Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Sushi So Good

I can't for the life of me remember the name of this Honolulu sushi den. But what I do remember is this: The unassuming eatery situated in a run-down (dare I say, decrepit) strip mall puts out some very fine, melt-in-your-mouth-like-buttah sushi/sashimi. It also kicks out a host of other fun and tasty eats such as grilled rice on a stick (looks like a corndog but isn't), marinaded beef tongue, chicken teriyaki skewers and agedashi tofu.

It's SP and her pals go-to sushi joint. I can see why.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Rack 'Em Up

After losing our way not once but twice on our drive back from Kilauea Volcano, we were tired and cranky and jonesing for some food on the double. So, we decided the best solution was to check out the steakhouse a stone's throw from our hotel. Both my dad and sister opted for the baby-back ribs not realizing the entire rack was what they'd be getting. The picture doesn't do the ribs justice, but I think ma soeur's look of fright does. She managed to do a fair job of it, working her way through two-thirds of the meaty main. The ribs were pretty damn delicious: falling off the bone, well-seasoned and saucy. I was happy to take one rib off her hands (my dish isn't even worth mentioning. blah!). Made me think I still need to check out Memphis Minnie's one of these days. I hear good things ...

Happy Holidays

Just wanted to send best wishes to all during this holiday season. Teddy wasn't too happy having to pose with the reindeer last year, but he suffered through it nobly. I'll be hanging out with him and my folks very soon. Will have to get him a tasty treat for being such a good boy. See y'all next year!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Brenda's French Soul Food

If y'all happen to be in the neighborhood where Brenda's French Soul Food is situated, you better hightail it on over there. Late of Oritalia and Ma Tante Sumi, chef and owner Brenda Buenviaje truly has the Midas touch when it comes to comfort food. Yes, I'm a tad biased since I groveled as her kitchen grunt years ago. However, the folks I rustled up for breakfast all agreed: her New Orleans-style beignets (chocolate, Granny Smith apple and crawfish), cream biscuits, grits and potato hash (I could go on) are knock-your-socks-off delicious.

Them thar spicy crawfish beignets were my favorite among the bunch.

Buttery, creamy, luscious grits. One gal loved 'em so much, she literally scraped the bowl clean.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Roy's on the Big Island

My sister planned a lovely little side trip to the Big Island during our week-plus stay in Hawaii. While there, we had a hefty and better-than-average meal at Roy's in Kailua-Kona. Here's SP enjoying the prix fixe appetizer sampler with baby back rib, veggie spring roll and a skewered grilled shrimp. I opted for the same, and give it a thumbs up.

My sis went for the salmon entree while I chose a local fish called opah. Both were pretty good. But it was my dad's entree that ruled: the lamb with mashed kabocha, broccoli rabe and watercress on top. Holy toledo. It was amazing. My dad was so pleased; he knew he had the winning meal, and kept saying so. Luckily, Roy's gives generous portions, so he shared his bounty with me.

Super creative? No, but pretty damn tasty.

The succulent lamb paired with the peppery cress and sweet kabocha mash reigned supreme.

My ma was quite pleased with her surf n' turf of Szechwan spiced baby back ribs and grilled sesame shrimp.

Dinner ended on a sweet note with molten chocolate soufflé and a dollop of vanilla ice cream.

A Tropical Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving this year was held a day late and in a tropical setting: Hawaii, where my sister lives. Despite being super jet-lagged (I flew in that morning from Korea), I managed to make a few hearty sides with an assist from ma soeur, while my mom took on the bird.

The 2007 menu included:

- 19-pound turkey a la mom (moister than it's been in years)
- green bean casserole a la Cook's Illustrated
- mashed sweet potato casserole a la Epicurious
- pistachio-apricot-mint bread dressing a la Bon Appetit
- cranberry sauce a la Ocean Spray (no, not from a can)
- sweet potato pie with whipped cream a la Martha Stewart
- apple pie from a local bakery

This is my fave holiday and one of the few times I look forward to having leftovers. And we had lots of 'em.

Those Quirky Koreans

Chicken alfredo or pasta primavera in a waffle cone? Hmmmm, gotta say these didn't really appeal, though I did notice a few folks inside, going to town on these large hand-held oddities. Call me crazy (or boring?), but I like my pasta in a bowl and my ice cream in a cone.

