Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Beats of Red Salsa - Tamales de Rajas

February 25, 2012
Don Memo Mexican Restaurant, Philadelphia PA
Tamales de Rajas

A night out with the beats and editors of the DP. The food was great, especially the warm, freshly fried tortilla chips with the red and green salsas (and they were free!). The red salsa was hot and spicy, my favourite EVER! The green salsa with tomatillos was very light and refreshing. The freshly made guacamole were also great with lots of cilantro. I had so much chips (they were just OH SO GOOD!!!) that I did not order the planned chicken enchiladas with mole sauce. Ah well, saves me a reason to go back.

The Tamales de Rajas - I picked red salsa because I loved the spiciness of the flavour - was good. The masa was nice and had a nice, mellow texture. I'm not a fan of the potatoes inside but the vegetables were good and had flavour, although the rest of the dish (the masa, pork, and potatoes) lacked flavour as there was just not enough sauce in it. The pork was also too dry for my liking. It was not as outstanding as the chips, salsa, and guacamole that's for sure.

A Blissful New Year - Cranberry Bliss Bar

January 1, 2012
Starbucks, Richmond BC
Cranberry Bliss Bar

I have to say, this holiday season, I have not been to Starbucks much. This is in part due to too many calories on many of its products. Once I returned home, however, I could split a delicious snack or coffee with Mom. I could not wait to get my hands on their Cranberry Bliss Bar - my favourite since last year. I still remember working at Starbucks last Christmas and drinking too many Caramel Brulee Lattes and devouring Cranberry Bliss Bars, Lemon Poppyseed Loafs, and Nanaimo Bars. Ahhh, those were good times!

This year, they certainly improved on their holiday campaign. The characters are cute, are they not? And the cranberry and yogurt? Well, they were just as delicious and chewy! Oh, and let's not forget those white chocolate chunks!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

On the Road and in the Air - Rocky Road Cake Pop

December 18, 2011
Starbucks, Chicago IL
Rocky Road Cake Pop

While waiting for my connection at O'Hare International, I was not interested in the food court at Concourse C. Starbucks though? That I was definitely up for. A hot Skinny Peppermint Mocha and Rocky Road Cake Pop was just about perfect. I love their holiday specials. I also have a soft spot for cake pops and I've tried their Tiramisu, Birthday, and Peppermint Brownie but have never tasted the Rocky Road one. Turns out it was just as delicious, even though I'm not a huge fan of nuts with chocolate. It was still delicious! A nice little snack. Now onto their Raspberry Truffle. And good thing I tried the Rocky Road before they stopped making them!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Spiced Up Birthday - Pumpkin Cheesecake

October 13, 2011
Artisserie Chocolate Cafe, Philadelphia PA
Pumpkin Cheesecake

On my first birthday away from home, I had dinner with Dana at SangKee where I ate ZhaJiang Noodles. That was delicious, but unfortunately I didn't get a picture. I did make sure I got a pic of my cake though - a very delicious pumpkin cheesecake. Perfectly spiced, sweetened, and cute! I treated Dana to a cheesecake too, as I was in a celebratory mood. Also a bit bitter, without my parents. But nonetheless, the spice worked. A little bittersweet, a moment to savour.

Red & Black in Vegas - Chocolate Raspberry Cake Pop

June 21, 2011
Starbucks, Las Vegas NV
Chocolate Raspberry Cake Pop
This was at the Starbucks in Luxor, by the 4A/B elevators near the front desk and lobby. We passed this one while walking from Mandalay Bay to Excalibur and I saw this delicious looking cake pop except it wasn't the regular kind. I can't remember the official name, but I've never seen it elsewhere, so it was a special treat for at least Vegas. It was delicious, needless to say. The cream inside and the chocolate was they best part. Mom enjoyed the raspberry though!

Best Ramen Ever - Spicy Beef Ramen

January 5, 2011
Naniwa-Ya Ramen, Waikiki HI
Spicy Beef Ramen

This was at the Makai Market Food Court in Waikiki's Ala Moana Center. Okay, so maybe it's not the best ramen ever. The noodles were still tender. I think this was the spicy beef one. Anything with spicy soup is always good. I guess it was just because while away from home, Mom and I always crave that Asian taste. To not have to eat Subway or pizza was great. It definitely satisfied that little Asian cuisine bug permanently lodged in our stomachs. Even mediocre noodles (as long as it's chewy and al dente Asian-style) will do the trick!

