Beijing Bites: ShaanXi Cuisine at QinTangFu

ShaanXi (not to be confused with ShanXi as I did) is a Chinese province best known for its capital Xi’an, home of the Terracotta Warriors. What many may not know is that they also have great food.

My friend Anna, who lived in Xi’an for a semester, has been raving about the food and planning a food outing accordingly. There was a lot of talk about her favorite ShaanXi dish, YangRou PaoMo, which is sometimes translated to “Crumbled Flatbread Soaked in Lamb Soup.”

This was the best meal I have had yet in Beijing. We did our research on where to go and what to order and it was worth it.

We went to QinTangFu (秦唐府) in the ChaoYang District. A short walk west from the Chaoyangmen Subway Station. We entered the restaurant to find a large room filled with Chinese. (Crowd Theory: Crowded? Yes. Natives? Yes.) The chairs and tables are wooden and sit extremely low to the ground. The service is fast and the waitresses are nice if you speak Chinese.

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ShaanXi Pork Sandwich (LaZhi RouJiaMo or 腊汁肉夹馍) – juicy, soft pork surrounded by dense, flat bread. What’s not to love? Eat it while it’s hot though, it doesn’t sit very well.

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Garlic Greens – garlicky, oily, good, but nothing special.

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YouPo CheMian (油泼扯面) – this was another dish we had been looking forward to. Xi’an is known for their Biang Biang Noodles, a special kind of noodle that is thicker and wider than most Chinese noodles. (Sidenote: ‘Biang’ also happens to be one of the most complicated characters used in the Chinses language, as seen below.) These noodles were served with some greens and bean sprouts in a perfectly spicy sauce. The balance of flavors was spot-on. The noodles were bomb.

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And now, for the YangRou PaoMo:IMG_1489

Step 1: Cut a whole in the box.

Sorry.

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The actual Step 1: shred the dense flatbread into tiny nail-size pieces. According to Anna, in Xi’an your dining mates will judge you based on how well and how finely you crumble your bread.IMG_1503

Step 2: The waitress will take your bowl of crumbled bread and fill it with broth, Chinese mushrooms, vermicelli-like rice noodles, and of course, lamb.IMG_1514

Step 3: Garnish with a little cilantro and hot sauce if you wish. Pickled garlic is provided on the side.

Step 4: Dig in to a fantastically home-y Chinese lamb stew.

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Beijing Bites: The Streets, Part I

Contrary to what I believed before arriving in Beijing, the Chinese city is not overflowing with gloriously rich Chinese food to gorge on. Instead, in my efforts to be “one of the people” (à la Dad Lowe) and immerse myself, I have found much of the daily food enjoyed by natives to be good – not great. Granted, I have also found many everyday dishes in Beijing that I would kill for on any day in America.

One of my goals for my time in Beijing is to differentiate the latter from the former.

And here we go:IMG_1306

Beef noodle soup (or NiuRou Mian) with knife-cut noodles from Planed Noodles (刀削面), a small shop on a side road off of the North 3rd Ring Road near Liangmaqiao Subway Station.

Despite the small amount of beef in the soup, the broth was abound with flavor – one of the most flavorful broths I have ever tasted thanks to the nuts, meat, cilantro, and other vegetables used.

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Little carts selling Chinese pancakes can be found on most streets in Beijing.

The top photo features a delectable rolled pancaked with scallions. Our local produce market has a stall where I will also occasionally pick up a piece of large, flat pancake (like a large Chinese crepe) with egg and scallions within the pancake. The flavor is subtle, perhaps a bit bland for some, but the texture is great and I love them.

Every morning, commuting Beijingers will pick up plastic bags with rolled pancakes of assorted meats and vegetables for breakfast along with some DouJiang (soybean milk). I was quite excited to try one of these pancakes, but found it to be disappointing. The flavors and textures were sub-par – the combination of pancake and potato created an overall mushy texture, and the meat did not taste great either. It also may have just been a case of a bad Beijing pancake.

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This small marketplace lies off of Nanluoguxiang – honestly one of my favorite areas of Beijing. Nanluoguxiang is a quaint, but touristy Hutong, but the majority are Chinese domestic tourists. This marketplace has small stalls with vendors each selling a different dish. The setting is clean and features a nice seating area.IMG_1033IMG_1032

Egg filled with rice and meat.

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Battered crab.

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The size and shape of these buns were similar to XiaoLongBao (or Shanghai Soup Dumplings), but the outsides were bread (like mantou or baozi). They were fluffy and thin on the outside, and exhibited a great bun to meat ratio. They were especially tasty after hours spent on our feet walking and exploring.

