Friday, July 6, 2018

Food Review-ish? Talking about Somebody Feed Phil from Netflix

I have not written in a while, but since Somebody Feed Phil just came back on Netflix, I figured I needed to write something about this wonderful show.  Somebody Feed Phil is on its second season on Netflix and is a reworking of a previous PBS show, I'll Have What Phil's Having.  The show follows the creator and executive producer of American hit sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond.  This food/travel show is probably one of the best shows Netflix has put out and it is very enjoyable.  If you're not watching Somebody Feed Phil, drop what you're doing and catch an episode.  My favorite quote from season one comes from episode three: "Orange is the new Shakshuka".  There's a fantastic story behind it, but I won't share any more.

After watching the entire first season as well as I'll Have What Phil's Having, I can say for certain that this show is absolutely golden.  Phil Rosenthal, a white Jewish American from New York City is a fantastic host because there's a certain innocent wanderlust that pervades him.  He represents the captivated audience who just wants to travel and see and taste different things.  He's very endearing and it shows in the way he interacts with his friends (fellow celebrities and famous foodies) as well as everyday people on the street.  Whether its conversing with Vietnamese women at a park, or practicing meditations with a Thai Buddhist Monk, or even gossiping with Israeli women at the mall, he always does it with a smile and with sincerity.  In some ways, I've become jaded in watching food TV because I've learned to cook that particular dish or have eaten it before, and yet, seeing that childlike wonder from Phil makes me excited about my passion for food and traveling.  His journey across the world, eating amazing street food, trying new things (like durian) and speaking with everyday people is fueling my own growing wanderlust.

His show is funny, its creative and what makes it work is that he comes to each location wanting to learn and share as opposed to tell and lecture.  Phil is genuinely interested and honest.  One of my favorite segments he does every episode is that he Skypes his parents and shares with them his experiences.  He often shows a "fruit of the day" or asks how is parents are doing.  It is a warm segment and it reflects his interest in sharing his journey with people.  He presents the show like a travel diary, one that has no caveat other than to share and be joyous.  As I was saying, Netflix has both seasons available as well as his previous show I'll Have What Phil's Having.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

New York Adventures: Zucker's Bagels & Smoked Fish

I went down to New York for my February break and was staying around the Upper West Side.  On my first day, I walked around and spotted this bagel/breakfast spot.  I knew that I would be visiting the place at some point.  This review is one of two restaurants that I had decided to write up while I was in New York. 

I spotted this bagel/breakfast shop a couple of times as I was walking around the Upper West Side and was immediately interested in stopping by for breakfast.  I don't know why, but smoked fish always interests me.  Ever since my first THIMUN trip to the Netherlands and was exposed to herring, I've developed a palate for smoked fish.  When I was in Germany, I remember walking through a public biergarten and making a beeline for a storefront that advertised raw herring.  Nonetheless, after spotting Zucker's on Columbus Ave, I knew I wanted to visit.

Their menu is very extensive and has many choices from both breakfast and lunch sandwiches.  They're also known for their smoked fish, and as a result had a great deal of options.  I ordered the "Leo" on a poppyseed bagel and a "Delancey" on a garlic bagel.  The "Leo" has smoked nova lox, egg and sauteed onions.  The "Delancey" came with two eggs, corned beef, latkes and sauteed onions.  I also opted for no cheese which came standard on the "Delancey".

I started off with the "Delancey" because I wanted to see the "best for last".  I'm a big fan of pungent foods and a garlic bagel in particular is always a must have.  Unfortunately, the bagel sandwich fell apart fairly quickly the moment I bit into it.  Luckily I had a fork around, but the structural integrity of the sandwich was fairly lacking.  The sandwich was really good.  The bagel had a nice toasted outside and a soft and pliable inside.  The garlic bagel provides a nice fragrant foreground for the sandwich.  The corned beef was nice and tender and the combination of the latke almost made it seem like a corned beef hash in a sandwich.  The onions had a nice crunch and imparted a subtle sweetness to the sandwich.  The eggs seemed like there as a filler, but still provided some nice subtle flavors that helped bind the sandwich flavor profile together.  Overall, I great sandwich, though as I said, the structural integrity had much to be desired.

After I finished the "Delancey", I moved onto the sandwich that I was most looking forward to: "The Leo".  The first bite highlighted the smoked lox (salmon).  The fishiness and saltiness of the lox was fantastic.  It wasn't overwhelming but well-balanced and perfectly paired with the scramble eggs and sweet onions.  The poppyseed bagel added different texture to each bite and made the sandwich that much more enjoyable.  It is understandable why Zucker's is known for their smoked fish.

