Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Gratuitous Sexiness: Lard Ain't Never Looked So Good

Funny that I'd choose lard and/or bread as my first post about New Orleans since my exile, but there it is -- Cochon's lard rolls. Only in the deep South would a chef have the cajones to use rendered pig fat as the primary identifying ingredient in a carb-heavy freebie ... then provide you with a ramekin of butter to spread between those greasy, flavorful, rich, and heavyyyy layers of goodness. Brown shiny top, smooth buttery bottom, light yellow flakey center. What's not to love? After all, in New Orleans, you'll just sweat off your water weight anyway ... right?


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Epicurean Adventures: Tea House Brouhaha

It seems that I'm a firestarter, whether I mean to be one or not. The most I can hope for when traveling abroad is that I don't make a big enough scene to get in TOO too much trouble. Thus far, I have avoided confrontation with any proper authorities, but that's not to say I don't get into my fair share of verbal scuffles, different languages notwithstanding.

In Hong Kong, I had some words. A couple of times, actually. *Sigh.*

My father warned me after I returned and told him of the incidents, that as a sweeping generalization, people from the mainland are a lot nicer than people from ... not the mainland, i.e. Hong Kong and Taiwan, Macau and Tibet, et cetera. Thanks, Dad -- I could have used that information and been slightly less affronted in Hong Kong lol.

However, I should have known, since Cantonese is a harsh, abrasive, and always slightly annoyed sounding language, that the attitude of the people would perhaps grate on me that way as well. They may make the best Chinese food in the world and possibly one of the most fanciful of ethnic foods, but the Cantonese have zero qualms about telling you exactly what they think, admirable when it's not directed at you. I mean, I'm all for no lies ever (including those of the "little white" variety) and speaking your mind, but in Hong Kong, when people decide to be outspoken, they are indeed outspoken.

This particular exchange of words just made me feel inadequate, as the confrontations in Hong Kong did. After three weeks of falling into the musical cadences of Mandarin in the mainland, it was hard to make the transition in my brain to the less familiar language of Hong Kong, which was Cantonese. The phonetics are entirely different as to be incomprehensible to even those residing in China, and so, for an ABC like me, communication was difficult, since I could understand the gist of things being said, but couldn't respond in the correct language.

With this long-winded explanation, it seems I'm doing the situation an injustice, though, since it really wasn't that big of a deal, it was just a weird moment.

We went to this restaurant, the Shamrock Restaurant on Nathan Road -- the famous touristy shopping street of the island of Kowloon across the water from Hong Kong Island -- since we saw dim sum advertised on the sign and the doors were invitingly open at 6:45 in the morning. We rose early to try to find a dim sum breakfast before our 8 AM tour, and this was the first restaurant we saw walking away from the hotel. People were seated and drinking tea, so we figured it was just as good of a place at any. Star Restaurant, the first place we'd dined in HK (more on them later) was farther away, so we just went in.

Now, ordering dim sum in China is significantly more difficult than doing so in the States. You wouldn't think so, but it is. Gone are the handy carts with ladies calling out their wares as they travel around the dining room from table to table. Instead, you have sheets of paper with Chinese characters and a much shorter list in English, and a stubby pencil, so that you may select your menu items sushi-style.

Umm, this created some bit of difficulty, since in all honesty, my comprehension of the written language extends to "person," "China," "America," and "water." Yeahhh ... not so conducive to obtaining good eats.

We sat there awkwardly for a little bit after a lady asked us in a kindly, albeit abrupt, manner if we were "lern go yum cha," a bastardized pinyin for the Cantonese for "two to dim sum/yum cha." Eventually, after watching two groups of people go into a water closet of sorts and pour their own tea, I decided to check it out.

Behind the walls of the little water closet were two huge commercial water heaters with intense-looking spouts and plastic bins filled with loose tea leaves. You had a few choices -- I opted for the green tea that day, which looked a bit healthier than the other ones. Great tea is usually in whole-leaf form, from my experience; cheap tea is broken up with obvious stems that tend to get annoying and float to the surface.

The other people in the closet with me each grabbed two of the white teapots, one which they filled with a heaping spoonful of the tea and water and another they filled just with the scorching hot water. Some elected, when back at their tables, to rinse their cups and dishes in a basin with the hot water; others, like us, chose to use that to refill our teapot when we ran low.

We sat awkwardly for a little bit longer, wondering what to do next. I decided, after a particularly loud growl erupted from my stomach, to find out if the lady at the cashier counter had any helpful insight.

She did! But this is where the confrontation happened.

