Thursday, September 3, 2015

Lightest, Crispiest Belgian Waffles in Brugge

Craving Belgian waffles the first morning after arriving in Brugge, we chanced upon Verdi Tearoom. To be honest there are not that many places that are opened at 9 am in the morning. Love the Belgian lifestyle, or is it more generally the Europeans! I ordered the waffles with sugar, my partner ordered it with strawberries and bananas. Wow!! Never had waffles that light and crispy. Like a good crusty bread, you know that it's good when you hear that 'sawing' sound. 

Really good waffles! Highly recommend it!!

Waffles with strawberries and bananas

Waffle (half) with powdered sugar for 4 euros

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Good heart, great talent, nice value - Zeno in Brugge

Had a really enjoyable meal at Zeno in Brugge. With a decor that's mostly white, spare and clean, this restaurant is run by a husband and wife team - the chef Reinout Reniere is a very talented man who worked at the 3-star restaurant de Karmeliet in Brugge. He serves most of the dishes himself with his wife running the front of the house. 

The standouts of the meal were the amuse bouche and the dessert, which is really unique. A composition of malt ice cream, chervil root mousse with fennel seeds and fennel flowers, it is very flavorful and not too sweet. The chef told us himself that he doesn't have much of a sweet tooth. At 37 euros, the meal consisting of 4 amuse-bouche, fish entree (appetizer), chicken main course, dessert, palate cleaner and a variety of petit fours, is really worth every penny.
Amuse bouche - picked cabbage
Amuse bouche - beets
Amuse bouche - celeriac with a citriusy filling
Amuse bouche - 'Ratatouille' - eggplant puree, with tomato gazpacho freeze balls, cucumber, sorrel
Bread with olive oil, butter and pork grease with seeds
Fish (crispy skin) with chanterelles
Farmed chicken with onions
Malt ice cream, chervil root mousse, fennel seeds/flowers
Hazelnut delight, canele, chocolate with buttonberry, fruit parfait
Refreshing palate cleanser - coconut balls, basil

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A not over-the-top 3-star restaurant in Paris - Astrance

There are ten 3-star restaurants in Paris. It's a privilege to dine in one. The best way to have this 3-star experience at a decent price is to go for lunch. We did that again! For 70 euros, (about 100 euros including wine), we had a really nice meal at L'Astrance, which is ranked #36 on the list of best restaurants in the world.  We were told that the name came from a small wild flower in the mountains!  Like its namesake flower, L'Astrance is a really small restaurant, located in the Trocadero neighborhood.  It's tastefully decorated with bright yellow leather chairs and grey walls that have an elegant waxed finish. I particularly liked the colorful glass place settings and the wine glasses from Zalto Denk'art. The lunch menu is 5 courses, with additional amuse bouche and sweet treats at the end.
First course - mussels in a light coconut thai infused broth. Just delectable!
Second course -Slice of mushroom/foie gras 'tart'
Third Course - fish with sliced zucchinis with an amazing burnt butter/white miso mayo (top center dollop)
Fourth Course - pigeon with eggplant (green piece on right)
Fourth Course side dish - salad with pigeon leg and pigeon liver
Fifth Course - nectarine, chocolate sorbet +++
Additional sweet treats - egg with jasmine froth, magdeleines, plums with figs
What made this a particularly lovely dining experience is that the staff is genuinely friendly, not hoity-toity. The co-owner, Christophe, joked about the pigeons not coming from the top of Eiffel Tower or the nearly gardens but from the south of France. The sommelier recommended a lovely well-balanced fruity red wine from Sicilly made from the Il Frappato grape - a new one for me!  One would expect that a sommerlier from a 3-star restaurant in France would probably recommend a grand cru from France!!

Monday, January 5, 2015

King crab reigns supreme in Patagonia

Eating king crab makes me a very happy person...indeed.

Having seen big king crabs in Santiago and resisting to order them since they hail from Patagonia and that is going to be our next destination after Santiago.  Finally got to taste this beautiful crustracean in La Cucina on our first day in Punta Arenas. The meat was so sweet and of the perfect temperature, every bite was heavenly. It doesn't need any lemons or aioli (although provided). The salad on the side adds a unique contrast of crunch, some bitterness from the greens and acidity from the salad dressing. Underneath the 3 crab leg meat pieces, it's all crab meat!! All for US$13 only, what a steal.

