Posts Tagged ‘shimi’

Taiwan Part II: Chicken Food – How the Taiwanese Do Thanksgiving

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

Continuing with Day 1 in Taiwan, we weaved our way back down the mountain on the wretched tour bus, already greeeen at the gills from motion sickness even though we had just gotten a lot of nice fresh air. One happy thing that happened on the drive back was a bathroom stop – happy because Shimi was having a peemergency and because I made friends with a super cute stray dog with big glisteny puppy eyes. Taiwan is overrun with stray dogs, which sounds scary but was really fun for me.

Shimi and I discussed our rehearsal dinner outfit on the way back. We were psyched because we were to have Chicken Food for dinner (that’s what it said on our itinerary). Venus told us it was sort of like Taiwan’s answer to Thanksgiving dinner – rice with turkey on top, covered in a yummy soup stock. Mmmmmmmmmm.

After finalizing our outfit plans, we arrived back at the hotel…

…except not. We had come straight from the mountain to the restaurant for rehearsal dinner. OK, I guess Shimi would have to make her speech in her jeans and hoodie, and I would get to eat Chicken Food with hair as greasy as KFC. Awesome. We decided to sit as far away from the vegetarians as possible to maximize our dish options. This took us to the Japanese peeps’ table, which included the parents and best friends of the groom. This ended up being an excellent decision, and these people ended up being some of my favorite guests to hang out with on the whole trip.

First: GREEN STUFF! MMMMMM! Unlike most people, I love “gloppy” as a food texture, so I was really excited to try this. Also, I had just frozen my butt off on the top of a mountain, so some restorative soup was just what the doctor ordered.

Except it had shrimp in it. BASTARDS! I had my epi-pen in my purse, but I wanted to make it alive to the wedding since I was singing, so I didn’t risk it.

HERE IT IS! The elusive CHICKEN FOOD! I can honestly, honestly say that this was my favorite thing I ate on my entire trip to Taiwan. It’s a trademark dish of Chiayi, the city in which we were staying, and just dynamite! Listen: white rice, turkey, marinated bamboo shoots (menma or shinachiku is what we call it in Japan), and crispy fried onions, all drizzled with a very mirin/soy-ey, tasty broth. I glanced around and noticed that there were two left on the table. I schemed about eating one more and then sneaking the other one back to hotel for a late night snack.

But then I was distracted by another dish that was set dramatically on the gigantic lazy susan. It was another off-limits crustacean item, but I didn’t want to piss off or inconvenience the wedding guests who didn’t know about my blog (I didn’t really know how to explain “food blog” in Japanese) so I had to be snappy with my photos. Luckily we were at the Japanese table so excessive photographic documentation of everything did not seem so strange. This dish looked like some very potentially good fried crab bits. I asked Shimi and she said, as always, “Underseasoned.” WTF Taiwan?

Oooooh! Sashimi! A dish that I could season to my heart’s saltiest content! Shimi and I attacked this aggressively, only noticing later that the other guests were demurring on the fish. Were they just being Japanese? Or did they know something we didn’t know? I realized that the fish was on ice, and we aren’t supposed to drink the water in Taiwan. Maybe that was what was bothering them?

It turned out that what was bothering them was indeed fear of inadequate food handling and bacteria, but also they were turned off by the gigantic cuts of sashimi. Indeed, each piece of fish was twice the size of a normal slab of sashimi, and Shimi unearthed a fish bone in one of her pieces, but I am immune to food poisoning (never ever had it!) and Shimi just plain loves sashimi, so we dug in.

OOOOOOH! Sesame balls! I love this shit at dim sum restaurants! Shimi and I very ungracefully started stuffing our mouths, asking the other guests if it was ok if we had another, then having another without even waiting for the answer, and then “splitting one last ball” but then splitting two more after that. We were not really being good ambassadors for America with our behavior at this dinner, but they were irresistable! Crunchewy and steaming hot insides to boot!

So. With that dessert, our meal was over. OR SO WE THOUGHT! If you only remember one thing from this post, remember that your meal is not over in Taiwan until the fruit comes out. If you have room to remember one more thing, remember that tomatoes are considered fruit in Taiwan.

So after I sat back, satisfied with my chicken food and balls, a new round of food came out. This included real turkey, a la America but a little bit weird (e.g., Taiwanese seem to not like their bird skin crispy, so it wasn’t, and as with everything else in this country, underseasoned), that was carved by the chef (fancy! …but cut with the grain?) in the middle of the restaurant.