An old lady, sitting by herself near the cashier's booth heard me struggling in terrible Fuzhou-accented Cantonese for a menu in English. She was white 0f hair and wearing a purple brocade coat; her eyes were sunken in a round, flat-ish face, typical of older women of that region, and her teeth broken as she raised her tea cup to her mouth.

Anyway, as I resorted to English and body language to communicate with the really, really nice lady at the cashier (who informed me that I'd have to wait five more minutes, 7 AM, to order), the old lady decided it was time to get involved.

"Speak Cantonese, you lazy girl!" she croaked.

Shocked, I responded in Cantonese (how very productive, eh?), "I don't know Cantonese! I'm from America!"

"You're speaking it right now!"

The lady at the counter intervened. "Can't you see she's American? She just said that! It's okay!"

Hawking deep in the back of her throat, disgust emanating from her, she growled, "Then she shouldn't be here! All these Americans in Hong Kong! Pah! It's disgraceful, they come here and can't say anything. These Chinese Americans, so disrespectful, come in and want you to speak THEIR language. They should go back to their own country ..."

The lady at the counter apologetically handed a picture menu with English and numbers that corresponded to the "sushi sheet," and shooed me and my shock away. I understand that xenophobia is an epidemic that's simmered in every country around the world, and as an American, I am also offended when people don't bother to learn the language and expect you to learn theirs. However, the people that upset me are immigrants who come here to live, and whose alphabet and pronunciation is similar to English. My thinking is that if MY family, who came from a whole other WORLD, pretty much, can learn the language, and the families who have come here generations ago could, why can't the new wave put forth the effort?

My point though, is that the last thing I expected in the country I was often told by racist, close-minded Long Island children to return to, was to be told the same from my ancestral countryman. For Pete's sake, my mother grew up in Hong Kong! My parents both immigrated! Am I not, then, as much Chinese as I am American?

Apparently not. The life of an average Chinese is beyond my comprehension, and my alienness shows to the older folk. I'm immediately identified as American by adults, not Chinese ... yet in the US, people still ask me "what country I'm from" (to which I respond with a "duh" look, "America ...") and wonder out loud how I "talk English so good." (Yes, these things actually still do happen. Mostly on Long Island, not New Orleans, though ... so much for the backwards South, eh? ;)

ABCs apparently live their lives in limbo. It's a weird place to be, especially when you're hungry at 7 AM.

P.S. I ended up ordering and eating this deliciousness:

Pork and shrimp shumai, steamed in egg wrappers with red roe caviar steamed and melted on top; shrimp churn fun, fresh shrimp wrapped in freshly made wide rice noodles and rolled up; egg custard tarts, shiny and respendent in its butter on the firmer than creme brulee custard in a flaky pie crust; "conpoy," a chicken, pork, and black mushroom combination (details on that in a later post) wrapped in layers of sweet, translucent sticky rice, which is in turn wrapped in a bitter lotus leaf. Shrimp in rice noodles, without the sweet thin soy sauce that makes it the most delicious thing EVER (sauce pictured to the right of it); Chinese leek, shrimp, black mushrooms, and thin-sliced pork in a crispy and oily pancake made of rice flour, a spongier version of the fried Vietnamese crepe; egg custard tart again.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Gratuitous Sexiness: Rice Crisp(ies) Treats

Sorry about the lack of fresh meat on this blog this past week ... I'm still on the job hunt, and so my days are taken up with that painful occupation. Going in and out of the city constantly and trying to spend time with family makes it hard to find the time and focus to write. Ironically, unemployment is seemingly more time- and energy-consuming than one would think!

Anyway, for your weekend reading pleasure, before I'm off to Queens this weekend to check out potential housing (we are technically homeless vagabonds mooching off famiglia at this point), I present you with a bite from Chongqing, a city with a population of 32 million and the carbon footprint (being too hilly for the bicycles that are popular throughout China) of just that amount.

The above photo is of a very interesting rice dish, with fried or baked brown rice cakes in broken patty form, presented on a large white platter. Thinking it was like an appetizer or like a pre-dinner bread dish, some of our fellow travelers reached out to partake, but this crispy rice dish is meant to be presented tableside. The white platter is heated up and the rice is extremely hot, and equally hot sauce with thin-sliced pork, vegetables, and fungus is poured on top for a sizzling, popping sound (snap, crackle, anyone?) that causes oohs and ahhs to erupt around you.

