Sunday, January 27, 2008

Road Tripping through Europe: Food Hell to Food Heaven in Italy

Warning to anyone not on broadband you will now be overloaded with pictures.

My family and I went to Europe with a Chinese language tour. The problem with Chinese language tours is that the food they take you to eat can be a real hit and miss. You can have the best the country has the offer or the worst.

Sadly this trip is the latter, let me show you a quick set of pictures of the horrible food we had. I highly suggest not to attend the American Europe travel agency tourts.

Italy: Pasta with ground meat, butter, olive oil. Bleh. No flavor.

Italy: Thinly sliced dry pork with overly salty sauce

France: Dried chicken breast

Italy: HORRIBLE VEGETABLE SOUP. Really mushy vegetables , a mix of vegetables that don't mix with each other!

Italy: SAME vegetables that were in the soup, now covered in butter and salt.. and still overcooked.

I vowed to eat something decent during this trip so during our shopping excursion in Milan, Italy I decided to look for a good sit-down restaurant. The problem with a lot of the places around these heavily populated areas is that its all cafes, cafes = generic pasta and salads. Luckily we found a restaurant tucked away in the corner. Charleston!

This place was packed when we went in. They also don't take names so you kind of just stand in the restaurant in a line for your table. While waiting for our table I took the liberty to take pictures of their food displays.

Fresh seafood *drool*

Thick cuts of meat and hanging sausages!

and the most drool-worthy oranges.
the table the oranges was on is filled with all kinds of different fruit based desserts. If we had the time I would have a taste sample but silly chinese tours and time limits!

After we were seated we were handed an immense menu. 10+ pastas, meats, seafood, pizzas, cold appetizers, hot appetizers, the whole shibang.

Since my family is a family of hungry people (some may say fat, I say healthy!) we ordered an appetizer, pizza, and our own individual entrees.

For our appetizer we had the parma "coppa" (pork salami) and grilled "scamorza" (smoked cheese) .

Thinly-sliced salami, not as oily as prosciutto but a little saltier. You add the sharp grilled cheese along with it and it really meshes well with the flavor. To make it even better, toss it in some bread =).

A pizza with mozzarella, tomatoes and spicy sausages

Thin crust pizza, my favorite! Light tomato sauce with very little sausage . The pizza was drenched in olive oil (can you see my reflection on the pizza?) so when you cut it, the oil just drips off of the pizza. Now that doesn't detract it from being tasty because the dough was perfect, not so thing that its flimsy with all the oil, and the crust was nice and crisp.

My mom ordered Seabass in "Mediterranean" style.

It would have been a lot easier if they just called it baked fish with grilled eggplant and zucchini. Once again, an abundance of olive oil.

My brother ordered the Veal with roasted potatoes

And I had the Spaghetti with clams and mussels.

The dish is extremely small. Probably no more than 14-15 bites of well rationed bites. But a good portion of mussels and clams. The small portions do not take away from how great this dish was. A spicy light tomato sauce with perfect pasta. It really doesn't get much better than this when you order pasta. Succulent seafood, real juicy and meaty clams/mussels. If this dish had two times the pasta it would have been absolutely worth the $25 we paid for it.

After a large carbonated water our dishes came to a grand total of 89 Euros. Sigh its expensive to be an American in Europe. Expensive but delicious none the less. I finally had my first good complete meal in Italy.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Road Tripping through Europe: Pizza in Italy!

Over winter break my family and I went to Europe for our winter vacation. Our first stop was Italy! Home of the pizza pie (*its a me! mario! heyyy you want a piece of pizza pie!*)

The main thing I wanted to eat while in Italy pizza. Now, I am by no means a pizza connoisseur and hence no pizza snob, heck, I LOVE Pizza Hut, that’s easily one of my favorite pizzas out there. But I wanted to try real thin sliced Italian Pizza. Unfortunately our whole tour was composed of stops at gasoline stations till this point so we didn’t have much of an opportunity to have pizza. We finally were allowed to have some “self” time at the Trevi fountain and in my infinite wanderings to find foreign food in dark corners, we found a pizza shop.

