Thursday, September 20, 2007

one hot mess

One of the stops during our 2007 Euro tour was of course Paris. While it's never been high on Mr. Cupcake's list, it was definitely on mine.

Ah, Paris. Land of things such as this great structural feat. I can't say that the Eiffel Tower brought out all these overwhelming romantic feelings that others might feel when visiting.

However, the sight of all the glorious pastries in all the boulangeries and pâtisseries did warm my heart in ways I've never felt before.

And the people of Paris were really quite lovely. The way they freely roamed the street going about their business was a real pleasure to see.

My only advice for someone planning a trip to France is to plan all food excursions ahead of time. This is of my biggest regrets. I'm usually fanatical about researching where to eat on vacation, but for some reason, I just didn't do it this time around. It turned out to be a huge mistake for many reasons. Mostly, we had a lot of sub par meals because people make reservations months in advance. This isn't to say we suffered completely. One of my highlight meals in fact was lunch at Le Comptoir.

If I remember correctly, we didn't have to have a reservation for lunch. Instead, we just had to show up before they opened. Mr. Cupcake, J9, and I waited outside for about a half an hour and had no problems getting a table for an early lunch.

I ordered the Thon juste rôti à la plancha (bleue). According to Babelfish, this translates to "Tuna just roasted with the plancha (blue)" I'm not sure what plancha is, but tells me that "a la plancha" is Spanish and "grilled on a metal plate". I can buy that.

The textures and flavors of the tuna were so simple, yet, so perfect. The tuna was topped with fresh roasted vegetables, an olive oil and balsamic mixture, and fried garlic. I loved the light crispiness of the garlic with the smoothness of the tuna. I remember sitting there thinking, I could probably make something like this at home.

Many moons later (approximately three and a half to four months), I decided I'd be like last week's episode of "Top Chef" and attempt to remake the fish I had in Paris based on taste. Actually, I did this before I watched this episode, but I thought maybe it'd sound better if I said "Top Chef" actually inspired me.

Mr. Cupcake and I go to the local farmer's market almost on a weekly basis, and buy a random assortment of fruits and vegetables. This dinner wasn't really planned, but I decided I would go ahead and use some of the vegetables we bought last Sunday. This included the garlic, tomatoes, and long beans. I also bought a couple of zucchinis from Safeway (boo) because I decided I needed them for this experiment. I chopped up the long beans, zucchini, and tomatoes and put them on a baking sheet. I then tossed them in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper. The oven was set to 435 degrees and the vegetables roasted.

Next up was the garlic. The garlic was pretty simple. I sliced a couple of cloves and threw them into some hot oil. They fried fried up pretty quick.

We then salt and peppered our lovely pieces of ahi tuna from your favorite place and mine: Costco. They were pan seared for about 3 minutes on each side until a nice crust formed.

Finally, came the assembly. Plate the tuna, add the vegetables, fried garlic, basil, a few sundried tomatoes, and a final drizzle of olive oil and balsamic. The final outcome: one hot mess.

Visually, I could have used a few style pointers. Maybe if I had plated it on a fresh white plate, it would have looked like the original. Or not. Taste, well, taste was OK. The tuna was a little over cooked. Searing ahi looks so much easier on TV than it is in real life. Mr. Cupcake thought maybe the tuna wasn't as fresh as it could have been. Also, I have to say that the long beans were a poor vegetable choice for this dish. They were tough and somewhat bitter. I really wanted them to taste like French green beans, but sadly, they didn't. I think next time, I will skip the sun-dried tomatoes, extra olive oil, and balsamic drizzle at the end. The vegetables had enough flavor without that step. The real winner of the dish was the roasted tomatoes. My love for tomatoes in season goes deep. Roast them for 45 minutes in a 430 degree oven, and it's sheer bliss.

With a few of these tweaks, I think this will be a successful dish. Seeing how the tuna was only so-so, I may try this with a different fish or maybe chicken or pork. See, Europe is a glorious place! It brought inspiration to my own kitchen from far, far away. Sadly, with the current dollar to Euro exchange rate, I probably won't be going back anytime soon.

Monday, September 17, 2007

It's me again... and I'm addicted to the Shanghai Flavor Shop

Wow, I've been stuck in Germany for awhile. If you haven't figured it out, I haven't been in Europe for some time now. While I wish I lived there, alas, I don't... at least not yet. Peculiar things happen to me whenever I go to Europe. One would think I'd become completely food obsessed when back home, but that doesn't seem to happen (hence my 3 month plus hiatus). Before I went to Italy a couple of years ago, Italian food was my obsession. I was so sure that there was a mix up and instead of being born in Korea, I should have been born in Italy. Well, I came back from Italy, and completely lost my taste for Italian food. It wasn't because the food was so terrible. In fact, the food far exceeded my expectations in every way. Thus, I just couldn't stomach the Italian food in the States anymore. Granted, at the time, I was living in Kentucky. It's not exactly known for its Italian excellence.

Anyway, that wasn't quite the scenario this time around. While I did experience some remarkable meals, I wasn't blown away each and every time. I'm sure it had a lot to do with hopping around from country to country for short periods of time. By the time we made it back home, I was ready for a break from food. I wanted to eat simple things from my own kitchen again. And I didn't want to blog about any of it.

I'm a moody blogger, and sometimes I lose my voice for food. I'm not sure if I really have it back, but there are things I have been meaning to write about. One in particular is the Shanghai Flavor Shop in Sunnyvale.

Mr. Cupcake and I first visited this little restaurant shortly after coming back from Europe. It's tucked back in a shady strip mall along Wolf Rd. and Old San Francisco Rd. It's become one of my favorite go to restaurants in recent months for several reasons: 1. It's crazy cheap 2. It's crazy good. 3. Pan Fried Soup Dumplings. Need I say more?

Ok, I will say more. What's a pan fried soup dumpling you ask? Well, it's a doughy little gem that encases a soft pork ball and delicious soup. The dumpling is pan fried on the bottom, so it has a nice crispy crust. It's a lovely contrast the rest of the soft, doughy casing.

I've had steamed Shanghai dumplings (XLB) in the past, but I've never had anything like this. It's definitely unique, and from what I've read it's one of the few places in the Bay Area where these are made. My only complaint is that the soup levels can be inconsistent. Most of the dumplings are relatively juicy, but occasionally the soup can be little to nonexistent. It's not enough to keep me away by any means. I should also add that every time I've been, the dumplings have been served fresh.

While the dumplings are the main attraction, there are many other things on the menu. Actually, we have a tendency to order the same dishes over and over again. This includes a whole lot of dumplings and the Shredded Pork and Noodle with Green Onion Sauce.

The pork is sparse, but once mixed together, there's an abundant amount of flavor. Thus, I can forgive the limited amount of pork. Soo adores the veggie and pork wonton soup. She says it reminds her of her grandmother's dumplings. I'm pretty sure that someone sits there in the back, and puts together these dumplings by hand. On a couple of occasions, I've seen a little old lady walk up to the front with a tray full of the little dumplings.

Shanghai Flavor Shop is a total hole in the wall, but well worth the venture. If you're looking to blow your latest paycheck, it will be hard to do here since the most expensive item on the menu appears to be the $10.95 prawns. Most items on the menu are less than $6. Definitely stop by if you're in the area and try the pan fried soup dumplings; you won't be sorry. And if you are sorry, well, take one for the team and eat them anyway.

Shanghai Flavor Shop
888 Old San Francisco Rd.
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
(408) 738-3003
Lunch: 11am - 3pm
Dinner: 5pm - 9pm
Closed Monday