Wednesday, September 27, 2006

vegas baby!

Mr. Cupcake and I returned from Vegas last night. It was an extended weekend with a group of friends at the Venetian. We didn't have any real plans other than eat a lot and see 'O'. Actually, let me say that again. The majority of us didn't have any real plans other than eat a lot and see 'O'. Mr. Cupcake, on the other hand, had a poker agenda to attend to.


This was my first trip to Vegas. I always imagined it to be a place of endless food. And yeah, it pretty much was. Every other restaurant seemed to be owned by some celebrity chef, and if that wasn't good enough, there was always the Outback. Our only pre-planned food excursion was Bouchon since it's located in the Venetian and I'm too lazy to drive a couple hours north to Yountville. Everything else was chosen while we were there. I'll write about all of our experiences over the weekend. I've been trying to write this post for the past two hours, but my fatigue is impeding these efforts. Well, that and Project Runway.

Before I call it a night, I do have one tip for anyone visiting the Venetian. I really wanted a piece of chocolate my first day there, and I thought I hit the jackpot when I saw all the lovely confections at G.G. Santi.

I ordered a milk chocolate caramel (boo, no dark) expecting it to satisfy my chocolate craving.

Well, my friends, I couldn't finish it. I think this might be the only piece of chocolate I've ever thrown away. The chocolate was waxy and tasteless, and the caramel was way too runny. I have to say, I'd rather eat Nestle or even plain Cadbury chocolate. It made me very sad. My only hope was that this wasn't a foreshadow of what was yet to come. You'll have to come back this weekend to find out if it was or not. I'm going to bed.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

nutella + waffle = divine

I was going to blog about this earlier, but I forgot. After we ate shabu-shabu at Shabuway with Mikey and Alice, Mr. Cupcake and I found we were still hungry. The shabu-shabu didn't fill us up. Mikey and Alice had to take off and go see Dave Matthews. Mr. Cupcake and I, however, had nothing else to do, so we headed to Milpitas.

Milpitas has this huge shopping center that has a Ranch 99 and tons of Asian restaurants. I heard about this place that serves pretty good late night waffles. One of my few complaints about where I live, is nothing is open late. Everything closes by 9 or 10. It's pretty lame. In Kentucky, at least Wal-mart (yes, I know I'm going to hell for shopping at Wal-mart) was open late. Anyway, we went to Bubble Act, which is located in the shopping center. It's sort of a trendy, happy bubble tea place that also serves waffles until 3am on the weekends. What more can one ask for?

Bubble Act's menu is extensive, but we tried to maintain focus and order what we came for. They have a special where a bubble tea and a waffle costs about $3.50. It's amazingly cheap. I went ahead and ordered the special. Mr. Cupcake decided he was going to share with me.

Here is my Thai iced tea. It was okay for bubble tea. If you don't know what bubble tea is, it's a tea drink that comes with a cluster of chewy black tapioca pearls. It also comes with a big, fat straw which makes for easy pearl suckage. It's calorie dense, but oh so good.

Next came my waffle. It was the whole reason we came. The waffle was warm and crispy on the outside while the inside was smoothered in Nutella. Ah Nutella. Wonderful Nutella! It definitely hit the spot. Mr. Cupcake declared it was just a waffle, and he could make it at home. However, I know for a fact we can't make this at home because we don't have a waffle maker. I think this means we need another appliance (hint, hint).

If you're craving some late night sweets in the South Bay, Bubble Act in Milpitas is a good bet. If you need more sustenance, there's a lot of options in this particular shopping center. I can't tell you if any of them are good, but at least there are late night options. Though, it's not like I party the night away anymore, so you probably won't see me hanging out there at 2am. But if I was the partying type, at least I know where to go afterwards.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

fancy vietnamese

Last Wednesday, Soo and I found ourselves without our significant others. So what did we do? We went to the Stanford mall of course! Mr. Cupcake thinks we're mallrats. I can live with being called a mallrat. Though, he should be thanking Soo for going to the mall because if she wasn't there, it'd be him there along side me looking at the rows and rows of shoes.

