Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sea Faring Foodies: Part I, Dinner Delights

And, we’re back! The Fisherman and I took our long awaited vacation, a cruise to the Bahamas! Neither of us went on a cruise before, and neither of us went to the Bahamas before so it was a lot of new stuff for us. One thing we kept hearing from those who cruised before was that the food was amazing.

We found that to be partially true. Breakfast and lunch, at least on this ship, were basically served buffet style. Usually buffet style means lower quality, which comes to be expected. I usually don’t mind the quality of buffets. Maybe I was a bit turned off since I found out the hard way that I get sea sick, but I was really disappointed in the early meals. It actually reminded me of eating at the dining halls in college. But The Fisherman had no complaints, and it seems the other cruisers were quite content. The exception to this was the poolside and beach barbecues. Meat plus fire?? DELICIOUS!! Those weren’t pretty good.  I actually had a burger so delicious and juicy I had to change my shirt.

The dinners I found were beautifully created and tasted lovely, with the exception of one. Not bad odds. Each place had two menus. One side had a variety of choices for the day, and the other were the standard choices. If you didn’t like the daily choices, you had old standbys which you knew were safe bets.

There were two dining choices, a Russian themed placed called Tsar’s Palace, and a more modern one called Azura. Tsar’s was very beautiful and elegant, but we felt more comfortable at Azura. And it was closer to our favorite watering hole, Malting Beer and Whiskey Bar.

Speaking of which, the drinks. For New Yorkers, were definitely affordable. A cocktail was about $5-$6, and a bucket of 6 beers was about $30. Fun was had with those buckets. And, there were beer and whiskey tasting, four tasting for $15 per person. You learn what you might like, you learn about booze, and you get a buzz, what’s not to like?

For stops on our voyage, we also had a port of call in Port Canaveral, Florida, which was fun, but not interesting, culinary speaking. Then we stopped on the ship’s private island where we had fun in the sun and had a beach barbecue, and then finally stopped in Nassau, the Bahamas. We made it a point to avoid all the American chains and go on a quest for conch and johnny cakes. Maybe we were better off at McDonalds.

Then we were originally going to stick to the complimentary dinners, but even the additional charge dinners were quite reasonable for us. We chose an Italian place for $10 per person, and a churrascaria (or Brazilian barbecue) that luckily opened the evening before we disembarked, for $20 a person. In Queens, it’s double that a person. In Manhattan, it’s easily more.

So, I think the best way to handle all this food porn is to break it down into four parts: dinner, then drinks, and beach/Bahamian “local cuisine”and Italian/churrascaria. It’s a lot of food, so I hope you brought your appetite (and possibly antacid. Since I got on land heartburn has landed in my tummy, boo).

Onto the food! I hope you brought doggie bags, you will need them!
First are appetizers: 

Pear, blue cheese and arugula salad. This combo is classic, and it's because it works. The dressing was wonderful, the cheese had just the right bite, and the pears had a nice sweet crunch combo. 

Roasted corn chowder. Pretty good, thought the corn would taste sweeter. 

Smoked Salmon Tartare. My favorite of the bunch. I definitely ordered this twice, it was that good. The toast was almost an afterthought. 

Lime marinated shrimp with fingerling potatoes. I found it boring until I dabbed a bite in the dabs of sauce. That made it. 

Roasted fennel and butternut squash over arugula with an orange vinaigrette. I totally stole their dressing idea when I got home. The squash was lovely and worked nicely with the citrus, as squash does tend to play nicely with citrus. I never had cooked fennel before, I grew up eating it raw so this was interesting. A lovely salad if there ever was one. 

Now the mains...

Pork chop, mashed potatoes, greens. A bit dry, but that's to be expected, especially on a ship. 

Gnocchi with pumpkin sauce and mushrooms. I loved the sauce, but I also LOVE pumpkin, both sweet and savory (I even named my cat Punkin), the gnocchi weren't gummy or doughy, and were actually seared a bit, adding a bit of crunch and flavor. The mushrooms added a nice umami boost, but I found the pieces were a bit too large. Maybe I should have employed my fork...