The flavor of this dish was pretty good, although brown sauces had a tendency to be a little bland in comparison to the American iterations. Full of tender, sweet, cooked cucumbers -- like every meal we had, being a fast-growing crop and in-season -- and tree/elephant-ear fungus, the vegetables flop limply, but retain a crunch when consumed. Sweet, crisp, and slightly salty but lacking in savory qualities, the snack-cake texture of the rice was really very nice, since the overall impression of the dish was of neutral, only mildly flavored blandness, great for a hot, sticky summer day in China -- which it was.

Was it something to write home about? Eh, not really ... but the novelty of a popping dish has its appeal. Would I beg my dad to make it? Again, nah, but it was interesting to try.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Eater's Remorse: Money Gone Bye-Bye in Shanghai

While we're in Shanghai (on my blog, at least), I want to tell you a little story about disappeared dollars and the city over the water (the literal translation of shang hai). It's not that the city is particularly expensive; rather, everything in mainland China is extraordinarily cheap due to the favorable rate of exchange. The American dollar is at least strong overseas in Asia, and for that, Boy and I were grateful, spending no more than $8 US for hour-long foot massages each (of which I have cause to regret, but that's another story for another time) and under $10 US for meals for the both of us, combined. However, we'd heard stories of the glorious shopping in Hong Kong, and that being our final destination before the honeymoon officially ended, we'd wisely very little in terms of merchandise and sundries, saving our money for use in Hong Kong.

Using the RMB (ren men bi, or "the people's currency," also known as the yuan) my parents had so generously given us, saved from their last trip, we had thus far managed to spend only that money. We hadn't realized what a fortune we really had in our hands with their gift, and over two weeks into the trip, we were only beginning to tap into our own shared reserve of cash. I, fortunately, hadn't even had to exchange more than $60 US, and had only spent maybe $5 US of this.

Anyway, you see my point here -- we had lots of Chinese dollars, changed into their currency or not, and were holding on to it for Hong Kong.

The story begins here, in the beautiful, Eastern-style flea market tourist shopping area in Shanghai. We were excited, as my previous post indicates, to see Cantonese dim sum for the first time in our travels, and stopped in to enjoy some at the Hu Bin Delicious Food Restaurant (with a name like that, can you go wrong?). The food here was excellent and Boy finally got the char siu bao he'd so desperately been craving since we landed. I was tempted to try the more exotic dishes like the chicken feet with jalapenos and black beans (one of the more famous yum cha delicacies), but erred on the safe side and got the filling sticky rice with chicken and black mushrooms, wrapped in a bitter leaf.

This was a bit expensive compared to the cost of dumplings in Beijing and our previous meals in Guilin, but we were in a touristy area, so it wasn't too unexpeceted. It was 12 RMB per dish, for a total meal cost of 30 RMB, which roughly equates $4.50 US, since Boy was (and still is) on his Diet Pepsi fetish (I swear, they must put crack in that crap). I know this sounds like nothing, and it was, but our first steamed bun experience in Beijing cost us 4 RMB for a bamboo steamer of nine freshly-wrapped dumplings, which translates into somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 cents.

So we left feeling fat and happy, Boy being thoroughly satisfied with himself upon finally being able to consume fluffy sweet barbequeued pork buns, ready to shop, when apparent calamity struck! With our stomachs full and puffed out, we stumbled upon ... a food court. A massive, cavernous cafeteria with bamboo steamers stacked up ten high, woks flaming, noodles flying, dumplings frying, bread baking, crustaceans red and staring, and exciting scents filling the air.

I begged the Boy-about-to-pop to just let me pleeeeeaaasssse take a little look, just a quick round around to take pictures and get a scope of the offerings. Too full to argue, he consented, and this is what we saw:

Naturally, I had to at least taste SOMETHING from this smorgasbord, and after confirming that the filling was indeed pork, I opted to try a dish of good old-fashioned crescent-shaped fried dumplings. After growing up with my dad's and subsisting off his frozen and "imported" ones (and I use that term loosely ... it's debatable whether driving bags of frozen dumplings to New Orleans after visits with the family count) from his restaurant, I wanted to see what the originals were all about. I'd tried some in Beijing that were horrid, and so I hoped that this would be a little closer to the pockets of joy I was accustomed to.

I went up to the grumpy cashier to pay for them, and she asked for what I thought was 14 yuan. Interestingly, "fourteen" and "forty" both sound really similar in English AND Mandarin Chinese, so after I went through my tiny Vera Bradley coin purse to rootle out 14 RMBs, she snorted in a disgusted fashion and rejected my money. She pointed emphatically to the screen: 40 RMB. Well, duh.