 

Beijing Bites: Baihe Vegetarian Restaurant

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Beijing’s Hutongs serve as a respite from the hustle and bustle of the big city, a reminder of its traditional cultural beginnings, and a great place to walk, explore, and experience Beijing. Last Thursday, my friend Anna and I decided to set out to Dongcheng – we both love Nanluoguxiang and the surrounding area’s Hutongs and wanted to explore some more. We ended up at Caoyuan Hutong where we entered Baihe Vegetarian Restaurant, or 百合素食 (BaiHe SuShi), for a meal.IMG_1130

The restaurant is located around the courtyard through this little foyer/book store.IMG_1105

The restaurant is clean and serves a mix of locals and tourists. We knew that we weren’t heading into a local dive given that we saw BaiHe in the Lonely Planet Beijing Guidebook. Nonetheless, the food was quite good.

Given the ancient Buddhist tradition, vegetarian food is an art that has an established history in China. Mostly, vegetarian dishes will mirror a dish that usually involves meat – using soy to replicate the texture and taste of the specific meat.

If you haven’t already tried vegetarian Chinese cuisine as such, I would recommend it. It’s an experience – most people find it surprisingly good. Buddhist vegetarian food is a healthy twist on Chinese food, while remaining traditional.IMG_1102IMG_1100

We sat outside in the courtyard on a gorgeous night. The menu is huge and features large pictures and graphics. The waitresses don’t speak much English. Chinese service is generally sub-standard, but you get used to it and learn to yell a little louder to get anyone’s attention.

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We started off with a cold dish, or a LiangCai, in hot oil.

I was not the hugest fan. The main flavor was pure spiciness, setting my mouth on fire. Anna liked it more.

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Beef and Bok Choy. The flavors here weren’t original, but recreated extremely well without actually using meat.IMG_1125

Fish in Hot Oil.

This dish was fabulous. It came in a startling large bowl, but we soon discovered it was more shallow than it appeared. The dish used Mala with Sichuanese peppercorn that creates a slow, mild burn in your mouth.Together, with the imitation fish and vegetables, the dish displayed a complex combination of flavors and textures.

 

BaiHe Vegetarian Restaurant

23 Caoyuan Hutong, Dongzhimennei Beixiaojie, Dongcheng DistrictBeijing 11000550China

Amada: A Celebratory Suckling Pig

Is there a better way to celebrate than with a suckling pig?

My sister recently graduated from college, and to celebrate in the style my family prefers we went to Amada in Philadelphia to dine, wine, and cheers the new graduate. We pre-ordered the half roasted suckling pig when we made our reservation.

We started our meal off with some complimentary dishes.

Roasted Padron Peppers

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Crackers with Balsamic Tuna DipIMG_1922

And onto the things we ordered….

The Potato Tortilla Española – it was good, but I’ve honestly had better. The flavor and texture could be enhanced and perfected.IMG_1928

We ordered the Ensalada de Jamón and after receiving it almost immediately ordered another one. It was terrific.

Ensalada de Jamón – serrano ham wrapped around figs, salad, cabrales, and spiced almonds.

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Ensalada Verde – Green Salad, Asparagus, Favas, Avocado, Green BeansIMG_1934

THE LOBSTER PAELLA – Lobster & Seafood Paella, Fava Bean Salad, Smoked Paprika AÏoli, Squid Ink

Obviously, we really like my sister because we went all out for her. The paella was delicious, though the dish itself was very shallow and I’m not sure how I felt about the seafood to paella rice ratio.IMG_1939

While we were polishing off our paella, our pig arrived. It was carved before us into perfectly portioned pieces of pork. I was already quite full at this point, but watching the process unfold before me persuaded me to stretch the walls of my stomach.IMG_1945

Our pork came with sides (in order): Grilled Green Onions, Rosemary White Beans, Herb Roasted Fingerlings, Garbanzos con Espinacas. The fingerling potatoes and the grilled green onions were great. I found both of the beans to be over-salted, especially in conjunction with our pork.IMG_1947IMG_1951IMG_1949 IMG_1952

Cochinillo Asado

A meal for all of the meat-lovers out there to try. The pork was absolutely delectable. We had a significant amount of leftovers the next day and made bahn mi sandwiches with the pork for lunch. It was still delicious – perhaps even more so, because I was more hungry then.IMG_1956

Many thanks to my parents for the meal, and many felicitations to my sister on graduating.

 

Rating Roìa

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I have always loved my birthday. My birthday meant a party, a dinner, and the focus on me. Unlike most young girls, however, my birthday was never all about me. I share my birthday with my mom. Yes, I was the best birthday gift ever (as, I imagine, was the process of childbirth).

