Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ballpark Eating: Petco Park in San Diego

Being a huge baseball fan, I can think of few things better than going to a ballgame and visiting ballparks that I've not been. And when I can add great food and beers to that--man, I feel truly blessed. Yes, Padres are not a good team with an abysmal offense in 2014 (and the opponents of the day, the NY Mets, weren't much to brag about neither), but Petco Park is stylish, inviting, and fun. Opened 10 years ago, the park is situated right in downtown San Diego with plenty to do around and pedestrian friendly. I had a wonderful time there and the Padres actually managed a walk-off win and a near no-hitter!

San Diego and the surrounding area house many reputable and influential craft breweries, such as Stone, Ballast Point, and Green Flash, and they are well represented at the ballpark. I saw all of them, with the additions of Karl Strauss and Mission Brewery, lining up in individual stalls like in a farmer's market. And you get more selections of craft brews in bottles around the ballpark. While you only get the most popular beers that each brewery has to offer--and usually one light and one dark, the composite of all of them together is quite impressive and more than enough to satisfy even a beer snob like me! 

I downed two beers that I could already more or less recall their flavors with great accuracy: Sculpin IPA from Ballast Point and Arrogant Bastard from Stone. Both came in 20 oz. cups for 11.25$ plus tax. The price might seem high, but 20 oz is almost 2 bottles and these are pretty high-alcoholic beers (both are around 7%). 

Having Stone's Arrogant Bastard with Phil's BBQ

The eateries are eclectic. If watching the game is of secondary importance for you (but then why would you be there...), there are several full-service, sit-down restaurants. If you must not miss a single minute of the game, you can, at least from where I sit, order standard ballpark eats (hot dog, fried stuff, snacks, watery beers) right from your seat, after filling out a card, and someone will deliver them to you. 

I chose the third option, which was to walk around, stand in line, and fetch my own food. Yes, I had to miss a couple innings and a home run, but, come on, the Red Sox wasn't playing. Partially for its close proximity to our seats, and partially for nostalgic reason, I got some BBQ from Phil's BBQ, which I have visited and blogged about here. I must say I was pleasantly surprised that even at the ballpark and after so many years, Phil's BBQ stood the test of time and I would definitely have it again. The sides were all stellar, especially the super crispy onion rings and sweet and mustardy cole slaw. The baby back ribs had enough meat on the bones and the meat was tender and smoky. The sauce is less sweet than what one might expect and is slightly spicy and on the vinegary side. All for 9$, which is more than fair. The downside is the wait time was a bit long, even though there are TV sets all over.

All in all, it was a great experience and you can't beat San Diego's weather on a nice day like this--sunny with nice breeze blowing from the sea. I only wish I had more time and a bigger stomach to sample more food and beers!   

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Sushi of Gari--Upper East Side

Long before the current burst of trendy sushi restaurants in NYC, Sushi of Gari has established itself as the place to go for innovative and stimulating sushi. Now with four locations in Manhattan, Gari, whom I've never seen, has done well for himself. I'm partial to the original upper-east-side location because--well, it's the only one I've been--I've never had a disappointing meal there. I've splurged on omakase feasts a couple of times prior, but those were P.B.--pre-blog--time. With a restrained budget this time, I had to make do with ordering a la carte.

What I didn't get to have when having omakase is the side dishes of the regular menu. We got the tempura, grilled meat balls, and miso eggplant, and they all met and exceeded one's expectation. So, basically, these are exemplary. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Fried Tofu in 30 Minutes with T-Fal Acti Fry

Frying is my favorite cooking method. There's a visceral satisfaction seeing food being dropped into hot oil and then the food bubbles and sizzles. But the downside is huge: greasy smoke makes your stove and counter top sticky, stinky, dirty oil that one is tempted to just dump it down the drain, and, god forbid, dangerous splatter that could cause serious injury and mess. 

I'm not saying T-Fal Acti Fry is a magical machine, but in certain instances it comes close at producing fried food without the mess and with just a bare minimal amount of oil. It's like photography: to take really professional and stunning pictures one still needs a darn expensive and complex camera, but the smartphones nowadays can do an decent job at approximate that effect--and that's what T-Fal Acti Fry does. 

The best way I can explain how it works is it's an oven with air circulation and a slow-stirring paddle. Unlike an oven, there's no need to preheat as Acti Fry heats up quickly; on the other hand, it's considerably more noisy, like having a small fan going on strong at all time. 

I have tried to cook fries from scratch with less than satisfying result, but fries are a lot of work even with actual oil (soaking, washing of the potatoes, and then often they need to be fried twice). What works really well is frozen fried food like tatter tots, although you need to watch the time to avoid over cooking. It's better than just putting those in an oven because the paddle prevents a side of the food from being soggy.  

This can also serve as an automatic stir fry machine if you feel really lazy. You can just dump the ingredients in and let the paddle does the work for you. The trade off is it'll take much longer. 