Feeling like an idiot, I stuffed my US money, all $140 of my dollars, to the bottom of the coin purse and went through pockets and the rest of the money floating at the top of the coin purse. Flushed red with exertion and embarrassment as I held up the line (and I HATE line-holder-uppers), I finally paid as Boy grabbed the tray for me. Stuffing my change into the purse, I clumsily tried to find open seating as we walked around in confusion in the packed out cafeteria.

We finally found a seat that was good, and sat down to try to shove even more food into our ever-expanding stomachs, procuring aged vinegar for dipping as we shuffled through the aisles. Well, long story short, it was not very good. The wrapper of the dumplings were all very well and good, thick and doughy and as crunchy as it was brown, but it was fried in way too much oil, which dripped down your chopsticks onto your wrists. With no napkins to hand (not an uncommon situation I found myself in during my time in China -- ironically, for the country that INVENTED paper, they're awfully stingy with it), this was inconvenient, to say the least. The filling was indeed pork -- but the word I didn't understand until too late and a familiar but unfamiliar flavor filled my mouth, was choi sum, or in Fuzhouhua, my native tongue, sian tsai, a sour, crunchy, pickled vegetable of sorts, and an unwelcome ingredient. Even more apparent was the overwhelming taste of celery, a taste that overpowered the meat and seeped through every pore of the dough.

What is up with the celery in EVERYTHING?! The same thing ironically happened in Xi'an at another cafeteria-style restaurant, and I was similarly disappointed.

To add insult to injury, I found that under the glare of disapproval and in my utter consternation over paying the right amount of RMBs, I'd dropped the $140 in US cash that I'd been saving to spend in Hong Kong. Of course, this discovery was made in the wee hours of the night, long after we'd returned from the Shanghai river night cruise to see the spectacular city lights, and about an hour after we'd been comfortably ensconced in our gorgeous hotel room.


There is no greater eater's remorse, though, to say that your over $140 dumplings were not at all -- not even the slightest bit -- worth it.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Epicurean Adventures: Dumplings, Soup, and a Straw

My food entries here have been appallingly sporadic and will be out of order due to the recent upheavals of this existence masquerading as a life as I attempt to find myself in this limbo between a job, home, and/or plan, but it's been a while since I've divulged in my greatest passion on this blog -- discussing food finds and adventures. This entry marks the very first of my backward glances to the insanity of my honeymoon (a lot of travel on paper is a lot of travel; but in real life, it becomes a LOT a lot of travel ...) and as such, the post is dedicated expressly to Gabe Martin-Dempsey, one of my favorite lunch buddies in New Orleans and one of my most missed as the rain continues to fall from dreary gray skies in Long Island and as plans continue being made for the same franchised restaurants on the big fish, regardless of lack of art. (However, I will say that I've found myself satisfactorily stuffed several times already on bagels and Chinese food, and have had one slice of pizza.)

The topic of interest here begins in the city of Shanghai, and enchantingly futuristic city of glamorous lights, beautiful waters, and -- wonder of wonders -- the first place (as the second to last leg of our extensive monthlong journey) we encountered dim sum/yum cha food of any kind. Literally meaning "little heart" and "to take tea" respectively, bamboo steamers of savory foods in bite-sized portions, this Cantonese sensation is one of my favorite dining experiences to date, the complexity of flavors and inventiveness of dishes as well thought out as many a fine French dishes but wholly different in style.

Now what does all of this have to do with dumplings, soups, and straws?

Plenty, since we're dwelling on Shanghai. This cosmopolitan international port city is famous for many things -- sailors, ship-jackings (the expression "Shanghai'd" ring a bell?), its Western-style International settlement, banking and finance, among many other things -- but for the sake of simplicity, its most well-known gastronomic contribution is a novel invention dear to Gabe's heart, combining the wonderful concepts of puffy steamed buns of a mantou nature, clear broth, and carefree sipping. This curiosity I'm referencing is the intriguing soup dumpling, or in its native soup-scalded tongue, xiao long bao.

A chubby round bun made of the mildly sweet white puffy bread that appears throughout China, perhaps most commonly found in char siu bao (the famous Cantonese contribution that's made its way to Vietnam and America, sweet barbequed pork buns), it's a neat little package with a delightfully swirled top with a round hole seemingly placed for allowing steam to escape, until you observe others eating it. It comes in various sizes, depending on the vendor you choose and what purpose you wnat this particular dumpling for. Large is good for a full meal on the go, since its consumption is satisfying in its multi-step process; medium makes a good snack; the small, which I experienced at dinner later that night, is a tantalizing classic dim sum proportioned tidbit.