Other amazing king crab dishes are this beautiful king crab sandwich and king crab pie (chupe), at the Restaurant at the Singular Hotel, where we stayed.

King crab sandwich - with lettuce, eggs on toasted bread
King crab pie (chupe) - gratin with cheese, cream

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Waiter's Choice at Osaka Restaurant in Santiago, Chile

Osaka is a seemingly Japanese restaurant in Santiago, Chile.  Why would I choose to eat at a Japanese restaurant in South America? However, a few days into the trip, I learnt that Chile is blessed with great seafood and I can’t think of a better cuisine than Japanese to take advantage of that abundant bounty.

Osaka Santiago is the second restaurant of the flagship restaurant in Peru – touting Nikkei cuisine – Japanese and Latin American fusion. Online reviews are generally very complimentary of the food, but a number of them criticize the lackluster service. Making the reservations only two days in advance, the only seating was at the sushi bar, which suited us fine.

We had a very flamboyant waiter and when I asked for recommendations, he asked if we would let him order a few dishes for us. Since we are familiar with chef’s choice (omakase), we thought why not ‘waiter’s choice’. The 3 dishes turned out to be absolutely delicious!
Aji Amarillo ceviche
My absolute favorite was the ceviche dish called Aji Amarillo - white sashimi fish, with a 'leche de jaguar' sauce, black sesame and two fried wontons filled with sweet potato puree. Not the usual lime-cured ceviche, the sashimi style fish is light and, coupled with the crunchy red onions and the sauce (which remains a mystery), was a heavenly combination.

Mariscos al fuego - shrimp, octopus, squid in a scallop shell, with fire ablaze. Enjoyed with Austral beer from Punta Arenas
Salmon belly - lightly smoked, topped with quinoa in a ginger soy sauce
Delighted by such excellent choices, we encouraged him to order another round of food for us.

Unagi with Foie
Crispy Quinoa - avocado, crab, shrimp roll coated with crispy quinoa
Crispy rice - topped with salmon
All 6 dishes were really good.  

According to our waiter, he’s able to to order partial portions because he’s selecting and ordering the dishes for us.  Our bill came up to $35 per person, including two beers. Really reasonable for the quality of food and I dare say, the quality of service too. I’m looking forward to a return visit soon!

It's great to know someone in the wine industry - a memorable visit to Maipo Valley, Santiago Chile

From our gracious friend, Lyz, we were introduced to TerraMater Vineyards in the Maipo Valley, about 1 hour south of Santiago. Lyz used to work at DT Asia, a wine importer in Shanghai and through her connections, we got in touch with Catherine Wevar, the Commercial Director at TerraMater.

We were hopelessly lost, mistook Maipu for Isla de Maipo, the latter being the correct location. Almost 2 hours late, we finally arrived at the winery. In the meantime, Catherine got really worried and was frantically emailing us, willing to escort us to the winery, wherever we were!
TerraMater Vineyard with Andes foothills in the background.
Horribly late, Catherine nevertheless greeted us with a smile when we got out of the car. Driving us in her red SUV, she brought us on a very comprehensive tour of the vineyards - showing us different grape varietal plants, types of terroir, irrigation methods, explaining the fruit trees they have and the history of how the founder, an Italian immigrant, started growing grapes on this initially very infertile 50 hectares of land.  She ended the tour with a generous (or should I say, lavish) tasting in the barrel storage room. Opening 5 brand new bottles just for us, we tried a Zindanfel/Syrah blend, a 100% Zin (ya, she knew we were from California and wanted us to compare Chilean Zins with California Zins),  a Carmenere, a 100% Altum Cab, and a Cab/Zin/Syrah blend. We told her that the Altum Cab (pictured on right) was our favorite and guess what happens next? She handed us the bottle and told us to enjoy it over lunch!

TerraMater also produces some very good quality olive oils and, knowing that we are also olive oil fanatics, Catherine did an olio tasting with us too. Not with bread, but with cups, slurping it like wine. Their olive oils are also very good, especially their award-winning Petralia. We would have purchased some, except we would have to lug them to Patagonia.