Then came “gravy” and “cranberry sauce,” which Shimi was too scared to try (OK, you’ll eat raw fish loaded with 0-157 colonies but not this cranberry sauce?) so I was the guinea pig. The result is pictured top. It was pretty good, actually. Made me want some mashies.

Three MORE courses later (with ugly, unpublishable pictures – my bad), the fruit came out. Everyone’s favorite was the citrus fruit which everyone was calling “mikan” – the Japanese word for clementine, even though this looked more like a lemon (see it hiding innocently at the left part of the pic? You can hide but I’m gonna eatchoo anyway lil’ lemon.) and tasted like a very very sweet orange. After traveling for six days by this point, my insides were a little, ahem, gummed up? So I appreciated the roughage.

The “toothpick” pinwheel = cute, no?

Also note the aforementioned comment about tomatoes being considered a fruity dessert-like-item. I should have noted this and wouldn’t have committed a grave error later…

But first, the bride and groom rolled up – he in jeans and a polo, she in tracksuit pants and a t-shirt (PHEW glad I didn’t change), and Shimi had to translate the maid of honor’s speech from English to Japanese (stressballs!) and then the best man’s speech from Japanese to English. The maid of honor went off script and started talking about riding stationary bikes in the snow, which threw Shimi off a little, but otherwise she performed brilliantly.

Then, off to the night market. WHEEEE~! I was so psyched. Dozens and dozens and dozens of stalls with food, Engrish clothing, and other randomness. For example, I contemplated for a long time whether or not to buy a Doraemon humidifier that plugs into your USB port. It would be good for my singing, but real estate in my suitcase was in high demand, so I passed. This, inexplicably, saddened crazy tourguide Frank, who was following us like a hawk (after the fiasco on the mountain he was apparently determined to not let us out of his sight).

Another notable item – BUNNIES! SLEEPING IN A BLUE-LIT BUN PILE! AAAAAA! Just the kind of stall that makes a parent go, “Oh fuck. The kids are going to go apeshit over this and I don’t want to take care of a fucking rodent.”

After browsing through the whole market, Shimi decided to get a cream puff that looked absolutely divine – fluffy and decadent. It tasted, like everything else in Taiwan, bland. In fact, she said, “This probably isn’t even worth the calories,” and threw it out. Disappointment City. I was intrigued by fruits-on-a-stick that were coated in cherry-colored hard candy. I picked out a stick, thinking the red orbs were plums or strawberries or something else yummy, but it was (can you guess the punchline?) candy-coated cherry tomatoes. Fail.

Up next: How you do a wedding with 1,500 people, Taiwan-style.

Sushi Groove

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

Don’t you get concerned when a SUSHI restaurant doesn’t have air conditioning? I do.

Even if it’s the slick and stylish Sushi Groove in San Francisco. I met Carlton and Shimi there for my last night in SF. Warning: do not click on the link above, because they have the fucking slowest fucking loading website ever.

The highlight was definitely the asparagus pictured above. It was wrapped in prosciutto and with a squeeze of lemon was devastatingly good.

Carlton made our server chick choose an appetizer for us. I told him not to burden her with such a request, but she got all excited and practically yelled, “It’s not a burden!!!!” and recommended the deep-fried tofu. I usually like my tofu raw and cold as ice, but the dashi sauce was great and with a giant heap of oroshi it was very tasty. The deep-fried sweet potato on the outside leached out some of its own oil, which added to the mess and it was all very sloppy and hot and cold and yummy.

The sushi was run-of-the-mill delicousness with non-run-of-the-mill ingredients. The roll above had papaya inside, which I thought would have been spectacular if the papaya was ripe and sweet. As it wasn’t, it wasn’t.

When sushi is average, maintain the decadence by ordering a dessert that is always a slam dunk anywhere. So we did, in the form of some sort of banana concoction with ice cream. I would look up the exact description but since they have the SLOWEST FUCKING SLOW ASS MOTHERFUCKING WEBSITE it isn’t even worth it.

So, good service, great ambiance, GREAT cocktails (try the … well…I would tell you which one to try but since the website is MOFO SLOW I can’t tell you exactly which one it was – I’m still waiting for the sushi list to load), but no AC and only normal sushi. Still worth a night out, don’t you think?

Sushi Groove South
1516 Folsom St.
San Francisco, CA 94107
415.503.1950

ChaChaCha SF

Sunday, September 9th, 2007

Continuing with the small plates love, Shimi took me to Cha Cha Cha on Haight street in SF. Don’t be fooled, though – these plates are not small.