While, yes, this means that the focus was never entirely on me for my own birthday, I couldn’t imagine a birthday without my mom. Therefore, it was incredible to have my mom in New Haven to spend our birthday together. It also provided the perfect opportunity to go to Roia – a New Haven restaurant I have been dying to try.

One of the most respected foodies at Yale once casually told me that Roia was the best restaurant in New Haven. Ever since, Roia has been number one on my list of restaurants to try. I have made multiple reservations and unfortunately had to cancel all of them. But my birthday dinner was an event I would not cancel.

Here’s what we ate:

Chicken Liver Mousse served with grilled bread and red onion marmalade

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Carpaccio di FunghiImage

Pesce Di Giorno (which, on this day, was arctic char)Image

Pappardelle with Hen RaguImage

For dessert: Croustillant de Rhubarb – meringue with poached rhubarb sweetened cream and pistachiosImage

A little treat with the check – petite madeleinesImage

I had very high expectations for Roia. Sadly, Roia did not live up to my standards. It was good, maybe fantastic, but not spectacular. The liver mousse was good – I honestly think Heirloom’s (at The Study) is better. The arctic char was more well-done than I usually like, but this is a personal preference. I am a sucker for handmade pasta (and Roia makes all of their own pasta), but I am also used to the incredible high standards for handmade pasta in San Francisco. The pappardelle was good, but the pasta itself was a bit too thick and chewy for my taste.

Sidenote: I will say, however, that the petite madeleines provided a spectacular moment for me. They were little bites of heaven. Perfectly flavorful, soft, and fluffy. I was reading Proust’s A Remembrance of Things Past at the time, where the entire novel stems from a bite of madeleine that stirs Proust’s memory. They were a perfect way to end our birthday dinner.

Semifreddi’s Cinnamon French Toast for Mother’s Day

Like many daughters, every year on Mother’s Day I make breakfast for my mother. This year, I decided to combine two of my childhood favorites (okay, more like lifelong favorites) into one decadently delicious dish. Semfreddi’s Cinnamon Twist, meet French Toast. French Toast, meet Semifreddi’s Cinnamon Twist.

Semifreddi’s is a local Bay Area bakery. I grew up on their cinnamon challah – no joke, I think it was my main source of sustenance for my most important years of growth. Semifreddi’s Cinnamon Twist was a staple in the Lowe household growing up. Their loaves of bread have the fluffy buttery-ness of good challah and the addicting flavor of their cinnamon concoction woven throughout. Think of challah crossed with a cinnamon roll. Nowadays, I only get Semifreddi’s Cinnamon Twist as a treat. My metabolism isn’t quite the same anymore.

But Mother’s Day is, by all means, a special occasion that calls for not just Semifreddi’s Cinnamon Twist, but Semifreddi’s Cinnamon Twist French Toast.

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I used The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book’s French Toast recipe that calls for putting the toast in the oven to dry it out a bit.

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Then the toast is dipped in a combination of egg, milk, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg and placed on a hot griddle. Voila!

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My Mother’s Day meal was completed with bacon and fresh fruit salad on the side.

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Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

 

 

Brunch at Heirloom, The Study at Yale

The Study at Yale is the best hotel in New Haven, and is also home to one of the best restaurants in New Haven, Heirloom.

To be clear – I actually had breakfast at Heirloom on this particular day, and not brunch. The breakfast menu is, from my understanding, just a limited version of the brunch menu and is only available for hotel guests.

Brunch at The Study is notorious and notoriously good – never miss an opportunity to be fed at Heirloom, preferably by your parents or your friend’s parents who are visiting.

I’ll stop with the advice.

 

Study at Kale Frittata – Egg Whites, Milled Tomato, Parmigiano & Burrata, Sunflower Seeds & Farm Lettuces

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Heirloom Oatmeal

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Smoked Fish Plate with Smoked Salmon and Trout Spread Combo

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Husk: A Taste of the South

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Soundtrack: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHdXQAQHjd8

During my Spring Break and my sister’s Spring Training, my family and I had a one day adventure in Charleston, South Carolina. We walked around the small city, seeing the market, Fort Sumter, and other sites. Charleston felt incredibly quaint and dainty – houses and roads are perfectly groomed and the architecture is charming.

For our dinner, my sister made us a reservation at Husk, a restaurant that takes a new twist on Southern food. In 2011, it was named Bon Appétit’s Best New Restaurant in America. Our dinner was delicious, though some dishes were better than others. The most disappointing was the scallop appetizer (which was bland), but all of the other dishes were tastefully composed and concocted an interesting combination of flavors, new and old. The prices are not cheap, but I would say it was worth it.