My oh my the varieties of pizza! Slices of mozzarella, chunks of tomato, prosciutto, olives, peppers, mushrooms buried the centimeter thick pizza dough. What caught my eye was the pizza with generous button mushrooms, mozzarella, tomatoes, and no tomato sauce. I absolutely love these types of pizza that are without tomato sauce, and where the flavors come from the olive oil, rich cheese and thick slices of vegetables. My brother got pizza with light tomato sauce but absolutely covered in roasted green and red peppers.

Pizza is different here , you don’t really pay by the slice, you pay by weight. So you can get as many small slices of something or big pieces and they just throw it on a scale and you pay by what shows on the scale.

The pizza was fantastico, nice and crisp and the mozzarella cheese is still in thick enough chunks where you get that thick creamy flavor. And the tomatoes, oh *drool*, so sweet and flavorful.

One pizza came out after I finished mine that really piqued my interest, a thick slice and one whole slice of a tomato covered a pizza with basil leaves on top. I didn’t have the opportunity but I’m sure that pizza would have been delightful.

Geez, I love this type of pizza, I wish I could have thin crust, crispy dough pizza everywhere I go.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Daniel - Las Vegas The Final

NOTE: This entry was written before, and is slightly late in its publication.

Clayfu is frolicking in Europe, ingesting culinary delights and engaging in adventures of all sorts . . . you can just consider me, the Mystery Eater! I'm just subbing, so Clayfu's vast readership won't be devoid of an entry (so please, go easy on me). This entry will be about Daniel Boulud Brasserie (ed. paid for in part by the Wynn Hotel), located in the Wynn Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. The pictures are a little dim bc we only had candlelight.

We started with two appetizers.

Maine Lobster Salad-- lobster, yukon potatoes, greens.

Somehow I was expecting the salad to be warm (don't know why) but this was a refreshing cold salad with lovely pieces of lobster and yukon gold potatoes. It was perfectly chilled and lightly seasoned, allowing the natural flavor of the lobster to be the star of the show and not the spices or the potatoes. There were about 6-7 pieces of lobster, each comparable to the size in the photo.

Catalan Style Tapas (chef’s selection of Mediterranean inspired appetizers)- three types: 1) veal cheek, 2) rabbit sausage and fois gras, and 3) chicken wing stuffed with lavender and etc.
The veal cheek came with a thick sauce that went well with the meat-y flavor of the veal. The meat gave easily to the fork and almost melted in your mouth. I thought it was one of the best appetizers. My only beef with it (haha) was that it bore an uncanny resemblance to the short ribs, but that might be a result of my untrained palate.

As for the rabbit sausage and fois gras (once you got over the fact you were eating Thumper), the sausage was perfect-- not overly gamey and for those unfamiliar with rabbit, this particular version tasted just like a meatier version of a chicken sausage.

When our waiter first told us about the chicken wing stuffed with lavender, I had visions of perfume and soap in my mind. However, all my hesitancy melted away when I bit into it, as the chicken was tender and not soap-y at all.Braised Short Ribs - “en daube,” parsnip mousseline, fines herbes

Meaty, rich and heavy, with a flavor similar to the veal cheek. I'm not usually a fan of mouses and foams as I find them pretentious and would rather have the vegetable in whole, versus in pureed format. The short ribs were not particularly memorable, since there were so similar to the veal cheek.

Original NY DB Burger-- 9-oz. sirloin burger stuffed with braised short ribs, foie gras and black truffle, parmesan bun, french fries.

The Original NY DB Burger is Daniel's claim to fame. While the burger patty was supposed to be the star of the show, it overwhelmed the other flavors of the burger-- without the perfect balance of the onion, lettuce, tomato, it was a little too meaty. A great burger is nothing without a perfect set of accompanying ingredients. The actual patty was supposed to be a combination of ground beef, short ribs and fois gras. Unfortunately, the short ribs (while delectable) dominated the patty and suppressed the other flavors in the burger. There was not nearly enough fois gras taste, just little hints, as if the chef were trying to tease me! As for the bun itself, the Parmesan-crusted bun was a nice touch-- more elegant than the sesame bun you would find at McDonalds but crusty and sturdy enough to hold a 3-inch patty.

One of the highlights was the order of fries that accompanied the burger. Perfectly crispy, yet managed to maintain its potato flavor.

Lacking in the unique flavor of the foie gras and the lack of balance between the meat and the rest of the burger, I probably would not order this again. It was good, but not great. While the fries were wonderful it would not be enough to warrant another NY DB Burger.