Sole (I believe, I'm so terrible at remembering cooked fish!), seasoned creole style with jambalaya and andouille . I tried okra for the first time, nice taste, odd texture. I really tried to order more fish dishes and learn more about cooked fish, and I wasn't disappointed, until my stomach started hurting. Better luck next time, I hope. 

The Fisherman's trusty ribeye. I think he ordered this twice or so. This was cooked nicely, but the cut was a bit thin. Luckily if we got hungry later we found something at the buffet. 

Lamb shank with beans. We both really liked this. It looked beautiful and it was delicious as well. Simple, slightly gamey lamb, tender meat, in a tomatoey sauce with creamy and rich beans. I might have to try my hand at this come the cooler months. If only I could gnaw at a bone at my desk. 

Salmon in a cream sauce. My god that sauce was incredible. I think I licked the finish off that plate. It was subtle, but it really wrapped the fish in a creamy, velvety deliciousness. 

I forget what kind of fish this is (see??) I think The Fisherman ordered this one. 

Another favorite of mine, and it made me a bit homesick: coconut shrimp and chicken with curry. 

Finally, the desserts:

First up, apple pie. Very odd apple pie in fact. It tasted more of cinnamon than apple, and the fact that the filling was so perky made me question physics. How can pie make you sad?

Coconut souffle with mango sauce. We never had souffle before, so this was interesting. The texture was very spongy, but the sauce overwhelmed the coconut a bit. The sauce was very sweet and tart. Sometimes, less is better. 

English trifle. I thought I'd go out on a limb and try it. Not all that exciting. It's prettier than it's tastes, a bimbo dessert. 

Tiramisu, which was very nicely created, I must say. An extra bit of booze helps calm the tummy on the not so high seas. Creamy, coffeelicious, reminds me of high school in Lincoln Center, hanging out in Balduccis, you know, like high schoolers do...

Key lime pie. The filling was really nice, I don't know what was up with the syrup, and I didn't care for the meringue. I get offended by key lime pie having meringue, but I'm also a nut job. Meringue on a lemon meringue pie? Yes. Meringue on a key lime pie? Does the name have meringue in it??? sigh

Chocolate raspberry truffle cake. The Fisherman thinks its too rich, but  think he's silly. Not my favorite, but it was very, very good. 

Lemon ginger custard. Now this is my favorite, and I'll explain why: it dazzled and surprised me. I first ordered it because I was intrigued. I thought it tied in nicely with my curry chicken and rice. Then I worried the ginger would overwhelm and burn, and it didn't at all. It worked very, very well and it helped me believe that lemon desserts can impress. Chocolate still rules though :)

Finally, no sugar added carrot cake. It was moist, the cream cheese added a nice tang, the creamy vanilla sauce was nice. Not the best carrot cake I had, definitely mass produced. Not bad, not great. 

Next, to wash down those 21 courses, something to drink! Until then, mangia!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

(M)ost (V)isited (P)lace: Corner 28, Flushing, Part II

As you can see I did a bit of redecorating. I wanted the look of the blog to highlight what I write about. While I LOVED the jelly beans (and I’m a HUGE fan of Jelly Belly jelly beans), but I’m not writing a candy or sweets blog.  Then I thought that since The Fisherman and I take tons of pictures of food, why not incorporate that? I like it, I think it speaks to the adventures we’ve had so far, but is certainly not all of them. Let me know what you think :)

Now, onto the second part of what I’ve tried at Corner 28. First is one of the more commonly known Chinese dishes, banjo duck. (I was corrected by The Fisherman because I thought it was Peking duck, but it seems Peking Duck is used with buns, scallions and hoisin sauce. It's not as intensely flavored as banjo duck. I don't care if it's xylophone duck, it was good.)

I can see why it’s so renowned. Gorgeous lacquered skin, crispy and red-brown (again with me and the crispy poultry skin!). I wish my hair were that color, Burnished Banjo Duck. That would be awesome. 

Now, as it is rumored, yes, duck can be very rich, some might even call it greasy. I found this to be wonderful, rich, not greasy and just right. If it’s too rich for you, have some, enjoy, but just have less of it. At least it’s not dry like chicken or turkey can be!

E-fu, or yi mien noodles, are next. I thought this was lo mein, but it seems yi mien is different in that these are made with carbonated water, which gives the noodles a chewy, spongy texture. These particular noodles are also known as longevity noodles and are served for things like birthdays to ensure you have a long life. 