My experience at Zucker's was quite pleasant and I had an amazing time enjoying breakfast there.  While I haven't experienced enough "New York bagels" to be able to differentiate a good bagel versus not, but both of the sandwiches were good and quite fulfilling.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Chick Chick Boom: Thai Food in Central Square

I've been told by many of my Boston friends that they don't "care" about my food reviews in other places (I'm looking at you MARK).  As a result, I've been hard-pressed to visit and write more reviews about some of the restaurants in Boston.  I wrote a very short review of my visit to Chick Chick Boom, a Thai restaurant specializing in chicken dishes with a special focus in Thai-style chicken wings.  I visited this restaurant during the "bombogenesis" winter storm that occurred in early January.  The restaurant is located a few blocks away from Central Square's Massachusetts Ave.

As most know, I'm a sucker for South East Asian food whether it's Singaporean, Malaysian and sometimes Thai. What drew me in was Khao Mun Ghai, the Thai variant on Hainan Chicken Rice, a rice dish with steamed chicken and wonderful sauces to compliment.  The differences between the two dishes are very subtle and yet, Hainan Chicken Rice always ends up as being my preference.  Khao Mun Ghai tends to have more intense accompanying sauces that play into the muted flavors of the chicken. 

I was a little disappointed though. The plate is listed as 14.99, but what was served was a decent serving of rice, but only five pieces of breast meat. Mind you, the breast wasn't dry and in fact was very lovely to eat, but the price point is what kills me a little. Everything tasted wonderfully and I was treated very well but to me for that price, it could've been more.  In a typical serving of Hainan Chicken Rice, there's usually a mix of both white and dark meat to offer variety of textures and flavors.  As I said, the food was indeed good, it's just the portion to price ratio was very disappointing.

The other item I ordered was the Thai Green Curry chicken wings. I had 8 wings which was priced around 8$ and it was amazing. It was a very thick coating of curry that had all the wonderful components of heat, acidity and lots of ginger flavor.  While the chicken wings were coated a thick sauce, the wings still maintained a definitive crunch.  In hindsight, I probably should've ordered the wings entree which comes with a plate of wings and a fried rice or noodles entree that comes out to around 9-11$. I wish I had taken a picture, but I was just too hungry to not enjoy my meal.

I have been jumping back and forth between giving this establishment a 4 or a 3 out of 5 because the food tasted amazing. No doubts there, but the pricing is still throwing me off.  In the end, I decided to rate the restaurant a 3 on Yelp.  Nonetheless I plan to return and enjoy this restaurant and hopefully make the smarter choice.

The Best Ramen Bowls in LA: #6 Tsujita Annex

One of my greatest regrets after graduating was not finishing my series on LA ramen bowls.  I had been to five out of the twelve that were listed, some were good, some were ok, and some blew my mind.  Thus when I returned to visit LA this past December, I knew I had some places I needed to visit, and there was some that I wanted to.  This was the latter.  After visiting the original, Tsujita LA, I had dreamed about making a visit to their annex shop: Tsujita Annex, half a block down.  Also listed on the Discovery LA site: Best Ramen Bowls in LA, the Annex was a ramen only joint that served similar but also different ramen bowls.  At their original store, I ordered their Tonkotsu Ramen and thoroughly enjoyed it.  At their annex, I decided to order the famed Tsukumen, or dipping ramen.  As always, I ordered with firm noodles and a soft boiled egg.

Dipping bowl of high intensity soup and broth

At first glance, the bowl of soup was giving me flashbacks to my previous "ramen" experience.  There were visible chunks of pork fat floating among thick slices of chasiu, cabbage/bean sprouts, a soft boiled egg and a citrus-y chili powder in the corner.  This is then contrasted by the bright yellow thick noodles presented right next to it.  After taking photos, I first tasted the soup.  Hot, and full of intense flavor, tsukumen soup was like a punch in the face.  I love tsukumen because there is a distinct fishy flavor to the soup that is very different from traditional tonkotsu/miso ramen soup.  The flavor is almost reminiscent of dried bonito or tuna.  Unlike my previous experience, the fattiness of the soup was cut very well with the chili pepper blend.  The blend had such a powerful spicy kick while also being acidic that helped balance the fattiness out.  As I began eating the noodles, I always forget that tsukumen is not something that is enjoyed hot.  The noodles themselves are flashed in ice water, thus when dipping the noodles into the broth, the result ends up being a lukewarm mix.  The noodles also have a slight acidic flavor that really adds to the flavor profile.  My preference of firmer noodles also plays really well as the chewiness and firmness adds to the various textures presented.  When eating tsukumen, it is not only recommended, but necessary to slurp.  Only by slurping, are you able to enjoy the noodles while also getting soup at the same time.   The noodles themselves tend to also have an acidic flavor that adds to the overall flavor profile.  Tasting the other ingredients in the bowl, the chasiu had a great smokiness while the egg provided a small taste of sweetness that helped mellow out the experience.  I thoroughly enjoyed this bowl of tsukumen because the variety of textures and immersive flavors all work together to create an amazing bowl of noodles.  One of the best parts of finishing tsukemen is adding some more broth at the end to mellow out the dipping bowl and enjoy the expanded flavors in its entirety.  The soup goes from hyper savory, umami bomb gravy consistency, into a well-balanced soup that seeks to help conclude the meal. 

