Archive for the 'Asian Fusion' Category

Meric

February 9, 2008
Cuisine: Cambodian, Asian Fusion

Sivutha Boulevard
Siem Reap, Cambodia

Phone: 855 63 966 000
Website: www.hoteldelapaixangkor.com/meric.php

Course I: Pomelo and grilled pork salad

Course II: Grilled chicken and yam bean salad

Course III: Grilled beef skewer with green papaya salad

Khmer organic white rice

Course IV: Bar fish and eggplant with coconut milk soup

Course V: Stir-fried calamari with Khmer curry and peanut

Course VI: Braised beef shank with palm sugar and star anise

Course VII: Assorted Khmer sweets

Birthday “cake”

I celebrated the big 2-6 climbing on ancient temples around Angkor Wat and enjoying a luxe dinner afterwards at Meric. I would normally skip swanky joints for homelier ones, but since it was my birthday, I had to live it up. Plus, Conde Nast Traveler named Meric one of their Hot Tables in 2006:

Named after a type of pepper grown in the Kampot region of Cambodia, this slick dining room at the trendiest new property in Siem Reap, the Hôtel de la Paix, has immediately become the boom town’s best table. New Zealand native Paul Hutt, one of the most inventive chefs in Southeast Asia, moved here from the Shinta Mani Hotel, and if his menu there was brilliant, here he’s really hit his stride. Think Khmer cooking for the twenty-first century, which is to say regional dishes made with local produce and given a high-shine Pacific Rim gloss. “What I love about Cambodia is the incredible freshness of the ingredients and the subtlety of Khmer cooking, a very misunderstood Asian cuisine,” says Hutt. His menu evolves constantly; among the latest dishes were steamed maan (fermented fish) with Khmer crudités, lake krill from nearby Tonle Sap, a salad of ambarella (between a quince and a crab apple), and stir-fried frog with basil (entrées, $18–$22).

Our entire party of six ordered the Khmer tasting menu—a seven course Cambodian feast priced at $28. The presentation at Meric is really something special, every course was served on slabs of stone and garnished with banana leaves.

The first course was a large spoonful of pomelo and grilled pork salad. We weren’t sure whether to eat it in one bite or to make it last by using additional silverware. The salad was very similar to the pomelo salad I had in Da Nang at Buddha Bay, minus the squid. From the fried shallots to the pork slivers to the fish sauce-based dressing, the salad was more or less a Vietnamese goi.

The grilled chicken and yam bean salad came next. The yam beans, also known as jicama, created a crunchy and refreshing base. The chicken was shredded and simple, while the herbs shined through.

The grilled beef skewer with green papaya salad served with Khmer organic white rice was a crowd pleaser. The beef was marinated in lemongrass and tasted smoky from the grill. The pickled green papaya salad contrasted well with the fatty beef. The white rice was the finest jasmine I’ve eaten in all of South East Asia.

The bar fish and eggplant with coconut milk soup was lovely as well. The fish’s texture was sturdy like chicken, while the eggplants were nice and tender. The coconut milk brought about a milder and creamier curry soup.

The stir-fried calamari with Khmer curry and peanuts was probably the least memorable of the dishes due to its lack of oomph. Diced green peppers and peanuts can only take a dish so far. According to the chef, this dish isn’t purely Cambodian. While the Khmer do eat squid, it’s usually grilled and not stir-fried.

My favorite course of the evening was the braised beef shank with palm sugar and star anise. Reminiscent of Vietnamese bo kho, this rich and savory stew was brimming with moist pieces of beef and richly flavored with star anise. The yolk from the hard-boiled egg soaked up the salty broth, creating an orb of deliciousness.

For our final course, we were presented with an assortment of Khmer sweets including a banana cake, a sticky rice cake topped with custard, and a shot glass filled with sticky rice with black eyed peas and coconut milk. The cakes were served with a caramel-y palm sugar sauce that seduced me completely. My favorite combo was the banana cake dipped in the palm sugar sauce—caramel and bananas go hand in hand.