Okay, so it looks like a tidy bun. But here's where the rest of the stuff comes in -- the xiao long bao is ACTUALLY a Chinese version of a soup bowl! However, that's not to say that you can cut open the top and start spooning out the contents, since you have to remember, its prime identity is as a stuffed bun or dumpling, meaning the center will be filled with something a bit more substantial than just soup. That's right -- there's a nice, big, fat hunk of ground, seasoned, richly flavored MEAT dead center. Generally succulent, fresh pork (being the most popular and common meat in the country due to its accessibility) takes the center stage in the bun, soaking in the oily broth nestled in the heart of the bread, erupting into hot flavor as you bite into the dumpling. But ... I don't recommend biting right into it, as you'll see.

The differences don't end there from your typical bread bowl, either. Take a look at the picture to the left. Do you see anything odd or interesting, out of the ordinary and unexpected? Poking out of the top of the bread in the steamer. Yeah, right there. Well, that's no chopstick -- it's a straw. A wide-mouthed, white plastic, colorfully-striped straw.

And whatever is it for?

For drinking soup!

From my understanding, the soup gets where and how it is in two steps: broth is made and frozen, then placed in the dough as an ice cube (thanks, Gabe!) with the raw meat mixture before the bun/dumpling is steamed. As the dough rises and the steam cooks it inside out, the frozen broth melts and begins to take on the flavor of the meat slowly stewing and simmering inside the Shanghai soup dumpling. Oils escape from the pork and adds a nice element of slick, greasy richness, and turns a simple broth into a uniquely flavored concoction, while the meat, cooking in the soup, takes on the elements from and holds on to the moisture necessary to keep the meat tender and tasty. A truly symbiotic relationship.

Directions to eat? Sip, slurp, chomp, and savor ... but I wouldn't recommend doing it out of order, since food can hurt sometimes, and the pressure within the bun can cause an eruption of juices that can cause a great deal of damage.

Yes, Gabe -- this was definitely as good and interesting as it seems on paper. Another trip to Shanghai, anyone?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Gratuitous Sexiness: Chinese Tea for Realz

Omg, awesome tea in a real tea shop in Xi'an! The variety was crazy, and the menu read like this:

  • Ziyang Rich Selenium Green Tea
  • Pu-er Tea, aged and compacted into brick form
  • One-Leaf Green Tea, a single rolled large tea leaf
  • Jasmine Sphere Tea, balls of jasmine blossoms that expand into a rich, bitter brew
  • Ginseng Oolong Tea
  • Lychee Concubine Black Tea, a delicious variety infused with the fresh, sweet taste of ripe lychee fruit
  • Dragon Well Green Black Tea
  • Chrysanthemum Tea, different from what we get in the States; in China, the blossoms are fresh and white, and the flavor is much, much lighter, although still served with rock candy for sweetening
  • An Xi Tie Guan Yin Oolong, a tea that poofs up with an extremely mild flavor. A little blah for me
  • White Tea, baby tea leaves picked in their youthful prime
  • Fruit Flower Tea
  • Lemon Tea, an atrocity on the menu for the tourists lol

Monday, June 15, 2009

Epicurean Adventures: Wedded Bliss Begins at the Table

(Pictures to come!)

Part of what made my wedding absolutely perfect, since I’m a fatass with an unnatural obsession for food, was the fact that the food was outstanding. Although I was unable, for the first time in my life, to eat everything on my plate due to the high-strung excitement of the weekend and my broken sinuses, I thoroughly enjoyed every bite I WAS able to stomach.

The cocktail hour immediately followed the short and sweet nondenominational ceremony (Boy is an aetheist and I haven’t yet decided what I am, other than superstitious and somewhat spiritual), with our good friend Kat Olszewska’s signature drink as the bridal couple blend. Made with vodka, fresh mint, simple syrup, and other stuff that makes it go down as easy and fresh as slightly sparkling spa water, this has been Boy’s and my drink of choice for as long as we’ve had the pleasure of knowing Kat.

