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.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Scallops reign supreme in Maine

From an enjoyable trip driving along the coastline from Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Bar Harbor,  Newport, Bangor and Portland in Maine, here are some highlights and lowlights of our food adventures. Most memorable seafood on that trip - scallops!!

1) Favorite lobster roll - from the Clam Shack in Kennebunkport. Kennebunkport is a beautiful coastal town.  It's worth a short drive from there to catch a glimpse of the impressive Bush family estate, which is surprisingly easy to see from a nearby road.

Best lobster roll from The Clam Shack, Kennebunkport
The Clam Shack, Kennebunkport
2) Favorite fried seafood - Scallops. We had fried fish, calamari, scallops, shrimps. Hands down, fried scallops are the best.
Big, fat juicy scallops
Seafood combo from a roadside fried seafood shack, Kittery
3) Most over-rated lobster shack near Bar Harbor - Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound. Cooked in sea water, the lobster turned out tougher than expected. Didn't like that they charge for all condiments, including lemons. :-(

near Bar Harbor, cooked in salted water
Vats of very salted boiling water

4) Most craved for local seafood not found in other places - Long neck clams, also called Ipswich clams.
Long neck clams - also called steamers

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Visiting Proseccoland - Valdobbadiene to Conegliano

The town of Valdobbadiene is very pretty, nestled in the foothills of the Dolomites mountains and famous for its prosecco wineries.

We are here to visit Ruggeri Winery on the recommendation of a friend. The wineries here are mostly large-scale export businesses, not quite set up for walk-in visits from foreign tourists. My pre-visit emails did not yield any responses from Ruggeri. We decided to drive there anyway and just pay them a visit. We walkd up to the reception desk -- it's more like a business than a Napa-style winery -- and shamelessly name-dropped our friend's name (he's in the wine business), and in a few minutes a handsome man emerged from upstairs and introduced himself as Giuistino Bisol, the eldest and only son in the family carrying the name of their most famed prosecco - Giustino B.

Giustino B. holding a bottle of his namesake (actually it's is Grandfather's name)
Although he is a busy man, he graciously took the time to give us a tour of his familiy's winery, explaining how meticulous they are in the wine making process to ensure top-quality wines.  He ended it off with a lovely tasting session in a well-furnished conference room with an internal window overlooking the winery operations. Perfectly chilled, he served us the famed Giustino B and the pride of the family - VecchiViti, a hard-earned project of his father and grandfather to create a more matured and more flavorful prosecco. Both wines were delicious.

He was very proud to inform us that Giustino B 2012 was awarded the Tre Bicchieri (Three Glasses) of the Gambero Rosso 2014, a recognition given to the best Italian wines. He was kind enough to make lunch reservations for us at Salis Ristorante, a lovely restaurant perched on a ridge overlooking the valley, and to give us his cellphone number in case we needed any assistance during our visit to Valdobbiadene.  Truly, a charming young man who is carrying on the family business.

After leaving Ruggieri Winery, we drove on small winding country roads into the hills just east of the village of Valdobbiadene to Salis Ristorante, which is part of a small spa and hotel that overlooks the surrounding vineyards.  We were shown into a tastefully modern dining room and seated at table with a wonderful view.  We enjoyed a lovely meal that included an aromatic, flavorful pumpkin risotto, and a filet accompanied by potatoes and grilled radicchio from nearby Treviso.

Restaurant terrace
Pumpkin Risotto 
Filet di Manzo, with Potatoes and Treviso radicchio
This day, which began in Padova, was a fitting end to our visit to northeastern Italy.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Tortellini worthy of detour from Verona

One of our friends, who goes to Vinitaly (the big wine show in Verona) quite frequently gave us a list of recommended places to eat around Verona and Lake Garda. One particularly stood out to us since we love 'stuffed-pasta' and the website photos look amazing. Thankfully, Restaurant Alla Borsa did not disappoint.  Photos can only do so much to convey flavor, but the thin, moist skins on the tortellini pictured below give you a hint at their delicious silky texture.
Tortellini with meat
But to start from the beginning: Today is a bank holiday in Italy.  The little town of Valeggio sul Mincio, some thirty minutes southwest of Verona, appears like a ghost town, but when we walked into the restaurant for our lunch reservation at 1 pm, the place was brimming with diners, many of them dressed in their Sunday best. We didn't expect any tourists here during the first week of January, and one look around the dining room confirmed that this place is a big hit for locals.  And we trust the discerning Italians when it comes to food.

We ordered a smoked trout carpaccio for appetizer: slices of trout, topped with shavings of a matured hard cheese (I am guessing Grana Padano), pink peppercorns, diced celery, topped with curls of butter.  I don't recall ever having uncooked trout, which although it look similar to salmon has a lighter and more delicate taste.  The butter was a surprise, and I wondered if it would overwhelm the trout.  But this butter was light and smooth, without the heavy dairy flavor of most butter. The flavor combination was a huge success.  It guess butter makes everything taste good!

And for their house specialty - stuffed pasta - we ordered a selection of 3 pastas to be shared: first, tortellini filled with meat (veal, pork, beef & chicken) (pictured at the top of this post); then, a green tortelli filled with ricotta and spinach;  and finally a tortelloni filled with pumpkin, which was sweet enough to act as the dessert course. Each of the pastas was served very plainly - no sauce, perhaps a tad of butter.  Because we ordered a shared selection, the waiters brought each pasta to the table in a large plate and served "family style," which made us feel like we were getting a home-cooked meal.  These were by far the best stuffed pastas I have ever had!
Tortelli with spinach and ricotta
Tortelli di zucca (pumpkin)
And we also finally got the chance to order a bottle of Ripasso, the little brother of Amarone.  Athough Ripasso is not as rounded and full-bodied as its famous brethren, it is still a very delicious wine and was a perfect accompaniment to the pasta dishes.