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Buddakan

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June 26, 2007
Cuisine: Asian, Eclectic & International, Pan-Asian & Pacific Rim

325 Chestnut St, Philadelphia 19106
Btwn S 3rd St & S 4th St

Phone: 215-574-9440
Website: http://www.buddakan.com/

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Appetizer: Crispy Calamari Salad ($9)

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Entree I: Grilled Teriyaki Salmon – served with stir fried long beans, cream cheese and arugula sushi rolls ($25)  

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Entree II: Asian Barbeque Pork – grilled tenderloin with Chinese broccoli and giant panko crusted onion rings ($26)

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Dessert I: “Dip Sum” Doughnuts – five spice sugar doughnuts, blackberry jam, chocolate sauce, gingered cream cheese ($9)

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Dessert II: Banana Tower – rum glazed bananas, caramel cream in a cookie tower ($9)  

Philly diners either love or hate Steven Starr, but there’s no denying that he is an influential player in the city’s food scene. I have always been an enthusiast of Starr’s restaurants and believe that his venues add value and variety to the dining landscape.

I once read that Starr built his empire around booze and babes, but for a gal who hardly ever drinks and is happily smooching one Astronomer, I enjoy his joints for a simpler reason—Starr and his minions crank out some really good eats. Striped Bass, Alma de Cuba, and Morimoto are all stellar, but Buddakan remains my favorite through and through.

For my last supper in the City of Brotherly love, The Astronomer and I headed to Old City to pay the obnoxious, glowing Buddha one last visit. For a Tuesday evening, the restaurant was packed and loud. In fact, the main dining room was so noisy that we requested a different table from our original seating. We were ultimately placed upstairs in a table next to the one we sat at on New Year’s Eve (!), which made conversation easier on the pipes.

Buddakan’s entrees and desserts have always been right on point, but their appetizers tend to leave me dissatisfied. We asked our waiter for a recommendation and he suggested we try the Crispy Calamari Salad. A small order of the salad was humongous and composed of five different types of greens including Napa cabbage, bok choy, and watercress. The salad was topped with a sweet miso dressing that complemented the greens and calamari wonderfully. The salad was cool, refreshing, and a great start to our dinner.

For our entrees, The Astronomer and I ordered our two favorite dishes, the Grilled Teriyaki Salmon and Asian Barbecue Pork. I requested the salmon be prepared rare and it came out just as I asked, which kept the meat tender yet flakey. The cream cheese and arugula sushi rolls were amazing (as always) and were my favorite part of the dish. Although the combination of ingredients inside the sushi may sound a bit strange, trust me when I say that the flavors really meld nicely together.

The pork dish was also delectable, especially the gigantic panko crusted onion rings. The pork tenderloin was thinly sliced, served in a hoisin based sauce, and arranged beautifully on the platter. The meat was moist and paired well with the sautéed Chinese broccoli. The Astronomer loves eating his greens when they’re covered in a delicious glaze.

For dessert we each ordered our own delight because The Astronomer dislikes bananas and I had to have a Banana Tower. I enjoyed a Banana Tower once prior with my brother but haven’t ordered it for a long while due to The Astronomer’s aversion. While I would normally insist on splitting dessert, since it was our final dinner in the city, splurging on two was totally acceptable.

The Tower combines two of my favorite ingredients—bananas and caramel—in a thick and buttery cookie. I enjoyed demolishing the cookie Tower and coupling it with the caramel pudding and ripe bananas. It’s amazingly easy to finish a dessert solo when it’s this divine.

The Astronomer enjoyed his donuts thoroughly and had a look of utter bliss on his face as he ate them. The donuts appeared to be a lot bigger than the ones served in the past, but The Astronomer managed to finish them with ease. The blackberry and ginger cream cheese were his favorite accompaniments.

Our dinner at Buddakan was unbelievably marvelous and provided the perfect ending to our Philadelphia adventure. Peace, Philly.

Susanna Foo Chinese Cuisine

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June 20, 2007
Cuisine: Chinese, Pan-Asian & Pacific Rim

1512 Walnut St, Philadelphia 19102
Btwn S Sydenham St & S 15th St

Phone: 215-545-2666
Website: www.susannafoo.com

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Mongolian Lamb Pillows – Stuffed with Tarragon, Cumin & Leeks, Chinese Eggplant with Ancho Chili Sauce ($8)

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Kung Pao Tofu with Scallions, Jalapeño Peppers & Red Onion ($8) 

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Tea-Smoked Peking Duck Breast – Fuji Apple Chutney, Braised Fingerling Potatoes, and Sautéed Chinese Vegetables ($29)

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Classic Mu-shu Pork with Pressed Bean Curd, Brandy Hoisin Sauce, Steamed Pancakes, and Scallions ($18)