What I use it the most is for frying tofu nuggets. I took regular firm tofu, cut into chunks, and then just dump them in with a little bit of oil (probably around one table spoon) and in just 30 minutes I will have golden fried tofu nuggets that go great with any stir fry. It's much less greasy than store-bought fried tofu, although greasiness is sort of the point...but anyhow, for everyday healthy eating, this easily turns a boring cake of tofu into something much more exciting! 

Adding some oil...

See it in action!

About 20 minutes in

After 30 minutes these tofu nuggets are good to go! 

FYI, there's a newer model that's black and easier to clean, but I don't find cleaning this a nuisance. It's less than 200$ on Amazon, which, if you want to buy, click through from my homepage!  

Thursday, July 10, 2014

An IPA with a Shade of Wine

One of craft breweries missions around the world is to elevate beers into the respected realm of wines, and Dogfish Head has certainly contributed greatly in this field. Here's one where they take their popular 60-minute IPA and added Syrah grape must to it--ergo the name "Sixty-one." The idea is intriguing, which is no surprise coming from Dogfish Head, and the result is pleasant though a bit underwhelming. 

I would without a doubt prefer to have the original 60-minute IPA and then a glass of nice Syrah--that's indeed what I sometimes do in restaurants or at home: beer first with wine to follow. The Sixty-one obviously has a fruity note and added acidity to it, and they soften and hide the hoppiness of the IPA somewhat, which I suppose is a plus for some people. I wonder if they make this as a Ninety-one with the 90-minute IPA it might yield a more vigorous result. While it's not as simplistic as adding grape pulps to the beer (I wonder how they manage to disinfect the grape skin before adding to the brew), the addition of the grape feels a bit superfluous. 

Chubby's Verdict: 2.5 Cheers out of 5 (it's very drinkable and even enjoyable but you aren't missing much)    

Monday, July 7, 2014

A Short Rib to Remember--Betony in NYC

What I gather from ordering it frequently is that short rib is a very fatty cut of beef. And from what I've read on some long-forgotten publication is that short rib as a cut didn't not exist many years ago but was creatively materialized by some gifted butchers. In short, it used to be a throw-away piece of meat but you wouldn't know it now after seeing it on so many menus of the best restaurants.  

The fat insures against dryness, which I dread except in wine and beer. But there's such a thing as too much of a good thing: short rib that was overly saturated with fat is gross and unpleasant. 

Not the case here at Betony, a relatively new midtown restaurant a few steps east of Carnegie Hall, which serves a transcendental short rib dish that when I ate it I thought its tenderness was pure wizardry. Each bite contained so much beefy goodness yet it was never overtly greasy. To top it off, the jus was made from aged beef fat, and the presentation had that calculated roughness which is much harder to emulate than it seems. 

The short rib alone is worth the visit, but Betony is full of clever and well-executed (and pricey) goodies, such as the playful "lobster rolls" with delicate lobster salad and creme fraiche being filled into even more delicate and crispy pastry tubes. 

If in doubt, order the pasta. And for those of you who unfortunately can't enjoy the short rib due to vegetarianism, Betony does you a favor by seemingly always makes its pasta dishes devoid of animal. We had the ravioli (I believe it was goat cheese, morel mushroom, and a nutty sauce) to be shared as appetizer and it was one of those fuzzy and not-really-Italian pasta dishes at its best: it was too precise, too buttery, and too many components but no fault could be found.  

For such a beautiful restaurant with clear aspiration for the Michelin stars (it received 3 out of 4 stars from NY Times), both the man's room and the desserts were sort of a mess! The former was unclean and in disarray when I went and the latter were a let down and an unsatisfying finish to an otherwise stimulating and wonderful meal. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

My First Ninkasi

Named after an ancient Sumerian goddess, Ninkasi Brewing Company has only been around since 2006. I can't remember ever came by it while in NYC, but if all their beers are as good as this one it won't be long before they are more widely available. 

In a saturated IPA market--America's favorite craft-beer style, the competition is fierce. Many craft breweries have made this piney and hoppy style of beer their flagship brew: Dogfish Head's 60-, 90- 120-minute IPAs, Harpoon's smooth and enjoyable offering, Ballast Point's magnificent Scupin IPA, and the IPAs from both Greenflash and Lagunitas in California are practically the first thing that comes to mind when speaking of these breweries.  

(For a nostalgic look, I have two posts years ago comparing several IPAs here, and here.)

I like but do not love IPA. It's a beer that demands attention with every sip, and because of its strong flavor and often high alcohol content, one needs to be committed when choosing an IPA for the evening. On the other hand, as a full-bodied style, it pairs well with grilled meat and greasy food like burger and fries. 

What impresses me about Ninkasi's Total Domination is how refreshing and balanced it is without being shy about its hoppy character, and it carries a nicely floral, slightly sweet lingering finish. It's a complex and well-tuned IPA that manages to stand out amid so many competitions. I can't wait to try more from Ninkasi, so stay tuned!

Chubby's verdict: 4 cheers out of 5--you gotta try this!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Is This Possible?

Yum! This is the beer equivalent of say Ben & Jerry's cinnamon-bun, or creme brulee ice cream flavors. Wells has long been known for its 'banana bread" ale, but I think they have kicked it up a notch with this offering. The tall head gives off an uncanny nose of toffee, caramel, cinnamon, and brown sugar; the beer is smooth and easy-drinking--just how a great English ale should be; the taste is on the sweet side but it has just enough dryness from the hops to keep it from being cloying. 

