Pellegrino’s

5C3A2157-1

I treated myself on the last day before classes started with a busy but fun day running around Manhattan with a friend, going to SoHo for brunch and then looking at the Matisse exhibit at the MoMA. All of that walking left us a bit tired and in the mood for a nice Italian dinner in Little Italy. Unbelievably this was the first time I had gone down to Little Italy since coming to Columbia, though I did go there a few years ago, and it’s really sad that it’s constantly shrinking (thanks, Chinatown), but it has retained its quaint charm and evidently its good food– we had fruit tarts from La Bella Ferrara, but more on that later. But how’s a person to choose from the dozens of cute little Italian restaurants lined up along Mulberry Street, each with a store-owner standing outside trying to get customers to come in? Simple answer: Yelp. And Yelp took us to Pellegrino’s, a restaurant like the others from the outside, with the exception of a sign on the sidewalk proclaiming themselves to be the Zagat-rated “best restaurant in Little Italy.”

It wasn’t busy when we went in because it was still fairly early for dinner, but the waiters were very attentive and sat us down immediately at a table by the window. The restaurant was dimly lit and had a nice relaxing atmosphere, which was pleasant after a long day of walking. There was a bit of a distracting mess in front behind the counter, but the mess actually made the restaurant feel more homey. The décor was still pretty cute with the oil paintings and reminded me somewhat of Europe.

They started us off with a basket of two different breads, one with a parmesan-garlic crust on top and the other a simple baguette. The parmesan-garlic bread was probably the lightest, airiest and fluffiest bread I’ve ever eaten, and the cheese and herbs combined to make for excellent flavoring, but I had wished that there would have been more of a toasted quality to the bread. It would have been so much better if the outside edges and top were crispy instead of just soft; I would have appreciated the extra aroma and different texture. Plus it wasn’t that warm either, so it definitely wasn’t straight from the oven. The baguette had a crust that wasn’t too crunchy or tough, and the inside was soft and silky when combined with the not-so-spreadable butter. But again, it wasn’t super warm, so it had probably been sitting outside of the oven for a while before it got to our table.

Onto the main course. I was in the mood for some pasta, and the waiter said that most people really enjoy the rigatoni alla vodka, so that’s what I ended up ordering. The portion was enormous; I ended up taking home half of it. As always with a pasta dish, the first thing I checked for was the texture, and it was cooked to a pretty good al-dente consistency. Rigatoni are a traditional southern and central Italian pasta that’s shaped like a tube with ridges, and the tube shape enables some sauce to get inside each individual pasta, which makes for an interesting eating experience. When I ate my rigatoni, each bite had an unexpected but fun burst of sauce and flavor; because rigatoni are slightly bigger than other forms of tubed pasta like penne, more sauce got inside the tubing, and so the burst of sauce was more pronounced. The sauce was creamy but not overly so, and had some tomato and basil flavors to it. It had a bit of graininess to it, but it was still smoother than most sauces I’ve had, indicating that it was well-blended and freshly made, since the oils and other ingredients were not separated by density yet. I liked the slight piquancy that the black pepper they later added to my dish gave to the overall flavor. However, the bits of sausage mixed with the sauce, while giving the dish a nice variety in texture, didn’t taste very fresh, and thus made the rest of the dish taste less fresh. The prosciutto was better and provided a honeyed sweetness with a brief sharp saltiness, and those flavors prevented the creaminess of the sauce from becoming too heavy. The best addition to the dish was definitely the mushrooms. I’m an absolute sucker for anything with mushrooms in it, and these were fresh, flavorful, and bursting with juice with every bite.  I would say that the mushrooms defined the dish.

For a first official Italian dinner in the city, Pellegrino’s was okay, though I’ve definitely had better pasta before. They lose points for the lack of crispiness in the bread and the almost stale taste of the sausage bits in the pasta. Call me picky, but I felt that they didn’t use the absolute freshest ingredients that they could have, and I’m not too sure if their rigatoni were handmade. However, the cozy and laid-back atmosphere make it a good place for a family dinner or a date night.