After we had our fix, we headed to Tamarine in Palo Alto for dinner. Tamarine serves "contemporary Vietnamese". Even though I'd heard lots of wonderful things about the place, I still wasn't sure what to expect; I was just hoping for some good food. Soo, on the other hand, had been spending the nights prior eating frozen pizza since Chris was off living his new jet setter lifestyle. Good food was now a must!

It was Wednesday night, and the restaurant was busy. We didn't have a reservation, but fortunately we were still able to get a table. This place definitely requires a reservation on any other night.

We started off with the papaya salad. I took a bite and was very pleased with this dish. It was very fresh tasting and the basil really complimented the green papaya. The only down side to this dish was the dried sesame beef. While the flavor was good, the texture was not. Some of the pieces were too tough to eat, so I scooted most of it to the side. Soo thought the beef tasted like beef jerky.

We also ordered some shrimp spring rolls as our other appetizer. The spring rolls were okay. There was pork on the inside that was a bit dry. I could have done without the pork.

As part of our main course, we ordered the Lunar Duck. I'd heard raves about the duck here, so I figured I'd go ahead and order it. I'm not a big duck fan, but hey, you only live once. The duck came with brussel sprouts which were really good. I've always been a fan of brussel sprouts ever since I was kid. The duck on the other hand was odd. It was topped with a pomegranate-citrus sauce that tasted like cranberry ketchup. It really wasn't a good thing, so this was the only dish we didn't finish.

Our other main dish was the Lemongrass Bass which came with a cold mango noodle salad. This was Soo's favorite dish. It was crispy and salty on the outside, which is how she likes fish. I thought it was pretty good, though a bit too salty for my taste. I've always been sensitive to salt. I think it was those years watching my sister eat salt from her hand. It always made my skin crawl. I'm still waiting to have fish prepared like I had at Manresa. Seriously, the best fish ever.

We ordered two dishes of rice to go with our meal. I went with the coconut rice and Soo had the red rice which was infused with tomato, garlic, and butter. The coconut rice was very fragrant and fluffy. The red rice had a distinct tomato flavor.

Mr. Cupcake and Soo are both banana obsessed. They love bananas, though Soo only likes cooked bananas. So, when we saw the deep fried bananas on the dessert menu, I knew were were staying. I was okay with bananas because it came with coconut ice cream. I heart anything coconut. The fritters were about what I expected. It had a thick, crispy batter on the outside with a gooey banana center. I'll eat anything deep fried, but I have to say the coconut ice cream was really nice.

Our total bill before tax and tip was about $75. I wanted to like Tamarine more than I did. I didn't hate it or anything, but it was just lacking the wow factor for me. Soo liked it and said she'd go back. I still want to go down to San Jose and try some of the hole in the wall Vietnamese places there. I hear they're worth the trip. Even though I wasn't blown away, the night was still fun since I was in good company. I think next time, Soo and I will have to try one of the hole in the wall places. But we'll have to hit the mall first if we're going to maintain our mallrat status.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

shabu-shabu

Last weekend Mikey's friend, Alice, came into town. He asked if we wanted to go to Shabuway for dinner with them. We didn't have anything going on that day other than the local arts and crap festival. Besides, I've been wanting to try shabu-shabu.

Shabu-shabu is a Japanese dish where thin slices of meat, vegetables, tofu, etc., are swished around in hot broth or water. Wikipedia tells me that shabu-shabu roughly translates to "swish-swish".

Since this was our first foray into shabu-shabu, I wanted to order a bit of variety. Mr. Cupcake ordered the beef, and I went with the shrimp potstickers. I figured I could steal some of Mr. Cupcake's beef.

My order came with 10 potstickers.

Mr. Cupcake and Mikey both ordered the regular size Kobe style beef (picture). Alice being the shabu-shabu enthusiast she is, ordered the large.

Everyone received a dish filled with cabbage, mushrooms, tofu, udon noodles, carrots, and a few leaves of spinach.

In front of each of us, there was a pot full of boiling water. The server also brought out two sauces; one ponzu and the other was a seasame sauce.

So now what you ask? Well, you cook everything in the water! This was somewhat challenging. I didn't know how long to cook the potstickers because the skin was fairly thick. I just started dunking the potstickers. I have to say they were pretty bland. I was not impressed. I had to roll them a few times in the sauces to get some flavor. Though, I doubt most people go to a shabu-shabu place to get potstickers.