Tsujita LA and Tsujita Annex are both one of the best ramen restaurants in LA.  The lines are always span around the block and to be honest, it's worth it.  While traveling across the city has and will always be a pain, I am never dissatisfied with my experiences there.  Now that I am away from LA, I miss the plethora of ramen restaurants that I had the opportunities to visit and it forces me to look forward to future visits.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Bon Me: Chinese Pork BBQ Banh Mi

Bon Me is a food truck/restaurant business that is based in Cambridge.  They serve Vietnamese fusion cuisine in the form of Banh Mi (sandwiches), rice bowls and other fare.  I was able to stumble upon the food truck almost every day after school by Harvard Yard.  I've been to the truck a couple of times, always ordering a Vietnamese sandwich. 

As is the standard, they use classic French baguettes that have good crunch and flakiness.  At first glance, the sandwich is quite filled.  I ordered the sandwich to include BBQ pork, chashu Cantonese style.  The sandwich is filled with pickled radishes and carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, jalapenos, red onion and a spread of Sriracha mayo and homemade pork pate.  Each sandwich was also given a choice of which protein was to be filled into the sandwich. 

My first impression was the crunch, a very satisfying sound as a result of the bread and the fresh and pickled vegetables.  There was a good meatiness from the chashu pork with a combination of both sweet and savory.  With each bite, a growing spiciness began to emerge as a result of the raw jalapenos and the sriracha mayo.  However, as I continued to eat the sandwich, I realized that each bite had a different taste, meaning there was no consistency in the sandwich.  A huge part of Banh Mi and in any sandwich, is a balance of flavors across every bite.  The ingredients within the sandwich were not evenly placed thus resulting in unbalanced flavors along the sandwich.  Halfway through the sandwich, I finally was able to taste the pate.  Very nice and meaty with the mineral taste from organs and innards.  The pate imparted a nice creaminess that helped contrast the acidity of the pickles. 

I've always been a huge fan of Banh Mi, and I make an effort to order Banh Mi at almost every opportunity.  While I know that it will never compare to Banh Mi's, I've had in Vietnam or other places, but I always try and keep my expectations low.  I've been back to Bon Me many times since my first visit and I tend to still order the Banh Mi.  The consistency of good sandwiches is still not great, but I've had great sandwiches from there.  I look forward to trying out their storefront in Alewife at some point. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Yume Wo Katare "Ramen" in Porter Square

It's ironic that Yume Wo Katare roughly translates to "share your dream" (which I presume is correct because that's what the staff said) because that experience was a nightmare. In a small shop in Porter Square, seating only 18, lies a "ramen" (this is in quotations because I would like to make the argument that it's not ramen) shop that sells an experience much less a bowl of noodles. As you stand in line outside, you're told that the theme of the restaurant is to "share your dream", meaning as you finish you're invited to share your dream or passion or goal. It's an interesting concept that forces you to engage with your fellow diners as supporters of said dream as opposed to just members of a population seemingly enjoying noodles. The seats are positioned in three long tables all facing towards the kitchen where the cooks prepare the bowls.

As I said earlier, it is my assertion that it is too kind to deem this restaurant a ramen store because the bowl they serve is not ramen. The bowl is very much pork-centric: from the thick slices of pork belly, to the broth that is mostly rendered pork fat, to the actual chunks of congealed pork fat that floats within the bowl. It was hard to tell what the base of the soup was due to the sheer amount of fat and oil blending together. I presume it was a shoyu-tonkotsu mix but it was honestly hard to tell where the broth began and the oil ended. It was almost as if they rendered a massive chunk of pork fat and then served in in a bowl. The noodles weren't your typical yellow chewy bouncy noodles, nor were they thin beautiful hakata style either. To my disappointment the noodles were the run-of-the-mill Chinese Chow Mein, thick and flat. My heart sank when I dug trough the mountain of bean sprouts and cabbage, to only reveal the horror that lay in the bowl. Ideally the cabbage and bean sprouts are there to cut through the fat. Ideally. The final topping was a mountain of freshly chopped garlic that was there to add a bit of heat and variety to an already overwhelming bowl. I should preface by saying that I ordered the "Buta" which was the large that came with five pieces of pork as opposed to the normal two. It was a mistake. The bowl screamed for something acidic to cut through the fat and entice you back with new bites, yet there was nothing.