I have been skimping on decor descriptions lately. Soooo I guess I’ll note the bright, funky colors and the Santeria altars (good preparation for the following day, where I would go on a 16-mile bike ride with my friend Jacques who, during our entire first year in college, would constantly sing that blasted Sublime song at the top of his lungs).

I was really tempted by the sangria (which the menu recommended to “share some with your enemy”) but after several classic party hardy nights during my conference, I didn’t think I could hack it at lunchtime.

Instead, I ordered something just as intoxicating – black mussels steamed in saffron broth with garlic, tomatoes, and onions. We might as well have ordered just this, since the french bread was free and we stuffed ourselves to the brim with bread dipped in the mussel sauce. Bliss.

Instead, we also ordered the Jamaican jerk chicken, baked with Scotch Bonnet peppers, raisins, garlic, and tomatoes served over white rice. Shimi is scared of heat so I warned her about this, and reminded her of the Top Chef episode where resident airhead (yet, Asian???) Sarah didn’t know that Scotch Bonnets were the spiciest of all peppers and the other chefs ridiculed her.

This dish, whilst yummy, made me confused about what jerking is. I thought jerk was sweet, but this dish was spicy and salty, with zero sweetness, even with the raisins. It was the kind of spicy that keeps you going back for more, though, and the chicken was super tender.

Finally, we ordered the mushrooms sauteed in sherry, garlic, and olive oil. This was a mistake. The mushrooms were a blend of blandness and then, at times, a really weird/gross flavor that we couldn’t place. Good thing there were TEN THOUSAND of them for us to eat.

Nevertheless, the fun atmosphere and getting to hang out with my oldest (not in age, but in time known) friend was worth a couple funky mushrooms.

Cha Cha Cha
1801 Haight St
San Francisco 94117
415.386.5758

Shiru-bay

Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

We were in Vancouver, and ready for some SEAFOOD! We put our names in at some seafood joint and were told to wait 45 minutes. We walked along Yaletown and were sidetracked by the tasting menu at Shiru-bay, which sounded AMAZING. And only $40 Canadian! (Wait till you see everything that we got below and your jaw will drop at the price.) I was chomping at the bit, but others in my party were not so sure since Shiru-bay had its own 40 minute wait. We decided to go see what our wait status was at the other place, but as we were leaving the panicked greeter ran out and said “We just had a party leave early!!! We can seat you right now!!!” Sketchy, but we accepted and were escorted to a gorgeous corner table.

The tasting menu had eleven courses, making for a luxuriously long dinner. You will see my photos change below as things go from daylight to candlelight.

The first two courses, served together, were Negitoro and Garlic Toast – Japanese style tuna tartare with avocado, served with toasted garlic baguette, and Botan Ebi Sashimi – Fresh Spotted Prawn sashimi with wasabi soy. The kitchen was extremely accommodating of my deathly crustacean allergy and substituted toro sashimi for me, which was fabulous.

The star, though, was the garlic toast. Fusion cuisine can sometimes get hairy, but dishes like these are just brilliant. I mean, tuna AND avocado AND garlic? I would have preferred my toast a little more golden and it wasn’t too beautiful to look at, but it was beautiful to taste, and I will definitely try this at home.

Kobe beef carpaccio was next – slightly seared and thinly sliced Kobe beef, served with Fuji apple frise salad, truffle oil, and machego cheese. I mean, really. No one can read the description of this dish and not die on the spot. Shimi said, “MMMM the apples are so good!” and I thought, “KOBE beef and all she can talk about are the apples?” but it was true. This was my absolute favorite dish of the night. I now have carpaccio cravings in the middle of the night and the middle of the day. The beef was excellent and had zero smelliness. The silkiness of the oil with the sweetness and crunch of the apple and the ever-so-slight chewiness of the beef – lord!

Next was the Hiaburi shime saba – Rice vinegar cured Mackerel seared at the table, served as sashimi and salad. They came first to sear it at our table, which was great, but then they said something incomprehensible and took it away. Nooooooo! But it came back soon thereafter. Saba has TONS of fat on it, which is why, I think, we cure it with vinegar to cut through the oiliness. To put it in a salad with tart (or should I say “tanjy?”) dressing is genius. The sashimi was also great – served with lemon and, I was so pleased to see, REAL wasabi, not the squeeze out o’ a tube kind and certainly not the powder shit. Fresh wasabi tastes like refined horseradish and is much milder than the crap that comes in your sushi bento. Seared fish makes me nervous – I’ve had too many seared Ahi tunas that have the texture of solid applesauce sewn through with inedible thread. [Shudder] I needn’t have worried. The crispy skin melted into the firm outer layer, which cut right through to the soft, raw layer, all the while filling my mouth with yummy fish fat creaminess and fresh lemon.