Unfortunately, the drinks were pretty much the most full serving of anything we had during this hour, as formal family wedding portraits were scheduled for half of this time. We had some really tasty treats, one of them being the mini-muffulettas for Boy’s grandfather Marty, who’d been obsessed with the olive salad and Italian cold cut sandwiches since his first visit to Nawlins, and who’d been looking forward to these since we decided the wedding would take place in the Big Sleazy. Little toasted squares of crispy French bread topped with mushrooms in a thick, buttery sauce sat in a buffet-style serving station, and mini-quiches were snatched up quickly from the white plates on the serving line. A chef cooked bowtie pasta with local tasso ham and white meat cubed chicken and tossed it all skillfully in a cream-based white sauce, not unlike an Alfredo style. The assorted bouchees (stuffed puff pastries), which came in crab and leek among other combinations, were such a hit that I didn’t get a single bite; reports were that they were fabulous, though.

The indisputable hit of our cocktail hour was definitely the oysters, though. Chef Stoltzfus outdid himself with truly fantastic fried oysters the night before, and people who had no idea oysters could be good became devout fanatics of the delicious mollusks. The fried giants of Coquette became the gateway dish to the way of the oyster, and the baked oysters were snatched up so quickly it was as if they were never served. The only evidence in place that they’d even been brought out was the pile of shells on the plates of those hovering near the serving line, nervously awaiting a fresh batch, and the watery layer of juice sitting at the bottom of the serving tray. Descending like a hungry vulture (not unlike the rest of my food-loving guests … birds of a feather and all that, eh?), I snatched one right from Boy’s plate, and hovered like the rest of the crowd after that first mouthful, waiting for more. Baked in the shell with bacon, breadcrumbs, a bit of crab, and a nice hit of garlic, they were fresh and fabulous.

After cocktail hour, we were asked to take a seat in the Robespierre Dining Room, a somewhat sparse but beautifully put together multi-purpose room the hotel uses for private events. More elegant than the awkward mirrored dining room they serve breakfast in, large pieces of artwork and tables set with napkins in fleur de lis form and shining dinnerware created a pretty picture. The massive, sweet-scented pale yellow Conca d’Or lilies, interwoven with curled strands of lilygrass and apricot Gerbera daisies pulled everything together with a lovely freshness, and the alternating heights of the floral arrangements drew many positive comments, further solidifying my absolute confidence in the super-awesome florist I chose, Ashley Bateman of Nola Flora in the Riverbend. The only thing missing were the tealights that the hotel had promised—which I didn’t even notice until the wedding was over. Obviously, not that big a deal.

But I’m sure you don’t care nearly as much about the flowers as I did, so let me tell you what else we ate.

Disaster a la Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, , in Boy’s eyes, was very closely averted by his keen eye and the passion he’d been harboring for the salad they’d served us at the tasting months before. Since I was MIA for a bit, the event coordinators spoke to Boy to confirm the menu for the night. He instantly noticed that the Salade Revolution was not the same version that had been at the tasting, and demanded that this be set to rights. His response to their protests was that there were three hours before the first course was served, and that someone was bound to have proscuitto that could be accessed within those three hours.

He was right.

A gorgeous salad of baby spring greens in a house vinaigrette was served with tender endive leaves, the Belgian endive tenderly cupping blanched green asparagus that had been tossed in a vinegar-based dressing. Proscuitto enveloped a plump, square packet of warm goat cheese, a smooth, rich flavor that added a sharp but creamy acid to the colorful dish. Hot, crusty French pistolettes accompanied the salad to offset the crazy deep flavors that were introduced in the acidic and fabulous first course, and whorls of sweet cream butter were addicting.

The second course that was formally served was a shrimp bisque, a cream-based Gulf-y soup in a vivid tangerine shade that was luxurious in velvety mouthfeel. Unfortunately, nerves had caught up with me at that point and the butterflies in my stomach were insistent on being the only inhabitants, and I was unable to stomach too many spoonfuls of the delicious soup. Wearing a fully laced-up corseted bodice on my wedding dress certainly didn’t help, either, considering I was unable to take a deep breath, nonetheless expand!

The entrées served that evening included Atlantic salmon fillets in a buerre blanc sauce, bone-in skin-on chicken in a Creole mustard cream sauce, and thick filet mignon in a wild mushroom Madeira wine reduction. Each of these options came with garden-fresh steamed and lightly seasoned vegetables (cauliflower, carrots, broccoli) and some potatoes to round it all off.

The salmon was presented as a big splash of color, the buttery cream sauce livened up with a little lemon and fresh green garnish with a sprinkling of paprika. The shimmering silver skin reflected the sparkling dim light of the room, and the coarse Creole mustard sauce on the browned chicken skin provided a similar effect. Creole mustard, as you may know, is a wholly different animal than the typical yellow or even Dijon mustard that’s commonly found on kitchen tables around the country. Instead, it’s a mild, rich, large-grained seed with a phenomenal, subtle tang that goes with pretty much anything. The chicken was, however, a little saltier than I remembered from the tasting, but it was still a decadent dish that I don’t regret choosing as our poultry/fowl option.