Asian Fast Food in Hawai'i - Local Deluxe Breakfast Platter

January 5, 2011
McDonald's, Hilo HI
Local Deluxe Breakfast Platter

Surprisingly, Hawai'i's McDonald's offers Asian breakfast platters with SPAM (this trip was my first time trying it), sausage, scrambled eggs, and rice. Soy sauce is also available. Like WOW. We had so many of these during our vacation. The rice was actual, legit rice. Very nicely cooked. I love scrambled eggs and the meat was tender and chewy too. So glad they had this in Hawai'i but we all really wished it was available elsewhere in North America too! I guess there are just not enough Japanese tourists on the mainland.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Squadra di Equestre - La Viola Ovest

February 3, 2012
La Viola Ovest, Philadelphia PA
Linguini Al Marinaio

My first ever BYO. It was with the Penn Equestrian Team, or rather Squadra di Equestre in Italian. A wonderful evening spent with the girls, I must say! Although a bit pricy, I was definitely pleased with this restaurant. I felt like seafood, so this was the perfect dish. I substituted the linguini with whole wheat pasta. They made it a bit undercooked, as some noodles were al dente and some a bit harder. But, it is to my taste. I've always preferred my pastas as chewy as possible without being raw. I also like it when they clump a bit. I don't exactly love food that are too easy to eat. The sauce was quite tasty, the seafood done very well. A few more shrimp and a few more pieces of salmon would have been nice, but the dish was very tasty. I also feel that for the price, compared to some of the other pastas they offered, this one was definitely worth it, as there was more pasta and a lot of seafood, for only a few extra dollars. I would definitely go back and try their tagliatelle. It was so thick it looked delicious with the salmon and blush sauce!

From the DP Dinner Plate - The Inn at Penn

January 21, 2012
The Inn at Penn, Philadelphia PA
Classic Caesar Salad
Parmesan and Herb Crusted Boneless Chicken
Chocolate Dome

First time attending the DP Banquet, I was totally underdressed so I had to rush back and change. At least I had a thick enough dress, and paired with leggings and boots, I was not cold and shivery on that snowy evening.

The catered meal was average. The Classic Caesar Salad was less than ideal. I did not even get any croutons on my plate. It was just a couple of tossed leaves staring up at me. No cheese, no nothing. After the somewhat bland rolls, it was not surprising.

The entree was Parmesan and Herb Crusted Boneless Chicken. I was still in my 'plain chicken breast for protein' phase so I was glad it was a large lean chicken breast. The crust was almost tasteless, the herb and cheese extremely bland. So, I got rid of that, only eating the chicken breast and sauteed spinach. The potatoes were bland too so I didn't really touch it.
The dessert was definitely the best part of the meal, though far from ideal. The chocolate cane on top was good, the white and milk chocolate mix. The chocolate mousse was alright and the raspberry truffle centre was quite good. The biscuit on the bottom though was again a bit bland. At least this was visually appealing.

Overall though, I guess catered meals just don't compare with single entrees at restaurants. But to get a free ticket to the event, and finally learn what the DP is all about, it was a good evening.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

1st Ever Restaurant Week (in Israel!) - Zahav

January 29, 2012
Zahav, Philadelphia PA
Hummus Tehina & Laffa
Grilled Duck Hearts
Lamb Tongue
Hazelnut-Date Rugelach
My first ever Restaurant Week in Philly! I missed the opportunity in September and will never do so again! Our house sponsored this event so we only had to pay $10 for the $20 lunch and Zahav was absolutely amazing. I have never had Israeli food, nor have I tried good hummus and tehina.

The appetizers were delicious. The laffa with its seasoning was so warm and soft and chewy... the kind of baking I approve of! The hummus was delicious with the olive oil and chili seasoning. The various salatim had distinct tastes. My favourites were the beets and carrots.

I decided to go all the way so I ordered the Grilled Duck Hearts as my second course. Where else are you going to ever eat duck hearts? I'm fine with any part of an animal that I will usually eat. The hearts were quite hard to chew but definitely tender enough.

I like having to work at my food as long as it is still tender and moist. The onion puree that came with it along with the turnip salatim were also perfect complements.

My third course was also wild and crazy - Lamb Tongue. It was perfectly grilled, tender, and the texture was lovely. It was like a very chewy sausage but with a touch of lamb flavour. Very delicious. At least it did not look like a tongue even if it did come in long strips. The apricot marmalade in the dish was also a nice balance.