Not complimentary but still delightful! Ice cream sandwiches with freshly-made rocky road ice cream (versus Dreyer's I suppose). editorial note: this is the greatest dessert I (Charlie Fu) have ever had. The warm chocolate sauce on the side, the perfectly light milk chocolate rocky road ice cream, and the bite size pastry puff made it to be superbly delightful.

A short note about the decor and dress of the restaurant-- while it's supposed to be "casual elegant", the clothing choices ranged from suit with tie to jeans and a nice shirt. Additionally, there is a lake show that goes on at certain points, 630 PM is the time for one of them. This "Lake of Dreams" lake show was a little too "Fantasia"-like to me (remember that Disney movie, back in the day?) . While the colorful lights and sound effects were interesting, it was not that captivating to me or my eating companion.

Overall, while there were some highlights (veal cheek, chicken, maine lobster, dessert), the prices for the entrees and the quality of food that was presented just didn't match up completely. The dining experience and service was wonderful but the entrees just a bit too pricey and this might keep me from going back again.

Boulud Brasserie

Bottom floor- Wynn Hotel next to the main reception.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Las Vegas: Lotus Of Siam

Lotus of Siam

On the Ebob wine forums and Chowhound I keep hearing about a restaurant in Las Vegas named Lotus of Siam. A thai restaurant that everyone flocks to from all over the country. Some food critics have even proclaimed it the best Thai restaurant in America. I told this to my friends in LA and everyone scoffed, for us we’re lucky enough to be in one of the most culturally diverse cities in America with well priced dishes and tasty varieties. But not one to ignore the “best” of anything, I decided to give it a shot.

Located on Sahara Blvd in a random strip mall (so random we drove by it and had to make a U-turn) the restaurant is seriously in the middle of nowhere. We found the restaurant when we saw every person that got out of their car went into the same place. It’s a small restaurant, its not decorative, it’s a simple Thai restaurant that doesn’t stand out from any other except for the walls and walls of photos of the owner with people.

At lunch they have a buffet which we were told to avoid. Probably 90% of the restaurant was eating the buffet. For ourselves we ordered off the menu. Mystery Eater wanted to try the Pad Thai, which one reviewer proclaimed to the best Pad Thai he’s ever eaten. I wanted to try the beef jerky every single person seems to rave about, and we allowed the waiter to pick out a dish for us.

First off, the beef jerky is seriously thick slices of peppered beef jerky ($8.95).

You get a side of sliced cabbage, some dipping sauce and a pretty generous portion of jerky. Sadly.. its just beef jerky, albeit its tasty beef jerky, but I have no idea why everyone loves this dish so much. I am actually perplexed, unless the cities they live in do not have any kind of jerky at all, I can’t suggest this dish to anyone but the most obsessive of beef jerky lovers.

Next is the Pad Thai ($8.95)

I know, very unassuming. Mystery Eater found it good, but not the best she’s ever had. I myself.. do not believe it stood out in flavor from any of the other Pad Thai I’ve had. Its light, not overly salty or fruity which seems to plague a lot of Pad Thai, but a mild flavor. It was a little short in ingredients (chicken/egg) but I found the real star of the Pad Thai to be the noodles itself. What happens with most Pad Thai is the excessive amount of clumped noodles, over cooked, undercooked or what not. But the Pad Thai noodles here were perfect. They did a really good job with cooking the noodles. Wouldn’t say it’s the best “overall” Pad Thai I’ve ever had, but the noodles themselves were definitely A+.

The final dish we had was the Beef stew with Cognac. The waiter suggested the dish, it wasn’t on the main menu and I don’t believe it was on the “secret” menu either (didn’t get a good look). ($15).
Strips of thick beef in a coconut, basil, cognac infused sauce. The coconut milk flavor was strong, but not overwhelming, it gave the dish a sweetness that matched the bits of cognac that you would taste at the back of your mouth. The beef was so so tender. Deliciously made, cooked with no red/pink in the middle yet perfectly tender. I really liked this dish. The beef was exceptional and the sauce wasn’t so strong that you had to eat it with tons of rice. I highly suggest this dish if you ever come to LOS, it’s a real treat, I’m glad it was suggested to me.