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Chocolate Dipped Fortune Cookies (complimentary)

The Astronomer loves Chinese food with all of his heart. He would eat Sesame Chicken and dumplings everyday given the chance. Sometimes I wonder if he would be better off dating a Chinese girl with a wok. Or better yet, a Chinese girl whose parents owned a restaurant. Now, that would be a heavenly match…

The Astronomer requested we celebrate his 23rd birthday at Susanna Foo because word on the street is that she serves up some mean Cantonese and Shanghai cooking. I was a bit hesitant about The Astronomer’s choice because I have two general rules about dining at ethnic restaurants: Firstly, the price range should be inexpensive to moderate because great ethnic eats can always be found on the cheap. Secondly, the majority of the restaurant’s patrons should be of the ethnic identity of the cuisine because it is a sure sign the food is authentic and not watered down for the masses. Needless to say, Susanna Foo is pricey and serves a non-Chinese clientele. While I would have personally passed on dining there, it was The Astronomer’s birthday, so I put aside my preferences for the evening.

We arrived on time for a 7 o’clock reservation and were seated right away at a table large enough for four. The noise level inside the elegantly decorated restaurant was unexpectedly robust, mostly due to happy hour revelers at the bar. I dined at Susanna Foo seven years ago with my mother and brother and sat in the upstairs dining room, which was much quieter. However, on this evening the space appeared to be closed. The crowd in the main dining room seemed to consist mainly of business people and a few couples.

The Astronomer began his birthday feast with an order of Mongolian Lamb Pillows stuffed with tarragon, cumin and leeks and served with Chinese eggplant in an Ancho chili sauce. The pillows were tender, but lacked the strong lamb flavor we were hoping for. The pillows tasted like good-quality meat in wonton wrappers and not the least bit Mongolian (whatever that means). The eggplant was slightly undercooked, but still appealing. The Ancho chili sauce was sadly tame. I’d take five dumplings for a dollar from Dumpling House any day over these.

For my appetizer, I ordered the Kung Pao Tofu, which was listed on the “sides” section of the menu. For a side dish, the tofu’s portion was huge and came with two servings of white rice. I was really impressed by this dish. The Kung Pao sauce was perfectly spicy and not too peanut-y, the tofu was lightly browned and firm, and the variety of vegetables were impressive. Although we probably shouldn’t have eaten the entire plate, it was so good we couldn’t help ourselves.   

For The Astronomer’s main course, he had the Tea-Smoked Peking Duck Breast served with Fuji apple chutney, braised fingerling potatoes, and sautéed Chinese vegetables. The Astronomer thought that the duck breast was well-seasoned and flavorful, but not as succulent and juicy as he wished. The sides were decent, but definitely nothing spectacular. The apple chutney was not very chutney-like and resembled more of a thick and colorless puree. The Astronomer detested the Chinese vegetables underneath the duck due to its bitterness, but liked the fresh apple slaw atop the duck.

For my entrée, I ordered the Classic Mu-shu Pork served with a Brandy Hoisin sauce and steamed pancakes. Mu-shu pork is one of my all-time favorite Chinese treats for its unique flavor combinations and fun assembly process. Susanna’s high-end interpretation of Mu-shu was fantastic. The meat mixture was an interesting blend of pork, bean curd, mushrooms, red peppers, and scallions. The Brandy’s essence came through nicely in the hoisin sauce. The pancakes were abnormally thick, resembled miniature tortillas, and held the contents well. All three components gelled together perfectly for a delectable wrap. As per usual with Mu-shu, there were too few pancakes for the heaping portion of pork. Susanna’s Mu-shu was better than average, but for $18, it really ought to be.

We concluded our celebration with some chocolate dipped fortune cookies.

I really enjoyed all of the dishes I sampled this evening, but at the end of the meal, I still believe that my personal policies regarding dining at ethnic restaurants hold true.