Rating: 3.75/5 spoons

Advertisements

Waffles

IMG_0111-1

Waffles can trace their ancestry back to the Middle Ages with the emergence of communion wafer irons and the creation of the oublie, made with a batter of flour and water. Since then, with the addition of new flavors and ingredients, waffles have become a snack and breakfast favorite in homes across Europe and America. I had been craving some during my last few days at home, so I decided to make them for my last meal in California. These beauties are fragrant thanks to the hint of vanilla and maple syrup in the batter, and the yeast enables the texture to come out perfectly after cooking: light and fluffy on the inside with a perfect golden-brown crisp on the outside to give it more dimension. Add whatever toppings you like- Nutella+berries+bananas+walnuts, Speculoos cookie butter+strawberries, or just plain maple syrup all pair perfectly with this recipe! And the best part? The batter is ridiculously easy to make.

Adapted from King Arthur Flour

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups warm milk
  • 6 tbsp melted butter
  • 1-2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp active dry yeast

Steps:

  1. Mix the active dry yeast with the warm milk and let sit for 10-15 minutes in order to activate the yeast.
  2. While waiting for the yeast to activate, mix the rest of the ingredients together in a bowl. Add the yeast and milk mixture in last, after it has sat separately for 10-15 minutes.
  3. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature for an hour. Once it has sat outside for an hour, move into the refrigerator and refrigerate overnight.
  4. The next morning, cook waffles using a waffle iron according to directions. Use about 1/2-3/4 cup batter for each waffle, depending on size of waffle iron.
  5. Once cooked, remove from waffle iron and put on plate, top with desired toppings, and serve.
I like mine with sliced strawberries and Speculoos cookie butter!
I like mine with sliced strawberries and Speculoos cookie butter!

That’s literally all there is to it. This recipe made six 8-inch circular waffles using my waffle iron. If you have leftovers, which isn’t guaranteed, you can always store them in a Ziploc bag and freeze them for several weeks and just put them in the toaster when you’re ready to serve again. My family’s obsessed with these disks of deliciousness, and one bite will show you why.

P.S. Once again, sorry for the horrible iPhone quality pictures 😦

Mon Ami Gabi

image

I’m in Sin City with my parents right now, and so far I can see where Vegas gets its reputation. Everything on the Strip just screams opulence and indulgence; the flashy lights remind me somewhat of Times Square, but Vegas is definitely more brash and wild. It’s the kind of place that holds absolutely nothing back.

I won’t go into detail about what we’ve been up to (what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, right?), but I will say that the restaurant scene here is phenomenal. Restaurant Guy Savoy, Nobu,  Gordon Ramsay Pub and Grill… So many fantastic (and ridiculously expensive) options to choose from. Except everywhere was pretty crowded while we were looking for a restaurant,  most likely because there’s the CES conference going on and all the engineers and high tech people have flooded the place.

We chose to eat dinner at Mon Ami Gabi, a French bistro and steakhouse right in Paris Las Vegas which wasn’t quite as pricey as some of the other options. Alas, hundreds of other people were also trying to get a table, and we ended up having to wait for more than an hour before we were seated, and by that time we were all starving.

Luckily the baguette and butter came pretty quickly, along with a small dish of pickled shredded cabbages. The bread was pretty soft and had a nice fluffy texture on the inside, but the crust wasn’t quite as crunchy as I usually like my baguette crust. Definitely not as good as a baguette from Paris, but I suppose that wouldn’t really be a fair comparison. The flavor was still nice and yeasty, and was only enhanced by the rich and super creamy butter. The shredded cabbage dish was a delightful combination of sweet and tangy, though the flavor was a bit strong; I couldn’t eat more than a little at a time.

I ordered a wild boar ragu, which was a pasta dish with bits of wild boar,  a red wine sauce and sun-dried tomatoes. The hand-made cencioni pasta was shaped like little canoes and the shells were surprisingly large, but they were cooked with a nice al dente texture for the most part, though the edges of some of the shells were slightly soggy and mushy. After chewing, it sometimes felt like the pasta clung to my mouth for a little too long. The sauce was mostly runny with a slight thickness to it, but the thickness wasn’t too starchy. It was slightly sweet from the red wine and had some herbs to give it a fragrant flavor; I could taste some rosemary and garlic, though there were probably more herbs in there that I couldn’t identify. The wild boar meat was cut in medium-sized chunks and sautéed with the sauce. With each bite, at first it felt like the meat was so tender that it almost melted in my mouth, but then  after chewing a couple of times there was a stringiness that became apparent. The changing textures made each bite different and unpredictable, which made it a pretty fun dish to eat.