On the other hand, I do regret not choosing the tournedos for my own entrée. The meat that was served at the wedding reception was actually of a much higher quality than what we’d sampled at the tasting! It was tender and served medium, much to the relief of those guests who’d felt the medium-rare temperature of their steak at Coquette was a little too cool for their liking, and was still easily sliceable with their standard steak knives. In fact, the steaks were so buttery soft that one of my younger cousins was spotted biting his filet right off the fork, skipping the whole cutting aspect of eating a nice filet. The most direct route is straight, though, eh?

Rather than serving a formal dessert course, Boy and I had opted for a larger wedding cake than the hotel offered to pay for. We had chosen to use Swiss Confectionery on St. Charles Avenue in the CBD area, not just because it was one of the St. Louis Hotel’s preferred vendors, but because we fell in love at first bite. Actually, even before then – we were besotted by the time we stepped into the glass doors of the sweetly scented cakery (Swiss is not necessarily a bakery; rather, they specialize in cakes to order and don’t do the standard daily offerings of French pastries and whatnot).

Anyway, the cake was the fastest we’d ever come to a decision, especially with the wedding. Deciding on the St. Louis Hotel (the only place in the French Quarter will a fully canopied, fountained courtyard) was the second easiest.

I found the cake of my dreams in one of their standard offerings, and chose peach as the rose colors and a light spring sage as the leaf color. Lilies of the valley trimmed the sides of the buttercream iced cake (fondant is beautiful, but for me, taste and enjoyment trumps aesthetic), and gorgeous Grecian style columns formed the supports for all three tiers. The cake itself was rich with the flavor of toasted almonds throughout, but much sweeter than what we’d had at the tasting at Swiss. Not only that, but the layers were thinner than the sample slices we’d devoured, making the buttercream frosting a little more overwhelming than the mild and thin sheet we’d anticipated. I guess such is the price of beauty in a cake, though, eh? The flowers decorating the cake added about a good two inches of icing, so I can’t complain, since I thought it was delicious, even if it did hurt some people’s teeth.

The filling of the cake was a perfect complement to the sweetness of the buttercream and fluffy white almond cake—pineapple. I know! Wholly unexpected, with a tinge of lemon, giving it a tartness that caused the cake to be reminiscent of one of Boy’s favorite treats of all time, rainbow cookies.

The night ended with the little Sucre favors in their distinctive signature pink linen paper purses, with dark chocolate fleurs de lis filled with white chocolate and brown butter ganache, dusted with a gold sheen, and white chocolate wedding cakes filled with creamy toasted almond white chocolate ganache.

Everyone then took to the streets after the final song was played, a luxury that not many weddings can afford since they’re often at catering halls, not in hotels situated a block off the most notoriously raucous street in the country. Bourbon Street was a novelty to our mostly out-of-town guests (only family and like-family were in attendance, due to the economic situation and the necessity to travel for our nuptials—it seemed presumptuous to invite people who wouldn’t be able to make it since our wedding was never about the gifts), Boy and I both being from New York originally, and the party that started with most people’s arrival on Thursday continued on into the wee hours into Monday morning.

A perfect weekend? I’d say so. It may be trite and clichéd, but this truly was the best few days of my entire life … which bodes well, don’t you think?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Gratuitous Sexiness: First Peek @ Real Chinese Food!

Delicious dumplings in the classic bamboo steamers in Shanghai! It took weeks before we were able to get our hands on good Cantonese dim sum, but believe you me, there will be plenty of photos a-comin' with everything else we had :)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Greetings From Hong Kong and Some Not-So-Empty Promises

Well, I've finally found myself in a place where Blogger isn't blocked, but unfortunately, I have no Internets! Nor do I have any intratubes. However, I've finally located super awesome food, and will be posting about my Epicurean Adventures as soon as I can get somewhere that actually allows me to, you know, use my own computer. Currently, I can't post anything myself onto this blog since I can't read the Chinese characters that allow me to sign into the right place, so my hands are tied. In face, right now, I'm typing away on a Dell keyboard with strange symbols all over it (thank God for touch-typing ... nice work, Kiki) on Internet Explorer 5 (a world without tabs! Who knew they still existed?) and Windows Pro. A far cry from my Santa Rosa MacBook, eh?