I have, however, partaken of one of the many "nutrition centers" sprinkled throughout Seoul. They specialize in chicken soup served in a big bowl with a whole bird sitting in the piping hot broth that's spiked with ginseng. Perfect when you're under the weather or looking to warm up from the wintry cold.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Odeng at Midnight

My final food foray in Korea was a midnight trip to a nearby odeng (fishcake) vendor. My aunt had announced at dinner that she would take me there that night, but I really didn't think it would happen. After all, she'd been falling asleep on the couch, in a failing attempt to watch her favorite soap opera, by about 9:30 to 10 p.m. every night during my stay. And in fact, I'd been getting to bed before 11 p.m. daily. Tonight was no exception. However, my uncle (who tends to burn the midnight oil) rousted us both out of of bed and out into the bitter cold.

I was glad he had. Despite the below-freezing temps, folks were out and about, and a small crowd was already enjoying the odeng that my uncle and aunt so love.

All you do is walk right up and grab a stick of your choice out of the simmering water (the tips are color-coded based on the type of fishcake skewered onto it), pour yourself some of the fish broth to sip on and set up some dipping sauce in a bowl. Uncle gobbled down four skewers to eemo's one. I passed on the odeng entirely. Not really my thing, though I did drink down some of the lovely hot broth. And I was happy to try some of the set-your-mouth-on-fire spicy rice dumplings ordered on the side.

All in all, a really good time, and a wonderful trip all-round. Thanks, eemo and uncle!

Home-Made Tofu

Uncle and eemo took me to a tofu house, one of many dotting the base of one of the mountains looming on the outskirts of Seoul. As we drove in, the area reminded me of one of the ski villages in Lake Tahoe, with alpine sports stores and rough-hewn log cabin-like eateries cramming the winding streets. Back to the subject at hand: the tofu. Made fresh daily on the premises, the soft soy had the texture of silky smooth custard and a mild, almost milky flavor. Dressed with a bit of chili pepper-laced soy sauce and a sprinkling of scallions, it made for a really tasty meal.

Of course, tofu wasn't all we ate. We also put away helpings of fish, steamed rice, salad, fermented bean soup, pickled veg, pork and sweet potatoes. That said, the tofu was by far the star of the show.


Just a few more posts from my trip to Korea. South Korean-style mandoo (steamed potstickers) accompanied by Japanese udon, soba and tonkatsu for a heart- and belly-warming lunch at the Hyundai shopping mall.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Anti-D.I.Y. Kimchi

If you're like my aunt, who most emphatically does not like to make kimchi at home, you can buy all manner of the spicy pickled cabbage at any food store. It's ubiquitous, really. And the little ladies, togged in doorags, aprons and full-on suits (that's their uniform, says my aunt), stationed at every corner are more than happy to help.

Another lady togged in suit, head-hanky and apron ... I got reprimanded (albeit very kindly) for taking a picture. Apparently at the Hyundai shopping mall, I need special permission from the bosses upstairs ...

It's On

Kimchi-making season in Korea, that is. While taking in the scene at an upscale grocery store in the Hyundai shopping mall, I noticed a herd of folks heading to the check-out with carts and carts loaded with jumbo-sized heads of Chinese cabbage. I asked my aunt what the mayhem was all about, and she said, with winter approaching, folks are all about making their stockpile of kimchi. The pickled stuff used to get buried in the ground during the winter freeze, but now most Seoul dwellers have kitchens equipped with special refrigeration units for their kimchi, so says my aunt. You can't really see it here, but it was insane how much cabbage these folks were buying. And the line of folks waiting for the cabbage to hit the shelves was like something you'd see for a rock star signing autographs at Tower Records in NY.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Oodles of Noodles

Eemo took me to a ritzy shopping mall called Shinsegae (my 2 goals in korea: eat + shop) where we had a truly outstanding meal of naengmyon—a kind of buckwheat noodle, so says my ma, in a refreshingly cold broth with a julienne of Asian pear and radish along with half a boiled egg, beef slivers and in our case a helping of spicy cucumber. Squirt it with some vinegar and a bit o' mustard (no, not the French's variety), and you're all set. I enjoyed every bit of it, served as it was in a brass bowl with brass chopsticks (my aunt says this is the old-school, traditional mode of delivery for the upper class—since brass was harder to come by for working stiffs back in the day ...).