I also had a few bites of Mom’s mustard salmon, which I found to be pretty well executed as well. The filet they chose was nice and fatty and it was lightly fried so that it had a thin crusty layer of herbs. The result was a combination of melt-in-your-mouth fish and a slightly crispy top layer so thin that it was barely perceptible. It was slightly undersalted, but I thought the aromas of the spices were pretty well done.

Dad had a classic boeuf bourguignon, which is a dish of beef chunks over egg noodles with a wine-based sauce. The beef was again nice and tender with just the right amount of fat, and the sauce was a bit richer and less sweet than the sauce on my dish. The noodles were slightly chewier than my pasta, but they seemed to have a more uniform soft texture. The subtle egg flavor paired well with the rich wine sauce and enhanced the taste of the beef.

Dessert was a chocolate cake with a hazelnut crème anglaise topped with a dark chocolate drizzle and a vanilla bean cream on the side. I’m always a sucker for the hazelnut and dark chocolate combination, and this decadent dish didn’t disappoint. The cake itself was richly dense and exploded with dark chocolate flavor, and it melted into a thick puddle of chocolatey delight as soon as I took a bite. Sometimes chocolate desserts can be too sweet or heavy, but this cake had a good balance of slightly bitter cocoa flavor and sweetness that was helped by the sweet fragrance of the vanilla bean cream and the earthy flavor of the hazelnut. Though the cake was dense, it didn’t turn into an overwhelming mushy and sticky glob in my mouth, but rather gained a somewhat creamlike texture as I swirled it around with my tongue. It clung slightly to my mouth but didn’t stick, which is the key to any predominantly chocolate dessert. The chopped hazelnuts on top added a crunch that gave it another dimension of texture, though I wish they had added more. I was completely stuffed before dessert even came, but I found myself eating more and more. Nothing says sinful indulgence like chocolate, right?

Mon Ami Gabi was rated one of Vegas’ top restaurants, and though it doesn’t quite match up to an actual Parisian bistro, it was still pretty good. I would definitely check it out if you’re looking for some high-quality food that won’t break the bank.

Rating: 4.5/5 spoons

Matcha Roll

5C3A1845-1I love the flavor of green tea, especially in pastries and baked goods. It’s a quick way to “Asian-ify” pretty much any traditional European dessert; simply replace some of the flavoring with a bit of matcha (green tea) powder and you’re good to go.

But what is this magical matcha powder that gives its delicious flavor to so many of my favorite baked goods? It’s green tea that is ground into a very fine powder and is the main focus of the traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony. It comes from shade-grown tea leaves, and several weeks before harvest the tea bushes are covered up to prevent direct sunlight from hitting the leaves. The finest tea leaves are picked, laid out flat to dry, and then ground into a powder. The powder is categorized into grades, with the highest quality matcha originating from the soft and supple leaves at the top of the tea bush that are dried indoors and ground using proper equipment and technique. I won’t go into the intricacies of the tea ceremony because that’s irrelevant (and frankly I don’t understand any of it), but, despite matcha’s priciness, its sweetness and unique color have made it a fantastic addition to any recipe for baked goods.