So, to cut this lamentation short, I bring thee more promises -- I swear I do have stuff written down, including wedding feast details (FEAST!) with photos and awesome shots of food across the water. I also have some non-food posts ready to go so that you may somewhat travel vicariously as well as eat that way, so that's coming soon. I'll be back in the States in just a week (and traveling through space and time, might I add ... the US is about a day behind, so technically, I'm currently writing from the future. Creepy, right?) and will talk your *eyes?* off upon my return.

Until then, y'all.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Epicurean Adventures: Private Events @ Coquette

So, it seems I have a hell of a lot of catching up to do! What with getting married and the subsequent festivities, guests from out of town, and packing our entire lives into storage, I don’t think I’ve had a more thoroughly chaotic week in my whole existence. However, I haven’t had a better weekend in all my years, either, so I’d say the wedding was a smashing success.

I posted the Coquette menu before I got married, and the dinner was nothing short of incredible, from start to finish. The surprise amuse bouche ended up being a stroke of genius and generosity, Chef Mike Stoltzfus providing us with lightly breaded, perfectly fried, plump, sweet oysters on what seemed to be a Creole mustard aioli type sauce. Many of our wedding guests had never had oysters before, and I was extremely surprised to see how many Northeasterners took the plunge and tried the oysters. Boy, Patryk, and I were all hoping people would be too afraid to check these fat mollusks out so that we could hoard and devour them, but the joke was on us. They were a massive hit and people scrambled for the crumbs of the oysters, swiping their warm sourdough bread across the plates to get every last taste of them. In fact, a lot of people that had previously not liked oysters became stolid fans that night. Our guests were apparently informed enough to know that New Orleans oysters are a cut above most of the oysters in the U.S., and figured that if they were going to try it and like it, it’d be at a restaurant hand-selected by a food writer, even if that food writer was just little ol’ me. So as happy as I am that they were impressed, it was bittersweet … I only got two and by trickery.

It was extremely impressive to me that Stoltzfus was able to get his hands on oysters so large, tender, and delicious, especially since the season for them has just ended. When I asked him about his sources, he just smirked and gave me a brazen wink. I didn’t inquire further – the most important thing was that they were there! I hadn’t expected something quite so delectable (and expensive!) as the amuse, and felt honored and humbled by the chef’s kindness.

The Bibb Lettuce Salad was just as good as remembered, buttery, thick-leafed slightly salty Bibb lettuce complemented with a slightly acidic vinaigrette. Warm goat cheese made converts of many and served to prepare our guests for the proscuitto-wrapped hot goat cheese that would accompany the wedding dinner. Sweet and salty spiced pecan bits peppered the top of the lettuce leaves and lent a great crunch to the refreshing salad and the hit of fatty protein was welcome.

The pumpkin capelletti with duck confit was even more perfect than we remembered, for once, memory not doing a dish justice. I mean, when you think about food you loved, it often gets played up in your head, but not this. The light orange pasta was tender yet firm, the filling smooth, the duck smoky and rich, pulled apart and loose, and the sauce – oh, the sauce! Absolutely perfect, with just a hint of orange.

I had, as my entrée, the steak with frites, which was a thin-sliced hunk of steak served at a warm, red medium rare. The outside of the steak was charred but not blackened, allowing the natural flavor of the steak to shine through, and the sauce was a light one of carmelized onions with a tang, rather than the typical sweet sautéed onions. The fries were obviously fresh-made, crisp and delicious, and in generous proportion.

The seared scallops with the pulled pork shoulder was, by all accounts, fabulous, garnished with adorable little acorn squash. The seasoning was well-balanced and the scallops were massive, leaving everyone who ordered this so satisfied that I wasn’t able to have even a bite of one to try. C’est la vie, eh?

I did, however, manage to snag a forkful of the cochon de lait, a fabulously tender, soft pulled pork in an indescribably delicious thin yet flavorful sauce. There was a slight taste of sweet pepper jelly, creating a blend of tastes that was literally just about the best cochon de lait I’d ever had … including the kickass cochon AT Cochon.

For a third course, the choice was ours of fresh local strawberries in an elderberry sabayon, which was like a green-tasting version of crème anglaise. This was a bit hit among those looking for a refreshing finishing dish, but once the healthy people had a bite of bread pudding, it was all over. Caramel covered and topped with vanilla ice cream, these crispy-topped individually baked cakes of soft mixed bread were decadent and irresistible. And what better way to end a night than with gluttony and a little bit of guilt?

Like I said to the chef, I was prepared for our wedding feast to fall far short of this unforgettable dinner. Boy and I look forward to coming back on our one-year anniversary to do it all over again!