Not knowing the difference, sadly I did not know to look for that texture. All I know is that it was delicious and it satisfied my craving for noodles. The sauce and preparation were fantastic, nice and savory and a bit softer than lo mein noodles, now that I think about it. The shape is also a bit different from lo mein. Oh well, it’s great to learn something new every day!

Finally, for savory items we had pan fried striped bass (again, I don't know fish all that well, I thought it was tilapia. According to The Fisherman, technically it's a striped bass and white bass hybrid but they market it as striped bass. This isn't the first time I've heard of fish being mislabled intentionally. All the more reason to learn about fish!)

Now here’s an interesting caveat: I really enjoy raw fish like sushi and sashimi, but cooked fish appeals to me less. I grew up in a very fish and seafood free household, so my sea consumption is limited. I am trying more and more seafood and trying to like it more. 

That said, I didn’t love the tilapia. According to The Fisherman and his momma, this was made very well. The plating was great, I thought, and the server removed the bones in a really cool way. I found the flesh to taste muddy, but it’s supposed to taste that way, I’ve been told. And the head usually is pointed towards the most important diner, so it’s pointed towards The Fisherman’s momma. It’s a respect thing. Not my favorite, but oh well, there’s always next time. 

And, my favorite topic: dessert. While Asian cuisine is not known for its desserts and pastries (with the exception of Asian bakeries), their take on all things sweet is definitely worth checking out. 

First is something simple, but I think works beautifully: fresh fruit. In this case, a sliced orange. Now don’t get me wrong, I LOVE a good chocolate cake, a luscious cheesecake, a slice of pie. These are wonderful things, but do we really need cake, cookies and pie all the time?? What happened to the days when these things were made from scratch and were a very occasional treat? What happened to fruit being a delicious way to get your sweet fix? 

Oh yeah, when someone thought it was a good idea to have the convenience of instant-readymade-or-pickup-from-the-supermarket baked goods (not even ones baked there!!), and food should be made from a chemistry set (GMO’s anyone?), or shipped from who knows where (why are there pineapples here NOW??). 

I digress, but the TL; DR version is this: fruit (can be) good for you, and delicious. If you grow it, even better. If you can get it from a farmer’s market, also great. If you can’t, like me, try to enjoy fruit (and vegetables), and if you do it enough, all those other sweets and what not will be too sweet, too salty, too much! Keep in mind, in most traditional Italian households, dessert isn't tiramisu or cookies, what is it? I'll give you three guesses...

Preaching over, I promise. As for the orange, I found it to be a light, sweet, and zippy way to end a meal. Plus I like when the orange is cut up for me, means less juice squirting in my eye. Try a piece of fruit after a meal. If you’re still hungry, THEN you can have that snacky cake :)

Now, the piece de reistance: a sweet dessert soup. I know it sounds different, but trust me on this one, it’s really good. Coconutty, sweet, silky, little golden gems of papaya, tapioca pearls (again, I like this texture, I don’t know why!). Known as Sai mai lo or Sago, it can involve dairy milk or cream, or coconut cream (if you have lactose issues). I actually prefer the coconut, but I also lurv coconut. 

And that’s the epic that is Corner 28. I hope I inspired you to check this place out if you live in NYC, and if you don’t, that’s okay. I’m sure there’s a Corner 28 doppleganger out there and now you have some tips on what to get.

Until then, mangia!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

(M)ost (V)isited (P)lace: Corner 28, Flushing, Part I

I’ll be honest, when I first visited Corner 28, I didn’t have the greatest experience. In short, I had a really bad one. I didn’t know what to expect, was intimidated by the menu, I went with someone and neither of us are Chinese, we didn’t like what we ordered, and the wait staff demanded we tip more than we did. 

Now, unless someone gives me HORRIBLE service, I leave 15-20%. I usually tip more because I have great respect for people in the culinary/hospitality/service industry. I highly recommend you do too, except in this example I was not happy eating here at all. 

Now, there were other factors at play here that I don’t want to get into, but the addition of such an experience left a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth. Also, I don’t understand why, in a country like this, in a place like NYC, why I sometimes feel like my skin color should determine where I can go and what I can eat. 