Recipe adapted from Cooking With Dog: https://www.youtube.com/user/cookingwithdog

Materials: Electric mixer, 3 mixing bowls, mesh strainer, parchment or other baking paper, 10×14″ baking pan (or similarly sized)

Ingredients:

  • 1/6 cup (40 g) cake flour
  • 1 tbsp matcha powder (can be found at Whole Foods or at a Japanese grocery store)
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 5 tbsp white sugar
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/3 cup red bean paste

Steps:

  1. Combine the cake flour and matcha powder in a small bowl. Sift the mixture by emptying the bowl of powder and flour into the strainer and gently shaking the strainer over a large piece of parchment paper. Carefully pour the mixture back into the bowl. Repeat 2-3 more times.
  2. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add 1 tbsp of sugar, continue beating, add another tbsp of sugar, and beat until stiff peaks form.
  3. In another bowl, add 2 tbsp sugar to the egg yolks and beat until thick and creamy. Add the matcha/flour mixture and gently combine until the flour is moistened (no need to be completely mixed).
  4. Combine the egg whites and yolk mixture: Carefully place 1/3 of the whites in the bowl with the yolk. Using a spoon or spatula, scoop and drop the yolks and whites together until they begin to combine together. Repeat until completely mixed, all the while being careful not to break the foam of the whites.
  5. Add the rest of the egg white meringue in two parts and repeat the scooping and dropping motion to mix them together gently, while turning the mixing bowl each time. Scoop, drop, and rotate about 100 times. Batter should be glossy and smooth.
  6. Pour batter into baking sheet covered in parchment paper (I usually reuse the parchment paper from the sifting process) and spread evenly, again being careful not to break the foam. Drop the sheet a few times on a counter to break air bubbles.
  7. Bake at 340°F for 25 minutes, rotating it halfway through.
  8. Remove from oven, take the cake out of the pan and place another sheet of parchment paper on top. Quickly flip over the cake and gently peel away the parchment paper on which the cake had been baking. Roll the cake with the parchment paper and let cool.
  9. In another bowl, beat the 1/2 cup cream with 1 tbsp sugar until it has solidified. Combine with the red bean paste to make the filling.
  10. To roll: cut off one of the short edges with a diagonal cut to create the seam. Spread the filling evenly on cake, leaving some space near the edges. Starting from the uncut short edge of the cake, roll tightly and place the seam side down. Cover in plastic wrap and let cool in the refrigerator.
  11. When ready to serve, unwrap and sprinkle on some powdered sugar if desired. Cut using a dampened knife.

5C3A1851-1With this roll, you get the fluffy and airy softness of the sponge cake, the smoothness of the cream, and the graininess of the red beans in the red bean paste. The fragrant grassiness of the matcha goes perfectly with the milky sweetness of the cream. It’s definitely a dessert with an interesting combination of flavors and textures, and once you take a bite it’s easy to see why this is such a popular dish.

Le Boulanger

Being home for break means hanging out and catching up with friends in the area, and yesterday I had the chance to grab lunch with my long-time tennis and Baskin Robbins buddy Arianna (shout-out to Bunnie (sp) if you’re reading this!). We had absolutely no clue where to eat since there’s nothing good in Almaden (I’ll probably never stop complaining about that), so we just decided to drive into a plaza near Santa Teresa and Blossom Hill that had a few restaurants that I knew. Eventually we chose to eat at Le Boulanger, a chain of cafés in the Bay Area. Usually I try to avoid chain restaurants if I want a good meal, but, as they say, desperate times call for desperate measures. Plus, I heard that their sandwiches were pretty good, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to give it a go.

First thing to note: despite the French name, Le Boulanger is not a French-style establishment, so if you’re in the mood for fresh baguettes or boeuf bourguignon, or even an tarte aux pommes or European-style espresso,  you probably would be better off trying somewhere else. The décor was fairly plain, consisting of some mostly bare white walls and wooden tables scattered messily around the restaurant. It was pretty crowded when we got there, so we had to sit at a table sandwiched between two other small tables, and the proximity made it sometimes difficult to have a conversation since it felt like everyone could hear what we were saying. But we still had a nice chat and got our food, which was what we came for.