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Panchan Paradise II

OK, the following items aren't really panchan, but they're the food stuff I was referring to in my previous post that are available for the taking at my aunt's panchan market.

A rainbow of rice cakes (dukk) ranging from those rolled in crushed nuts, others filled with dried fruit and chestnut and those flavored with beans ... taking some on the plane to give to my folks. They will love ...

More rice cakes being made, but these are going to get sliced up into small disks that will go into a heart-warming dumpling soup.

Whoa. Talk about a serious fish and fishcake display.

Panchan Paradise

If you're gonna have Korean, you gotta have a good sampling of panchan (or small side dishes) to add dimension (of the salty, vinegary, fishy and spicy variety) to your meal. We decided to eat in one night, and so we stopped off at my aunt's fave panchan market, housed in a basement mall not far from where she lives, to pick up a few things. The pictures really say it all ...

A number of stalls sell panchan, but this one is her go-to outlet.

This isn't even the half of what the place has to offer ... we loaded up on no less than 8 different accompaniments to our meal for the night.

Plenty of other food stuff to be had here—everything from dried fish and homemade tofu to rice cakes and mung bean pancakes.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

China by Way of Korea

A girl can't eat Korean food day in and day out (or at least this one can't), so my eemo took me to a fine-dining Chinese resto called Adena Garden (English is everywhere) where we started with a dim sum veggy dumpling that really was quite well done, but didn't quite do it for this shrimp and pork-loving dim-sum diner. (I like veg, but not so much in this form.)

We moved right into a spicy prawns dish dressed in a goopy atomic red sweetish sauce .... not bad, but not amazing; the sauce was a bit overpowering. Then came the mabo (aka spicy) tofu, which was very nice. Clean, bright flavors, tofu cubes cooked just right.

And then the highlight of my meal: the jiajiangmein—noodles loaded with a divine black bean and onion sauce that can come with beef and/or seafood, depending on how you order it. It's one of the best renditions I've had. Period. I savored every slurp.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Auntie Knows Best

My aunt loves good food just as much as I do. She's one of the reasons why I started this blog. Here she is on the hunt for a near-legendary dumpling house that her friends have raved to her about for years.

Eureka. We found the cozy eatery, called Koong (or Palace), down a little street in the Insadong district of Seoul. Its claim to fame: a little granny who's been making North Korean-style soup dumplings (mandoo) for something like 70 years now.

Shaped like jumbo tortelloni, a half dozen dumplings came out bobbing in a perfectly seasoned beef broth swimming with scallions and seaweed. They were deeRISHous and ideal in the blustery cold weather.

Of course, we three (uncle, eemo and I) decided we had to try a few other North Korean specialties such as this braised pork that you wrap in blanched strips of cabbage along with moderately spicy strips of daikon radish. My aunt says it's one of her fave dishes, and I can see why. The tender pork is ever so tasty, the spice of the radish gives each bite a really nice kick and the crunch of the cabbage serves as the perfect foil for the soft piggy pig. And speaking of pigs, why yes, we are. We also helped ourselves to pindaedok (fried mung bean cakes), a little softer/moister, not at all spicy or crispy like that of its southern brethren. Altogether a kinder, gentler version of the Korean food I grew up with. I liked it. A whole heckuvalot.

Monday, November 19, 2007


Talk about putting your back into it. This guy sure is. He's walloping the crap outta the glutinous rice dough he's got in the wooden gourd, making all kinds of whooping yells and running leaps towards and over what will become injolmi or rice cakes rolled in bean, nut or seed powder. The injolmi guys were set up just across the courtyard from the rice crispies guys, with the folk singers sandwiched between 'em. In a sing-song voice, the wielder of the oversized sledgehammer invited us to try their wares, but my aunt told him there weren't any to be had; they'd all been gobbled up. He answered: All you want is something for nothing? She replied: How do we know it's worth our money if we can't have a taste? So, we had our taste and put our money where our mouth had been. Soft and springy (thanks to all of the guy's pummeling), these are hands-down my fave type of rice cakes.

Rolling out the rice dough into bean powder and comfortable in the flowery apron—and his masculinity too.