As far as I’m concerned, the only color anyone should care about is green, as in, I have the money and want to spend it in your establishment. Don’t pander to me because I’m white, don’t mistreat me, don’t dumb down your cuisine, don’t make me wait longer because I’m white and obviously confused as to where I am, and please, ask me first if I want a fork. 

I digress, just a tad, and it’s to give a framework to my first experience going back to Corner 28 with  The Fisherman and his parents, frequent patrons. First, as with any establishment, if you go a lot, they’ll be nicer to you. I get that. And, as much as I’d like to think they don’t care about being Chinese or not, I sometimes wonder why I’m treated much better when I go with The Fisherman and his family. Although last weekend we went and I was given a fork, something I didn’t have for at least a year of going with them. 

Oh well. Bizarre treatment aside, if you are extremely brave, or have someone more experienced (and Chinese/Asian looking), this is a good place to go to. The food is authentic and very good, the atmosphere is very nice, and if you’re adventurous, this is right up your alley. 

So, onto the fun stuff.  When we first sit down, they bring this
to the table. Glorious glorious char siu (roasted pork). Juicy, sweet jewels of porcine delight. Is this for me, or do I have to share?

They also brought tofu skin and mushroomy type things. I really enjoy the tofu skin, again I can't figure out why I like this but not other things. The fungus mushroomy things make me a little uneasy, I'm not brave enough to try them, yet. Sometimes they bring peanuts, but last weekend when we went they only brought the tofu skin. Hmmm. 

Then, they always have this special $1.00 soup. I’ve tried this many, many times, and it’s not for me. I even tried this pig brain soup they have that helps with migraines, according to The Fisherman’s mom, who also gets them. All in all, it’s not something I like, but that’s just me. The broth is very mild (but then I grew up with Lipton), and there are pieces of silky chicken (or some chicken with inky black skin). 

 A close up of my soup. Thar be interestin’ things in that thar bowl…

A picture of the menu, they do have incredible pictures, I will say. Country Style frog. Actually doesn’t look bad. Maybe I’ll request that next time. 


Then some tea. The funny thing is, some places have really nice tea, most don’t. I’m indifferent to the tea here, quite honestly. I’m surprised it’s not better, but maybe it’s just me.  

Now, onto the food. These photos are from two visits we went on, and we order a lot both times :)

Beef chow fun. One of my favorite dishes. It’s strange, because while some textures don’t appeal to me, like chewy and savory, or jelly-like and savory, but I love, LOVE rice noodles. Bouncy rice noodles, a wonderfully savory sauce, and the elusive wok hei. Wok hei is basically this incredible smokiness, but it’s not quite that simplistic. The other tricky thing about acquiring wok hei is the need for really high heat. Unfortunately, the average American stove top doesn’t get that hot, so home wok hei is hard, if not impossible.

Next, speaking of textures I don’t love to death, is boiled chicken with mustard greens. The Fisherman and I have this debate on chicken skin. He loves it soft and gelatinous, where I like it dry and crispy. To each his own, and in this case, more for him. I will say this cooking application does make the white meat incredibly tender, which I really do enjoy. The key is to eat with this incredible ginger scallion sauce. The flavor combination of this seemingly simple sauce is other worldly. I liked Corner 28’s, but I like the sauce The Fisherman’s family makes way more. This recipe from Almost Bourdain is a good starting point, but like anything else, it’s open to adaptation (like I usually see everything chopped ridiculously fine).

Here we have salt and pepper pork. Crunchy, salty, meaty, really, really good. The batter is light and crispy (not health food, but totally worth it once in a while). You taste the salt and pepper and a simple but elegant way, and then you get the yummy pork. Overall pretty tender meat, great combination.

Finally, we’ll wrap things up with sweet and sour pork (a relative to the salt and pepper pork). The texture is the same light and crispy coating, but this comes with a sweet and sticky glaze. It works nicely together, but I kind of prefer the drier salt and pepper myself. Maybe after a hard day at the office I'd take comfort in sweet and sour pork. It's a bit heavy for me, but not a bad choice.

Next post we’ll go over MORE from Corner 28, Peking Duck (yes it is as delicious as you've heard!), lo mein, pan fried tilapia, and an interesting spin on dessert. Until then, mangia!