice with Poached Egg

20150113_112930Getting out early today to work meant I got to fully utilize my new kitchen for more cooking, yay! After unwittingly heating up a whole bag of Costco’s Basil Pesto Tilapia this weekend, I was left with a ton of fish and a ton of rice. What to do with leftovers like this? Exactly what my mama taught me: make fried rice (playing right into the stereotype, haha)

Luckily for me, I can pretty much eat pesto on top of any carb – pasta, noodles, rice, bread, crackers… I added about 3 extra teaspoons of stolen pesto (sorry Emily!) because I like my pesto flavors concentrated. I also tossed 1-2 teaspoons of minced garlic right in the last minute, so that it cooks slightly and spices up the dish with garlicky goodness.

Dressing this dish up with some freshly poached eggs turns my simple lunch into a fun brunch. And there you have it: Tilapia Pesto Fried Rice, a simple, original Chinese-Ligurian fusion brunch creation~ =]

20141218_155803For dessert, I indulged in some Nama Chocolates by Royce, a Sapporo (Japanese) confectionary. Apparently, it came to NYC recently, so my thoughtful Unnie got me a box for my birthday last month.

20141218_160021These are ridiculously amazing, to say the least. Nama chocolate is basically a green tea truffle square – smooth, creamy, and bursting with matcha-ness. This Nama chocolate is just sweet enough to satisfy my sweet tooth, and matcha enough to captivate the calm, profound, refreshingly bitter taste of the green tea leaf. (Sadly I can’t say the same for Kyoto-fu’s overpriced, over-sweetened green tea truffle anymore…)

20141218_160049I love to let a square of Nama chocolate sit on my tongue and slowly melt in my mouth, but sometimes I get impatient and chew away. But no matter how one decides to eat it, I can guarantee that Nama is quite an experience.

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Reuben Pastrami at Hershel’s

20150111_135845Reading Terminal is an amazing magical place that never ceases to overwhelm me with choices, choices, CHOICES! After taking a brief walk down memory lane with Steff today, I decided on my go-to sandwich place, Hershel’s East Side Deli.

Situated right next to the famous Dicnic’s pulled pork, Hershel’s line is never as impossibly endless. And honestly, its sandwiches are just as tasty, if not more so. That is to say, you can’t really compare the two, as Dicnic’s specializes in pulled pork/more Italian-style hoagies whereas Hershel’s specializes in Jewish/Eastern European flavors with corned beef, pastrami, latkes (my fave, yum!)

20150111_135907Feeling hungry and ambitious, I opted for the pastrami sandwich, Reuben style for 93 cents extra. The Reuben includes Russian dressing, swiss cheese, sauerkraut all slapped on top of a pile of sliced pastrami meat. And let’s not forget about the crispy, toasted rye bread that holds this monster of a sandwich together.

Although I usually hate dressing on my salad, I must say this Russian dressing got to me. It was thick, sweet, and very mustardy in taste. (I’m a big fan of mustard!) I guess the mustardy taste must be from all the horseradishes used in making Russian dressing. Anyways, it was very delicious, melting into the bread and meat. The sauerkraut added a bit of sour, fresh zing to the sandwich, although I wish I got to taste it more. And ohh, the meat – thick, juicy, and incredibly satisfying. My main beef with the beef is that the fatty parts of the pastrami are extremely tenacious, and does not break off from biting with my incisors. As a result, I had to pull out the piece of meat from the sandwich…and it got really messy.

Oh well…when it comes to eating monster sandwiches, I can’t expect to be all neat and lady-like, can I? (In fact, I’m usually not.) But once in a while, we all deserve the chance to indulge like this. =]

20150111_135920Oh, and let’s not forget about the pickle. After all, a deli sandwich is not complete with out a pickle~

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