My little sandwich and small bowl of soup cost almost $10.

photo
Classico sandwich and a bowl of clam chowder

Was it worth it? The classico sandwich that I ordered consisted of grilled chicken breast, Monterey jack cheese, roasted red peppers, tomato, and mixed greens drizzled with some balsamic vinaigrette all on a ciabatta roll. When I took my first bite, the first thing that came to mind was that the bread was soft and cool and thus was not fresh out of the oven. It had an acceptable chewy texture and yeasty flavor, but I couldn’t help but feel that it was baked long before I had ordered my sandwich, which it probably was. Major strike. But everything else was fine; the chicken breast was shredded into smaller pieces, which made it easier for the sweet and sour flavor of the balsamic vinaigrette to seep in and also made the chicken more tender. The vegetables were all pretty fresh, though the sandwich could have used a little less dressing. After trying a bite of my sandwich, Arianna remarked that it tasted like a salad on bread, which it essentially was. Besides the disappointment with the bread, I could still tell that the ingredients in the sandwich were all relatively high-quality and chosen with care, and it was ultimately a surprisingly refreshing sandwich.

The clam chowder was in between thick and runny, and because it wasn’t so thick it wasn’t too oily. There were also distinct bits of chewy clams. In a poorly executed clam chowder, the clam chunks are so small that they can only be swallowed directly, but the Boulanger chowder didn’t have that problem; instead of just swallowing the chunks, I could chew them and get a juxtaposition of textures with the liquid soup and soft potatoes. The potatoes were neither under nor overcooked. But alas, like many clam chowders I’ve had, this one was a tad too salty. Some bread would have balanced out the saltiness, but there was none.

Though the ciabatta wasn’t the freshest, it didn’t taste terrible, and all of the ingredients used in my meal were decent enough considering that this was a chain restaurant. It may have been slightly pricey at $10 for such a small meal, but it was an acceptable $10 meal. I’d be willing to go back for another sandwich in the future.

Rating: 3.5/5 spoons

 

Googie Grill

My family decided to take an impromptu trip to the Big Sur area yesterday. We spent a nice few hours driving along Highway 1 while stopping by a couple of vista points to take photos (Shameless plug: you can see the resulting images on my Facebook site at https://www.facebook.com/allisonyu.photo?ref=bookmarks). If you’re ever in the Bay Area, definitely check this place out; it’s absolutely gorgeous!

Unfortunately traffic was pretty horrible on the way back. We had planned on eating dinner at home, but, seeing as we were going at an impressive 3 mph, that wasn’t going to happen. So we decided to get off the freeway and stop by a restaurant on the way, but who knew that it would be so difficult to find somewhere… We must’ve tried at least 3 or 4 different places before we found Googie Grill in Seaside.

The first thing that struck us was the name, because “Googie” sounds almost exactly like the nickname I gave my older brother Albert when we were very little, “Gookie.” But apparently “Googie” is a reference to Googie architecture, which originated after World War II and continued until about the 1960’s. From Wikipedia: the name Googie comes from Googies cafe in West Hollywood, whose owner’s wife’s nickname was Googie. The architectural style is characterized by geometric shapes and upswept roofs, and I could definitely see those characteristics in the metal décor and the shapes. The starfish suspended from the ceiling were a fun touch.

We started off with an appetizer of fried calamari, which is always a great favorite. I just love the crisp of the fried batter juxtaposed with the chewy seafood, and the creaminess and slight tang of the tartar sauce brings the dish to the next level. Googie’s fried calamari had a thicker breading and was more crunchy than crispy, but it didn’t taste too oily. It was lightly seasoned, the tartar sauce and marinara sauce were decent, and the little lemon that Albert added gave it a nice tang. The seafood was also pretty fresh compared to others I’ve had, and it had a nice chewy consistency that meant that it was cooked properly.

Fried calamari
Fried calamari 

My meal came with a shrimp bisque, which was thick and creamy and actually reminded me of tomato basil soup.  The soup itself was salty, and I couldn’t really taste much shrimp, but the garlic and onion flavor was pretty sharp and tangy. It didn’t feel too oily, which was a plus, and I enjoyed the slight graininess to it. The two croutons they added were heavy on the garlic flavor, but they provided an interesting change in texture.