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The Pickling RoomImage

Here’s a taste of what we had:

Cheerwine with dinner, of course.

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Oysters to start. Wood Fired Caper’s Blades Oysters with Herbed Chicken Fat and Aji Dolce Pepper Mash, that is.Image

Dave’s Fire Roasted Clams, Spicy Preserved Tomato Broth with Ember Roasted Fennel, Tuscan Kale and Fried Chicken Skins

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This was, in my opinion, the best dish we had:

“Kentuckyaki” Glazed Pig Ear Lettuce Wraps with “Fermented” Cucumbers and Red Peppers, CilantroImage

and the worst…

Olive Oil Poached VA Bay Scallops with a Salad of Fennel, Sweet Peas and Spring Onions, HUSK ManchegoImage

 

Cornbread on the side.

We had heard that the Husk cornbread is very good and we were very excited. My sister was disappointed in its lack of corn flavor, but I liked the savory taste from the bacon and its incredibly buttery texture.

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Beeliner Snapper, Whey Whipped Potatoes with Baby Spinach and Ember Roasted Fennel, Smoked Oystar Cream, BenneImage

Golden Tilefish from Mark Marhefka, Roasted Brussels with Cara Cara Orange, Spiced Pecans and Butternut Squash JuiceImage

Cornmeal Dusted NC Catfish, Fried Cabbage with Smoky Tomatoes, Geechie Boy Grits and Appalachian Tomato GravyImage

VA Heritage Pork, Creamy Sea Island Red Peas and Scallion, Blackbird Farms Mustard Greens, Preserved Tomato Jus. This was fantastic.Image

 

And because we love food, despite the fact that our bellies were very very full, we ventured to get dessert.

Pecan Tart with Bourbon-Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and Sorghum-Caramel SauceImage

Brioche Custard with Sweet Potato Anglaise, Candied Pecans, and Toffee “Caramel”Image

Heirloom Caroline Gold Rice Pudding with Cara Cara Orange, Shortbread Cookie, and Crispy Rice. This dish was also fantastic.Image

 

Some of my beautiful, focused dining companions.Image

This was my first experience in the South, nonetheless my first dining experience. I’m ready to return to try some more.

Yes, I am Obsessed.

“Read This If You Are Obsessed with SF’s Burgers”

So, of course, I did. This article makes me want to fly back to San Francisco immediately so I can try every burger and verify The Bold Italic’s statements. A great breakdown and a mouth-watering display of burgers.

Nopa

Nopa is one of those restaurants whose name feels like it is constantly being thrown around in San Francisco. Even if you’ve never been or don’t even know what style cuisine they serve, if you live in San Francisco, chances are you have at least heard the name.

When my mom told me we had reservations during the one week I was back for Thanksgiving, I immediately got even more excited to return home. As I churned through the final weeks and days of school before Thanksgiving break, Nopa began to represent to me everything and everything food-related that I missed about San Francisco and home. With all of these ideas and expectations running through my mind, I am surprised that Nopa managed to meet my expectations. The dinner was tasty, though the dishes ranged from those phenomenally great to those that were just good. The ambiance and design of the restaurant alone, however, I think are worth a visit and the price of the meal.

A note – one thing I kind of loved about Nopa were the more quirky dishes on their menu, though they may not be everyone’s cup of tea. A young couple sitting next to us  did not love the dishes that we lovingly devoured . While everyone may not agree, having complex dishes that involve peculiar ingredients like duck gizzard feels distinctly San Francisco to me, and I loved it.

Josh @ Nopa, perusing the scene

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Grass fed Hamburger – probably, almost definitely the juiciest burger I have ever tasted. (Sorry, Dad, your freshly-ground burgers are almost as good.)

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Piggy platter – trotter terrine, smoked ternderloin and liver mousse.

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Avocado salad, pickled beets, clementine, almonds, and sesame seeds.

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Fried Sardines with Romesco.

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Grilled Bread, Duck Gizzard Confit, carrot hummus, pickled jalapeño and persimmon.

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Flatbread of spicy fennel sausage, butternut squash, olives and crescenza.

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Country Pork chop, potatoes, brussel sprouts, mustard and grapes. The pork chop was divinely moist (extraordinarily) and my dad is to this day still speculating as to how they created it.

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Seared duck breast, sauerkraut, carrots, golden raisins and wild arugula.

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Morrocan vegetable tagine, toasted almonds, lemon yogurt.

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I ran a 5k the next morning. If that is what I have to do to stay alive and eat meals like this every day, consider it a done deal.

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