Finally, I decided to go the traditional route with the Hazelnut-Date Rugelach. I'm not a fan of phyllo pastry so I did not pick the baklava. But I do not regret it. The rugelach was warm and soft, and the
hazelnut-date filling was sweet but not overly sweet. So warm, such a good aroma coming off of it. The Turkish coffee ice cream that it came with was also delicious, as it had a very nice texture to it. Not the usual creamy, smooth texture, but more of a rough, grounded coffee. It was not sweet, more coffee-flavoured than sweet. A great ending to such a wonderful meal!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Last Night in Vegas - The Cheesecake Factory

December 30, 2011
The Cheesecake Factory, Las Vegas NV
Luau Salad
Garlic Noodles with Shrimp
Skinnylicious Fresh Vegetable Salad
Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Cheesecake

Last night in Vegas, every restaurant was preparing for New Year's Eve dinner the next day. Apparently, people were not eating out since they knew the next day's dinner would be formal and huge. Thus, the line for The Cheesecake Factory was only 10 min. We debated all day long where to eat dinner, but the ratings for Rainforest Cafe were not good, and Wolfgang Puck was too pricey for similar dishes. So Cheesecake Factory again it was. And this time was even better.

Not to mention the whole wheat bread we specifically asked for - no sourdough needed! - Mom's Luau Salad was amazing. I urged her to try it since it had mango salsa and crisp wonton wrappers. None of us knew how delicious those two wrappers are! Crispy, huge, sweet and sour, on beds of lettuce, mango, carrots, and what have you. Besides the probably high-calorie dressing, I swear this is the best salad ever. Very refreshing but not too light that you don't feel full after. Very tasty. Very good. We all loved it!

I got my Fresh Vegetable Salad again. The same thing, very refreshing.

Dad decided on Garlic Noodles with Shrimp. This dish was actually quite disappointing. Dad wanted spaghetti, so we went with this. I knew from dining hall experience though that garlic noodles are not very flavourful. And I was right. It was very light. Mom ended up giving Dad some salad dressing since she had too much flavour on hers. There were only four shrimp, which is also very disappointing - it costs extra and they only give you four medium-sized ones. The asparagus, mushrooms, and peas were also not plentiful, unlike the usual Cheesecake Factory servings.

For dessert - have to have dessert! - we decided on Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Cheesecake. We wanted something with layers of cheesecake and cake. It was this or Pineapple Upside-Down Cheesecake. I wanted pineapple but Mom and Dad both wanted chocolate so chocolate it was. Very delicious though. Dark chocolate makes it not too sweet, and the raspberry is always nice. The ganache on top is also dark chocolate so not sweet. It is quite hard - I assume that's how it should be? - but it was good. So was the fudge/cake parts. Loved it. Overall, a very good final dinner in Vegas. We will surely be going back the next time we are in Vegas!

P. F. ZHANG's - P. F. Chang's

December 29, 2011
P. F. Chang's, Las Vegas NV
Double Pan-Fried Noodles
Kung Pao Chicken
Stir-Fried Eggplant

This is Mommy's restaurant. The last name matches. Then we realize the initials is Mommy and Daddy combined. Huh. Nice job. Dad first suggested going here for Chinese food made by non-Chinese. Surprisingly, it is quite decent. Not authentic, but delicious all the same.

The Double Pan-Fried Noodles - it took Mommy and I quite a while before we figured out it was the equivalent of 两面黄 - were a bit on the salty side. We asked for veggies and shrimp and they only charged us for one of them... unless we got less than usual. But the menu had said specifically that two ingredients would cost more. That was nice. The shrimp were tender and really good. The crispy parts of the noodles were also good. Just a little salty.

The Kung Pao Chicken was not exactly superb, just mediocre. It was more like fried chicken cubes rather than stir-fried mini cubes. The sauce was a bit on the sweet side, not spicy enough. The peanuts were good though.

The Stir-Fried Eggplant was my favourite dish, not just because I love eggplant. The garlic sauce was nice and sweet, and the eggplant was fried slightly so the dish was generally pretty good. As long as the sauce is good, and that there is enough sauce on the plate, the dish will be good.

Overall, very decent Chinese food for Vegas. This was the one near the strip, not the one in Planet Hollywood. We decided it would be more quiet and a more relaxing atmosphere, more spaced out. Finally acceptable Chinese food by non-Chinese chefs!

Cheesyliciousness - The Cheesecake Factory

December 28, 2011
The Cheesecake Factory, Las Vegas NV
Herb Crusted Filet of Salmon
Skinnylicious Fresh Vegetable Salad
Spicy Chicken Chipotle Pasta
Low Carb Cheesecake with Strawberries

Our second time at this particular Cheesecake Factory and again, we were not disappointed. We went a bit early, for Vegas anyways. Thus, t
here was only a 30 minute wait. Mom and I passed some time at Express. I found a shirt I liked only to find that it was $19.99 instead of $9.99. Going back to the restaurant empty handed, we were led upstairs. The setting was much more quiet and with the straw lawn chairs, the setting was more casual. It was nice all the same.