I don’t know that I would have put the regular sashimi platter after the intensity of the saba sashimi, but I’m complaining. It looked so appealing that I dug in immediately and forgot to take a photo! I had to settle for an in-action shot. We Japanese don’t commonly eat salmon sashimi, and I’m not sure why – it is SO good. Salmon is so much better raw than cooked, as would later be evidenced by this very meal.

Next was Shiru-bay’s famous Ebi Chili Mayo – deep fried Tiger Prawns served with their original chili mayo sauce, topped with almonds and wonton chips. This was off-limits to me but the others’ eyes rolled into their heads when they tasted this. Before my body suddenly became crazy allergic to shrimp, I had had many a delicious ebi chilis in Tokyo, so I could sort of understand what they were going through. I needn’t have despaired, though, as the ever accommodating chef substituted the shrimp with tonkatsu, which is breaded and deep-fried pork. Instead of the usual tonkatsu sauce (like a sweet, thicker Worcestershire sauce), this one had ponzu sauce, which I thought was weird and wrong. Perhaps they mixed up the sauces with their other Tonpura dish, which is intended to have ponzu? We’ll never know.

The Smoked Black Cod was next – House smoked Alaskan cod marinated in saikyo miso, served with a sweet potato puree. While the others aahed over the sweet potato puree (I’m kind of in a non-mashed potato-of-any-kind kick), I oohed over the cod. I think fish goes best with miso, and this holds true everywhere, from my grandmother’s kitchen to haute cuisine. Forget the mac-crusted mahi mahi at Roy’s – even there, the best dish is the miso-marinated fish dish.

Right when I was feeling full, they hit us with this monster of a dish. It was Kakuni – braised pork belly with sweet soy reduction, served with Chinese steamed bun. My particular piece of pork belly could have been braised a little longer – the meat part was far tougher than the fat, making for kind of an icky textural sensation. I also could have done with gallons more of the sauce and about 1/4 of the bun. While it was fun to assemble everything together, I think this dish at this point in the meal would have been better preassembled in mini-mini buns, to be picked up delicately and dipped to the consumer’s content.

Can you believe there was more? Next was Salmon – slow roasted salmon with chipotle yuzu miso, served with Japanese ratatouille. This dish was totally extraneous. It tasted like a not-so-flavorful regular old salmon. In fact, I’m rather surprised as I type the description as I remember none of these flavors coming through.

Chock-full at this point, I was thinking to myself that I really didn’t need sushi on top of all of this.

Gosh, but it was so beautiful! It was three different kinds of sushi, and we were admonished not to use any extra soy sauce because each piece was already sauced. Being sauce-crazed, I was doubtful, but I needn’t have doubted the chef. A stroke of brilliance, I thought, was the chef’s use of the salmon roe as sauce – as they popped like little bursts of the sea, they mixed in with the rice and fish and the whole thing was quite orgasmic. Actually, I shouldn’t call it roe – did you know that roe is just a generic term for nasty bits of fish? Like, we say “sea urchin roe” but it’s not the eggs; rather, it’s the gonads and and other organs. Ewwww. But NOT ewwww, since uni is soo
o delicious. That reminds me of that awkward scene in the Top Chef Season 2 finale when Marcel picks fresh sea urchins out of the ocean and, together with Ilan, they have uni for breakfast.

Jesus, this post is getting gigantic. Perfect time to end it with dessert, which was Warm Chocolate Cake – home baked soft-centered chocolate cake, matcha whipped cream, and vanilla ice cream. While the others stormed the cake, I focused on the matcha whipped cream, which they could have sold as a mousse. Perfectly unsweet and flufferific.

All this from a chef who is TWENTY FIVE years old. Can you believe it? Kodai Uno is the youngest in a family of professional chefs, so I’ll let it go…but crap, this little shit is younger than I am! Cooking like a genius! Harumph.

Anyway, if you go to Vancouver, GO HERE. Here, I’ve even provided the address for you below.

Shiru-bay
1193 Hamilton Street
Yaletown
Vancouver, BC
604.408.9315