To call this bowl ramen, is to insult a century or so of creativity and innovation by ramen chefs. There is no combination of flavors that continually entice you, rather it's a shock and awe campaign that's designed to cripple even the most sane diners. As someone who has enjoyed amazing ramen, some even far richer than this, it pains me to see a bowl so horrific. While the food is disappointing, I have to say the people working are one of the most passionate and jovial staff I've ever seen. Part of the charm of visiting any ramen store is the "irashimase" that is yelled as you walk in, and this is no exception. The care that they put into the experience is truly evident. I only wish their food reflected that. I urge future diners to avoid this place unless you fully recognize that the bowl you partake in, is not what you're expecting. It's not ramen, it's a mess.

Please if you're reading this, owners and cooks of Yume. Really take some time and evaluate what you're serving. It's not ramen. Ramen is not just noodles in a soup, it's a beautiful mixture of oils and sauces mixed into a clean and beautiful broth with the right noodles and the right toppings. Something thick and heavy, shouldn't be served with thick and heavy flat noodles. Something already overwhelmingly rich shouldn't be topped with just vegetables and expect it to be a balance. It's not really a dream if it feels like a nightmare.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

JW Chen's: Chinese/Taiwanese food (Closest thing to home in South Bend, IN)

Out of the five or so Chinese places in South Bend, JW Chen's consistently ranks the top in both "word-of-mouth" recommendations and online research.  The restaurant is located on an unassuming strip mall (it's not really a strip mall, but it's the closest thing to it, I suppose, really it's a parking lot with some storefronts linked together in an odd configuration), in between a Papa John's and a large tobacco store.  It's hard to miss if you aren't looking for it, and the restaurant itself is quaint and homey.  It can maybe at capacity seat less than 40.  However, the moment you walk in, you're greeted by this lovely grandmotherly owner named Jean.  She seats you and then proceeds to take a seat with you and discuss what you're eating.

Now, I'm decently familiar with what I like in Chinese food, and I can read Chinese/know what to order.  Yet, even before I had a chance to really read the menu, she has taken a chair, and proceeds to help me decide what I want for lunch.  We settle on 豆瓣魚 (fried fish in chili sauce) and 高麗菜 (Taiwanese cabbage stir-fried with garlic) and some rice.  Within ten minutes, my food had arrived and I was taken aback.  The first thing that hits you is the garlic from the cabbage.  It's a smell that reminds you of any random stall in a wet market in Taipei, where the owners are yelling in the background and banging of spatulas in woks.  That first bite solidifies the image.  The crisp and crunchy cabbage mixed in with extremely fragrant garlic is the best bite of vegetables ever.  I would eat a bowl of rice and cabbage every day if it was made like that.  Then with the fish, lightly breaded and fried then combined with a spicy red sauce that has a hint of sweetness is just divine.  Extremely flaky and surprisingly fresh, each morsel of fish is exploding with flavor.  The spice is hot, enough to make you sweat and replace every other bite with rice or cabbage, but not overwhelmingly so.  As I dine on food that takes me home, I have brief conversations with the owner, other wait staff, and I find myself having a sigh of relief and joy with every pause in the meal.

It's hard to describe in words how wonderful it felt to be in a restaurant where all the servers and staff spoke Chinese and would take care of you as if you were a member of their family.  Before I left, I let the owner know that I would return in a couple hours, on my way back to Culver, to pick up some take out for dinner.  We spent another five to ten minutes discussing what to order and later returned to pick up 五更腸旺(pig intestine and blood stew), 三杯雞 (three-cup chicken), 炒菠菜 (stir-fried spinach) and some rice.  She then threw in a free plate of 炒米粉 (fried rice noodles) to ensure that I would have more meals to enjoy.  All in all, I highly recommend coming here for meals, but be sure to bring someone who knows Chinese food.  Don't be stuck just having "orange chicken" or "mongolian beef" or "honey walnut shrimp".  Have a good meal and really enjoy it.
More food for more meals!