Overall, this is a fun beer to have and it should pair well with caramel type of desserts, such as flan, creme brulee, bread pudding, and, I'm sure, "sticky toffee pudding." 

Chubby's scores:
3 cheers out of 5
An enjoyable brew; could use a touch more complexity. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Jaleo Las Vegas

I'm elated about Jaleo in Vegas: no matter that there are four locations in the states (three in the east coast) and they've been around for years, I feel as giddy as after discovering a brand new gem of a restaurant. I've already come to believe that I will always have a great meal here after merely two visits this year--such sense of dependability and consistency is invaluable and much harder to find than one might expect even in the world of fine dinning. 

Lunch and dinner are vastly different dinning experience. While the place looks fabulous and exudes great vibe and energy at all time, there was simply not many people there during the lunch hours on the day I went. The lunch menu is also much abbreviated, although the terrific paella is always available. 

Uni and Cheese Toast

On the other hand, the dinner menu is hard to navigate. Not only are there more items than your typical Spanish tapas place, the front third of the menu is filled with soups, cold tapas, cheese and charcuterie, then there's a section titled "Jose's Way", which I supposed is the equivalent of "Chef's Specials" in a Chinese restaurant, but one is again distracted and somewhat confused by the fact that there's yet another big chunk of menu dedicated to dishes categorized by the type of proteins. Oh, and there's a paella section as well. 

I had to read the menu quite a few times, and basically decided to go with certain types of tapas that I usually enjoy and finding dishes that fit the description. Even after two meals here, I feel I've just scratched the surface of what Jaleo has to offer--so don't be surprised if there's another review a few months down the road!

Jamón ibérico de bellota Fermín with Tomato toast

Beet and Tomato Gazpacho with Goat Cheese

Yellow Tomato Gazpacho

Any of the above would be a fine way to begin a meal. I'm partial to the uni toast and it's certainly quite a different sensation in the mouth with the uni soaking through the crust instead of sushi rice, of which I'm more accustomed to. Both versions of the gazpacho are beautifully presented and dressed with ample extra-virgin olive oil. The bellota ham is among my very favorites of all cured meats, but it's expensive as hell. Funny that they don't tell you it comes with the tomato toast on the menu, so you feel like you're getting a free side...

Classic Spanish Omelet with Potato

Fried and Breaded Eggplant

Seared Fresh Squid with Squid Ink Sauce, Artichokes and Pearl Onions

Here are some nice warm tapas. The omelet might look unassuming, but we couldn't stop eating it; the eggplant discs were interestingly sweet so they resembled fried banana; the squids should I describe them...a bit too intense with the squidiness: the tentacles were fine, but the tubes were stuffed with a cloudy mush that I didn't know whether that was something made from the innards or...still, a fabulously looking dish! 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Dim-sum Parody?

I am a cautious fan of David Chang. While I think his ramen sucks, I'm a fan of the Milk Bar and Momofuku Ssam Bar--I've found myself ended up in these two places on more occasions than I ever thought I would. Therefore, perhaps it wasn't a complete surprise that I walked into his midtown venture, Má Pêche, for brunch one Sunday afternoon. 

We didn't know what to expect, and at around 3pm the place was almost empty. Fear not, a couple waiter/waitress started to wheel a couple cheese carts towards our table, except no cheese was to be found: instead, small, appetizer-sized plates of food were being transported to-and-fro around the dinning room--yes, just like a dim-sum house!  

The Irrefutably Great Momofuku Pork Bun 

It felt a bit silly actually. There was a separate menu where one can order larger format dishes, such as a waffle and fried chicken combo that looked amazing from a nearby table. But we were game and I have been taking more and more liking to having smaller portions for the sake of more varieties. 

Spicy Shrimp Hash--ordered from the separate menu

I've forgotten how delicious the pork bun is--perhaps now after tasting so many inferior versions by imitators the greatness of the original finally surfaced (of course, the whole thing is a take off from a Taiwanese night-market favorite). The shrimp hash displayed the high level of cooking that is often overlooked at the more casual Momofuku restaurants: it was comfort food done with care, elegance, and just the right amount of flash. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Having a Beer at Marea's Bar

I can think of not many greater pleasure for a solo diner to have a lunch at Marea's bar. It is elegant and quiet, yet not as rigid and formal as the dinning room. The bartender on the day I visited was super professional, accommodating, and good to talk to. However, even he wasn't quite sure what this Italian beer was like. 

First of all, kudos to the mini wine-like bottle and a very clear and classy label. They both convey the quality of the brew within. 

The beer is quite bubbly with some sediments--could be bottle-conditioned. It is balanced, refreshing, and nicely spiced in the general profile of that of a Hefeweizen--it is, however, more hoppy with very little acidity. Perfect for an early summer afternoon and to be had before meal or with some antipasti.

Chubby's scores:
3.5 cheers out of 5
Recommended and would like to have again