5C3A1837-1
Shrimp bisque

My meal was a pork chop with mashed potatoes and vegetables on the side. The portion was absolutely gigantic! The pork chop was ridiculously thick, which is why it had taken them so long to cook my food, and it was flavored with a thin sweet sauce that had an almost oriental taste to it. Because the chop was slightly charred, the sweetness of the sauce was balanced out by the smoky bitterness that resulted from the grill. With such a thick piece of meat, I was pretty sure that it would be pretty dry and flavorless, but it was actually tender and moist enough to be palatable. However, that may have been due to the fact that it may not have been cooked completely thoroughly. Don’t worry, it wasn’t bloody, but the center may have been just the slightest bit pink. Then again, I may have been wrong. The mashed potatoes were fluffy and paired well with the sweet sauce and had a nice fluffy and creamy texture, and I could even taste chunks of potatoes. Good to know they were using the real thing. The vegetables were surprisingly flavorful from the sauce, considering that in my experience most American-style restaurants tend to leave their veggies pretty bland and soggy. The way they presented the food caused some of the mashed potato to mix a little bit with everything and thicken the sauce, which wasn’t terrible, but I would have liked to see how everything tasted by itself. Because there was so much food piled on that absurdly large plate, I only ended up eating probably less than half of it and taking home the rest.

Pork chops
Pork chops

I also had a bit of Mom’s sea bass served with a garlic cream sauce, rice pilaf and the same vegetables that I had. The sea bass was tender and soft and almost melted in my mouth like a fatty fish should, and the cream sauce, while a bit on the heavy side compared to how Mom usually cooks sea bass, wasn’t too oily, and there wasn’t so much of it that it overwhelmed the natural flavor of the fish. The rice pilaf had plenty of butter flavor to it, and the rice itself may have been slightly undercooked (but not nearly as undercooked as the rice we get at Columbia), but it was seasoned as it should be. Wouldn’t say there was anything particularly special about it though.

The food was a bit pricey, but seeing as they gave such large quantities of it, it wasn’t ridiculous. Googie has some decent comfort food in pretty much the middle of nowhere, and though it didn’t have me in raptures, I would say that everything was cooked as it should have been, and it’s definitely a solid option if you’re hungry and just want to get something to eat.

Rating: 3.75/5 spoons

P.S. Sorry for the horrible images; it was hard taking pictures with such little space! I’m still working on my food photography skills.

Plentea

5C3A1804-1

On a chilly San Francisco winter day, my high school friends and I, after running around Chinatown looking for lunch, stopped by Plentea, a popular milk tea place. What makes this little café unique is that the drink comes in a glass bottle instead of the usual plastic cups, and customers get to keep the glass bottles and bring them back the next time they get a drink for a 10% discount. The store was fairly crowded when we went, but we didn’t have to wait too long to get our drinks. Though I’ve always felt that pearl milk tea is overrated, I thought that the bottles were incentive enough to check this place out.

It’s a lively place, probably because it’s popular among the young people crowd; pretty much everyone in the store was under the age of 30, or maybe even under 25. Like many shops in San Francisco, there are two levels: street level is where customers place their orders and can sit down at the small tables scattered around, and the upstairs loft has additional seating. The shop décor was pretty cute, though there was a pile of boxes in the corner that made the shop feel small and messy. The upstairs loft was comfortable enough though, and it was a good place for a larger group of people. Unfortunately another group of people had the same idea and it got pretty dang loud, but our group was able to tune them out for the most part.

View from the loft
View from the loft
Green milk tea
Green milk tea

The green milk tea that I ordered was fairly sweet, which isn’t surprising since green tea and milk are both naturally sweet. At least the sugar they added didn’t mask the slightly bitter and grassy tea flavor. I tried some of my friend’s oolong milk tea as well, which was sweeter and had a more of a honey flavor compared to the green tea. After sipping, it took a while for the tea flavor to manifest itself. It left a dryness in my mouth, but it wasn’t unpleasant. The black tea was smokier than the other two teas, and it had a sharper tea flavor.

There were plentea (har har) of other options on the menu, including fruit and taro and cream-based beverages. I didn’t find anything super special about the tea itself, and it was fairly pricy at nearly $5 for a standard drink, but it was more about the experience overall than the actual drink. I mean, the glass bottles are such a cute and business/environmentally friendly idea! If I ever find myself in San Francisco craving a milk tea, which admittedly probably won’t happen, I’ll most definitely return to get my 10% discount.

Rating: 4/5 spoons