Mom saw the picture for the Herb Crusted Fillet of Salmon on the menu and it looked delicious. Only, she was surprised to see only one piece of fish - the photo she saw was for catering. Regardless, the food was still good. A few more pieces of asparagus would have been better, and the salmon was decent. The mashed potatoes were good, but there was too much we just couldn't finish it.

I decided to go with a refreshing Skinnylicious Fresh Vegetable Salad. Apples, beets, asparagus, green beans, and edamame never fails to please me. Dressing on th
e side was also a good idea. The pomegranate vinaigrette did not taste like pomegranate, just sour. There was plenty of lettuce though so refreshing it certainly was.

Dad, not feeling up to a lot of meat, decided to go with the Spicy Chicken Chipotle Pasta, which was actually delicious. The sweet and spicy chipotle sauce was grea
t! The pasta was not overcooked, and the tortilla strips added a nice texture to the dish. The only downside was that there was not much veggies in the plate. The pasta was great though.

Finally, you can't go to The Cheesecake Factory without eating cheesecake. I wanted to try the original - after all, it's traditional and therefore must be good! Their low carb option was even better. Mom did not enjoy it as much since it was too creamy and rich, just a big slice of
cheesecake, but the strawberries were nice. Although, I was disappointed that they were not glazed like the ones on the non-low carb slices. The few pieces in the glass bowl just did not do it for me. It was not the best cheesecake ever, so I guess traditional is not always good.

To everyone's delight, though, their whole wheat bread is always delicious. Slightly sweetened somehow, very rich, whole wheat flavors... we took some to go for breakfast the next day. Mom and I have a soft spot for it, that's for sure! Overall though, the price is decent, much more worth it than many other casual dining restaurants.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Satisfy Those Cravings - Hard Rock Cafe

December 27, 2011
Hard Rock Cafe, Las Vegas NV
Hard Rock Nachos
Cobb Salad
Hickory-Smoked Bar-B-Que Duo Combo

After seeing Hard Rock first in Los Angeles, then in Orlando, Philadelphia, and Vegas, we just had to give it a try. The music is not particularly what any of us listens to but regardless, the atmosphere is quite unique - a twist on the traditional restaurant setting, that's for sure!
Mom was craving nachos for two days. So, to satisfy her taste buds, she ordered the nachos - I loved the cheese and jalapenos! So spicy, so nice. I prefer lots of cheese but Mom and Dad seemed to prefer the crispy, un-cheesed chips. The cheese made it soggy after a while but I liked it that way. Salsa was good but I was never a big fan of sour cream.

I had the Cobb Salad and boy it was huge! Just a regular salad, nothing too fancy. It was not bad but there was nothing remarkable.

Dad's hickory-smoked bbq duo of ribs and chicken was, on the other hand, great. I loved the bbq sauce. It was amazing. The ranchero beans that came with it was heavenly for me. I haven't had traditional beans like that for so long! They remind me of our early immigration days, back in my first elementary, and then the canned beans I used to get from Superstore. The ribs were so tender and perfectly done.

I don't think we'll go back to Hard Rock, just because their menu does not offer a lot of variety. Cheesecake Factory is definitely better in their selections. Not a bad dinner, though.

Merry Christmas - Hugo's Cellar

December 25, 2011
Hugo's Cellar, Las Vegas NV
New York Strip Char-Broiled Steak
Salmon Sauce Nantua

After landing in Vegas, renting a car, checking in, and driving to downtown Las Vegas, thanks to Yelp, we decided to give Hugo's Cellar a try in the Four Seasons Hotel. It was Christmas so I did not want some casual diner, like the one beside Hugo's which had open seating. $8 mediocre chicken was just not my kind of Christmas.

We discover though that the menu came in set dinners so considering there was no way I can eat a whole meal myself, we decided with two entrees. The perfect amount actually. Yeah, it was a little awkward but again, it's not our problem the restaurant did not allow for individual dishes.

Dad had a New York Strip Steak and Mom and I ha
d the Salmon Sauce Nantua (crab sauce with shrimp). I personally prefer medium rare steak, not medium well. The salmon was nicely done, though. The sauce was flavoured very well and grilled salmon is always nice as long as the seasoning and flavouring is done right.

I was kind of disappointed that the sides were all very similar. I do not usually eat mashed or baked potatoes, but I did have the stuffed tomato. The white asparagus was also a new veggie for me but I like it a lot. It had more of a entree side feel than the green asparagus, maybe because it was just thicker.

They also had crisps in the bread basket. Those were good. The butter was in a rose shape. Very pretty. The dessert was dark chocolate dipped strawberries, milk chocolate dipped dried apricots, and white chocolate dipped figs. Needless to say, being a fan of white chocolate and figs, that was my favourite. The strawberries were huge and sweet too. Mom and I also got a red rose each. A very merry Christmas in Vegas!