So what about the beef? Well, the beef was a lot tastier than the potstickers, but I'm still going to say it was a bit bland. The beef was very thin, and when it went into the boiling water, it was pretty much finished cooking. Mr. Cupcake also felt the meat was bland, so he helped it along by adding a red pepper condiment.

As far as the rest of the stuff, it was okay. I really like udon noodles. The only problem was that I kept forgetting about them, and then they became too soft. Same with the carrots.

This is what happens to the water after swishing beef and vegetables. Makes you want to drink it right? Well, don't get your hopes up; there's actually a ladle that's used to skim off the residual beef grossness.

Our total bill including drinks, tax and all that good stuff was about $65. Mikey was a nice guy and covered the bill. I told him I'd buy him a Sparks. I think part of the reason Mr. Cupcake and I weren't crazy for shabu-shabu was because it was a lot of effort. Call us lazy, but we prefer to have someone else to prepare our food when we go out. However, it was still a good good experience; we just won't be itching to have it on a regular basis. I'd still like to try shabu-shabu somewhere that uses a broth vs plain water. I've read some places use broth, and I think that'd aid in some of the blandness.

Even though we weren't huge fans, Mikey and Alice still enjoyed their shabu-shabu experience. In fact, Alice was tempted to order another side of beef.

Here is Mikey enjoying the fruits of his labor. What's that? You like what you see? Well, ladies, you're in luck because he's single!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

squash blossoms

Last week, Mr. Cupcake and I hit up the local farmer's market. We picked up the usual suspects of peaches, tomatoes, and grapes. For the past few weeks, there's been one vendor with squash blossoms. I don't know anything about them, yet I'm drawn to them. I figured what the hey, and bought a box.

I researched a bunch of recipes for the squash blossoms. Most recipes stuff the squash blossoms and then deep fry them. While I'm sure that's great, I have an aversion to frying food at home. I'm a total addict when it comes to deep fried foods, and if I did at home, I'm pretty sure I'd turn into a big fatass. Not to mention the heartburn. So frying was out. Then I came across a recipe on epicurious. It was called Farmer's Market Fettuccine. It seemed relatively healthy, and I had all the ingredients. What more can a girl ask for?

Later that night, Soo and Chris came over for dinner. It was the same night as the It's It challenge. Soo brought a few salmon fillets and I worked on the pasta.

I laid out the blossoms. They had since wilted a fair amount since earlier that morning. I had no idea I was suppose to care for them. It was too late to do anything at that point, so I channeled Tim Gunn, and carried on. (Michael for the win!)

Our selection of tomatoes out here is really phenomenal. The produce in California puts all the other places I've lived to shame. The lighter colored tomatoes are called pineapple tomatoes. They've very sweet in flavor. I highly recommend them if you can find them. We also had some red tomatoes - I want to say they're local girls but I'm not sure - and mixed them up.

The recipe also called for zucchini, basil, and other miscellaneous ingredients. Soo baked the salmon in garlic and butter and dinner was on like donkey kong!

The pasta was interesting. I think if we had used a bit less pasta, it would have been better; it was too overwhelming. That's my fault though because I used a whole pound instead of the 12 oz. cited by the recipe. I'm not really sure how to describe the squash blossoms. They had a distinct flavor. I could cop out and say the flavor was very floral, but I hate when people say that. I mean, what does a floral flavor really mean? I'll just say it was different. The tomatoes were good as expected. They dissolved quite a bit, but the flavor was there, and it was sweet and potent.

I won't be itching to try squash blossoms again for awhile. At least I don't think. Maybe I just need to try them by someone who knows what they're doing. Though, I bet I could deep fry them and they'd taste good. Maybe I'll try it when I deep fry a turkey later this year. That's right, I said I'm going to deep fry a turkey! If you can make a good side, I might be willing to invite you. :P

Oh, and I took some leftover pasta for lunch the next day and it was better. It had that whole flavor melding thing going on.