Now do I find this to be the best Thai restaurant in America? I don’t know... I find it really hard to qualify restaurants like this as “best”. I can say its better than a lot of Thai restaurants I’ve had, but most of the flavors are so similar that you really can’t say one is head over heels the best over any of the others, for all we know the tender beef and perfect noodles were a fluke. I can’t say which is the best Chinese restaurant nor can I say which is the best Thai restaurant. Like I said before, I can say what’s on the top of my list and Lotus of Siam is pretty good and pretty up there. The prices are EXTREMELY reasonable, they aren’t out of line from San Diego prices or even some LA Thai restaurants.

If you want to save money while in Vegas (who doesn’t?) go to Lotus of Siam. You’ll be full of yummy home style cooking for a good price.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Las Vegas: Buffet Part B!

Odd, when I preview the post it looks fine.. but when i go to the blog it looks like one giant paragraph.. Word + copy/paste + blogspot = horrible.

I'm back! I have much to tell you of Europe, but first let's quickly conclude Las Vegas this week!

Buffet #2

I write to you while on a bus to Paris.

I believe myself to be a man of much culinary diversity, I shall not dine only in the most expensive of buffets, for as we’ve all learned in our culinary travels, price does not instantly equate to quality. My favorite term to use when it comes to food is QPR, the quality price ratio. A quality scale of 1-10 and a price scale of 1-10. Of course this scale doesn’t work for everything. A 3 star Michellan restaurant in Paris may be a 10 on the quality scale and a 10 in costliness but may still be visited with frequency and eagerness, even with a QPR of only 1. Not the best qualifier for qualifier for food, but it works well for the majority.

So to counter the “best” buffet in the $20+ range in Vegas, we decided to try the “best” buffet in the under $20 range. From my readings online the majority consensus seems to be the Main Street Casino Buffet in downtown Las Vegas.

If you’ve never been to downtown Las Vegas, it’s a good distance from the Las Vegas Strip where most people stay. You’re looking at a 15 minute taxi ride from mid strip to downtown. We took the Deuce to downtown which took about 30 minutes. The Deuce is the Vegas bus, it goes up and down the strip and into downtown. It’s supposed to be a 7 minute wait at each stop.. but uh... I don’t think we have ever seen it come under 15 minutes and I’d like to believe we were just lucky that one time, cause the rest we’ve waited 20+ and we’ve never seen it. It seems like a good deal with a $5 24 hour all you can ride... but uh, its up to you if you think its worth it. A one way taxi ride to downtown is about $15.

Downtown Las Vegas is all old school glamor, with tons of flashing neon lights and the Fremont Experience. The best part? Cheap food ($4 steak and eggs?) and Cheap gambling (20x odds with $5 in craps?).

The Main street Casino Buffet was $8 for a lunch buffet. To be honest I wasn’t really expecting much. I thought Circus Circus (I WRITE THIS IN BOLD : if you EVER want to go to the circus circus buffet, stop yourself, it may be cheap but its DEFINITELY not worth it. What goes in, WILL come out in the most violent fashion, heck, what goes in look like what comes out) buffet costs would mean circus circus quality. But I was in for a shock when I got in. The buffet was actually pretty large. There was a BBQ, American, Mexican, Chinese, Italian, Salad, bread, Dessert Station. And the food was actually very tasty.

The fried chicken (always a good indicator) had a sweet savory flavor, nice crisp skin. They also had good BBQ ribs that weren’t like standard buffets that were harder than stone. The buffet also had delicious candied yams, littered with little melted marshmallows *yum!*

The Mexican station had a variety of make your own tacos/burritos as well as very delicious cheese filled/stretchy enchiladas. I tried to take just half of one.. but the worker made me take the whole thing =P. As well they are constantly making rotisserie chicken, Mystery Eater said it was good, but I’m a fried chicken man so I never tried it.

Oddly enough for me, the best item there was in the Chinese section. Chicken wings with cellophane noodles. Almost like a stew , you have big ol Chinese wings mixed in with the noodles. (item located bottom right)

I really don’t think you can go wrong with an $8 buffet. I highly recommend making a detour to check it out. Supposedly on Fridays and weekends they have seafood (crab legs and the such) for $15 a person during the dinner time. Cheap, good food and cheap, good gambling, you just can’t say no.