We were given a truly a memorable and extremely hospitable wine tour (which cost us absolutely nothing) and we got a whole bottle of Cab to enjoy over lunch -- we know this is unique. And even though we told her that we are not from the wine industry ourselves, Catherine continued to show us the grace and hospitality that is rendered to wine professionals.  We know this wouldn't have been possible without an introduction from our dear friend, Lyz.
Amelia (Chardonnay), Don Melchor 2010 and 1992 (Cabernet Sauvignon) from Concha y Toro

Following TerraMater, we headed to Concha y Toro, probably the most famous and biggest wine empire in Chile. The place was massive and being a Sunday over the holiday period, there was a zoo of people. Choosing to just sample their wines at the bar, I opted for their Premium tasting - their best Chardonnay Amelia and their most highly-medaled Don Melchor cab. The Amelia was delicious, reminding of HDV chardonnay, one of my favorite chardonnays. The 2010 Don Melchor (retailing at over $100) was IMO average, the 1992 Don Melchor (retailing at over $200) was again IMHO, way past its prime. I simply cannot imagine paying $200 for a wine that tasted so awful, I couldn't even take a second sip.

Friday, December 26, 2014

In pursuit of good whites in Casablanca Valley, Chile

Chile is most famous for its Cabernet Sauvignon, with whites from Casablanca Valley getting more and more attention worldwide. During our 5 days in Santiago, we decided to rent a car and head out to the Casablanca Valley, about an hour west of Santiago.
View from Tanino Restaurant at Casas del Bosque
Casas del Bosque is a beautiful winery in Casablanca Valley, with a medaled Sauvignon Blanc. We had lunch at its restaurant Tanino - our appetizers of lamb empanada and seared tuna turned out better than our entrees of gnocchi and baked chilean sea bass (corvina).
Seared tuna with pistachio crumbs, ginger syrup
Mini lamb empanadas with chili oil
After lunch, we drove toward Casa Marin in the San Antonio valley. On route, we stopped by at Matetic Vineyards, an organic and biodynamic winery. A fairly large winery with multiple labels, there's also a hotel on-premise. They recommended one of their best wines, a Matetic EQ Syrah, and it was pretty good.

Casa Marin is a boutique wine producer located just 4 kilometers from the Pacific coast.  Their Sauvignon Blanc Cipreses was designated one of the Best Super Premium white wines in Chile last year. We had a winery tour, with a fluent English-speaking guide who was from Peru. The tour was nice, but probably not exceptional and ended with a tasting of their highly acclaimed Sauvignon Blanc Cipreses as well as Sauvignon Gris (a hybrid Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris propagated vine) and Pinot Noir, a favorite of the owner - the first woman to own a winery in Chile. The Cipreses was extraordinary but the Sauvignon Gris was not a big hit for us. The Pinot was alright. We might have thought the tasting was complimentary but nevertheless asked for the price and were charged US$38 each. That's quite a hefty sum, considering the 3 tastings were probably only 1 oz each. I guess super premium white wines also mean super premium winery tour charges...

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A taste of the South, leaving me craving for more...

My first trip to the South was (ok, kinda lame) a business trip to Charlotte, North Carolina.  It was a short trip, but I had a sampling of some really tasty foods.  More importantly, I was impressed by the hospitality and kind generosity of the people.

My first meal was dinner after I landed in Charlotte - a car rental agent strongly recommended that I to go to Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar.  Although it was in the opposite direction to where I needed to go, I punched the address into my Garmin and off I went. Sitting at the bar, I had a great time.  I ordered a sushi sandwich with 'bread' made from crab meat (kani) and sushi rice.  It was a delicious BLT sushi sandwich.

The next day, craving for fried chicken, I was driving around trying to find some.  Through a combination of lack of time and not being in the right location, I ended up at a fried chicken wing chain called Wingstop. I enjoyed the wings, which were well seasoned, very tasty and freshly fried.

Another memorable meal was a bbq lunch with co-workers. Delicious tender pulled pork with hush puppies (oh yes, I love them now) and a side of beans.  (Hush puppies are fried corn meal.)

And lastly, I got some 'chicken minis' from Chick-fil-A, a box of bite-sized chicken nuggets sandwiched in between soft white rolls. Best breakfast ever!

All in all, a great trip which makes me crave to go back again to visit more of the South - to go to Charleston and Savanna - and taste more delicious Southern delicacies.