FARMERS' MARKET FETTUCCINE
Epicurious
To round out the meal: 4 oz red wine or juice spritzer; 1/8 honeydew and 2 butter cookies; 8 oz low-fat milk
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1/2 tsp ground fennel seed
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 1/2 lb fresh ripe tomatoes, seeded and roughly chopped (or one 28-oz can plum tomatoes)
12 oz fresh fettuccine (or dry pasta)
3 small zucchini, julienned
12 fresh squash blossoms, trimmed well at the base (or 2 cups fresh green beans, trimmed)
1 1/2 cups packed baby spinach, cleaned and torn into bite-sized pieces
2 tbsp roughly chopped fresh basil

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Warm oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add garlic and cook 1 minute or until translucent and fragrant. Add fennel and cook 1 to 2 minutes. Pour in vinegar, increase heat to medium-high and cook until very little liquid is left. Stir in tomatoes with their juices. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer about 10 minutes (if using canned tomatoes, simmer uncovered, breaking them up with a wooden spoon). While sauce is simmering, add pasta to boiling water and cook according to package directions. Season sauce with salt and pepper, add zucchini and cook 5 minutes. Add squash blossoms and spinach and cook until just wilted, about 3 minutes; remove from heat and stir in basil. Drain pasta, add to sauce in skillet and mix well.

To serve: Divide among 4 bowls. Serve hot.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 453 calories, 9 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 78 g carbohydrates, 15 g protein
Makes 4 servings.
SELF
June 2002

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

the it's it blind taste test

It's It Ice Cream is a local San Francisco brand that specializes in various ice cream treats. Their signature product is an It's It, which is a scoop of ice cream sandwiched between two oatmeal cookies, then dipped in chocolate. The first time I had one of these concoction was when I had lunch at Google. No, I don't work there, but I happen to know some people who do. To tell you the truth, I didn't really care for the It's It. The ice cream was too fluffy, and I wasn't a fan of the oatmeal cookie. I was then told that the people at It's It created a special formula to make it a little healthier for the worker bees at Google. Interesting.

With the It's It still fresh in my mind, I had to know what a real It's It was like. I'm not originally from California, so I feel it's my duty to find these things out for my own personal enrichment. Anyway, Mr. Cupcake and I went to Safeway and bought a three pack of It's It. I actually found that I liked the real It's It better than the Google version. It seemed like it was denser. I wasn't sure though. It was time to do a side by side comparison. A blind taste test at that!

I managed to get ahold of another Google It's It, and then bought another three pack of It's It from Safeway (my other pack was long gone thanks to Mr. Cupcake).

The It's Its sat in my freezer for a few days. The thought of eating two at once was too overwhelming. At 340 calories a piece, it was too much. So, the other night, Soo and Chris came over for dinner (more about that another day) and I decided it was time.

Mr. Cupcake split the It's It in quarters and handed them out. I took a picture before the tastings commenced. There was an immediate visual difference: the one on the right looked like it had a creamier texture compared to the one on the left. We had our nibbles and Soo declared the one on the left was the real It's It because it was creamier in taste. Chris and I declared it was the other way around. Mr. Cupcake informed us that Soo was indeed correct. This confused me. I was sure I was right. The It's It on my right was by far creamier than the one on the left. I protested Mr. Cupcake's ruling and referred back to my picture that I had just taken. Apparently, before I took the picture, Mr Cupcake noticed I turned the plate 180 degrees, thus changing my result. In the end, I was actually right as well. So folks, if you're doing a blind taste test, make sure you make your samples are somehow marked to avoid any confusion. Anyway, we all came to the same conclusion that the standard It's It ice cream was creamier, denser, and tastier overall.

So, do you want to know the difference between the two It's Its is? Sure you do! According to the package, the ice cream in the Google's It's It is made with sugar while the "real" It's It is made with high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, and sugar. It's surprising how much creamier the ice cream was due to the high fructose corn syrup, and regular corn syrup. I'm guessing that's why the It's It people use it because it certainly makes for tastier ice cream.

I know there's all this hub bub about high fructose corn syrup being equivalent to liquid death, but the problem is it's in so many things. While the idealist in me tells me I need to permanently rid myself of toxins such as high fructose corn syrup, I just don't think it's going to happen. My quest for complete and total gluttony keeps getting in the way.