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Twenty Manning

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May 13, 2007
Cuisine: Asian Fusion

256 S 20th St, Philadelphia 19103
At Rittenhouse Square

Phone: 215-731-0900
Website: http://www.twentymanning.com/

Bread with Wasabi Cream Cheese (complimentary)

Pomatini – Ketel One Vodka, Pomegranate Juice, White Grape Juice, Sugared Rim, Frozen Grape (left) and Pinot Grigio (right)

Appetizer I: Ginger Soy Tofu Summer Roll – Rice Noodles, Lettuce, Tofu, Pickled Ginger, Seaweed Salad, Wasabi, Fresh Mint, Soy Dipping Sauce ($7)

Appetizer II: Organic Field Green Salad – Parmesan Cheese, Shaved Apple, Tomato Concasse, Sesame Olive Oil Emulsion ($7)

Entree I: Coconut Green Curry Stir Fry – Silken Tofu, Baby Bok Choy, Snow Peas, Chinese Guy Lan, Grape Tomatoes, Baby Carrots, Japanese Eggplants, Steamed Rice ($15)

Entree II: Grilled Free-Range Bison Burger – Melted pepper jack cheese, marinated grilled vegetables, fries ($15)

Entree III: Peking Duck Pappardelle – Shredded roasted Peking duck, mini bok choy, Portobello mushrooms, star anise broth ($17)

Entree IV: Crispy Wonton Soup – Homemade shrimp wontons, chicken consommé, carrots, snow peas, scallions ($7)

Entree V: Seared Big Eye Tuna – Red Bliss Potato And Haricot Verts “Nicoise Salad”, Citrus Horseradish Sauce ($21)

 

Entree VI: Grilled Free Range Chicken – Roasted Red Bliss Potatoes, Stir Fried Mixed Vegetables, Whole Grain Mustard Honey Sauce ($17)

Our initial plan for celebrating Melina’s 22nd birthday was to gorge on Rouge burgers alfresco (the birthday girl has a penchant for fine burgers). When the wait at Rouge turned out to be 1.5 hours because of their no reservation policy and our large group, we headed over to Brasserie Perrier hoping for similar bistro fare. We nabbed a sweet sidewalk table and settled in nicely until we learned that Brasserie Perrier wasn’t offering their lounge menu due to graduation weekend. Down, but not out, we headed over to 20th Street—home to Tinto, Snackbar, Audrey Claire, and Twenty Manning. We eventually settled on Twenty Manning because the Bison Burger sounded delectable to the birthday girl.

We were seated outside and spread out nicely among three tables. Melina and Tara started off the evening with some adult beverages. Tara’s pomegranate martini was not overly sweet and contained a good amount of alcohol. Melina’s Pinot Grigio was excellent as well.

Both the Astronomer and Melina ordered appetizers, while the rest of us nibbled on bread with wasabi cream cheese. The Astronomer’s summer rolls were inedible; definitely the worst food I’ve eaten in years. The copious amount of wasabi painfully seared our taste buds and made my eyes water profusely. We should have sent them back immediately, but after everyone took a bite to make sure the rolls truly were horrendous, there was hardly any left. Steer clear of the summer rolls! Melina reported that her salad was decent. The bread was good as well, but too tough and hollow for my liking. The mildly spicy cream cheese was a welcomed contrast after the brutal summer roll.

For my main course, I ordered the Crispy Wonton Soup from the appetizer section of the menu. The wonton’s bland filling (half a shrimp), lukewarm and tasteless broth, and raw vegetables left me thoroughly disappointed. Chef Kiong Banh should learn how to make a traditional wonton soup before attempting any sort of “fusion” rendition. Perhaps he should intern at Ting Wong’s in Chinatown.

The Astronomer and Melina both ordered the bison burger. Melina said that the meat was very flavorful, but the burger overall wasn’t spectacular. The Astronomer echoed Melina’s sentiments completely. Mickey enjoyed his Coconut Green Curry Stir Fry very much, but the portions were more suitable for a model during Fashion Week than a spry boy. Ross felt similarly about his Seared Big Eye Tuna; the quality was good, but the portion size was obnoxious (see: 3/4 potato). Tara and Molly were the only diners pleased with their selections. Tara’s pappardelle, which I ordered during my last jaunt to Twenty Manning, was delicious to begin with, but monotonous toward the end due to the noodle’s gluey texture. Molly really loved her chicken and commented that the marination was fantastic. I tried some of Molly’s bok choy and Japanese eggplant and was impressed by the unique flavors infused within the vegetables.

In conclusion, an inequality: P.F. Chang’s > Twenty Manning. Ouch!

Twenty Manning

February 24, 2007
Cuisine: Asian Fusion

256 S 20th St, Philadelphia 19103
At Rittenhouse Square

Phone: 215-731-0900
Website: http://www.twentymanning.com/

Appetizer: Escargot Fondue – Crimini mushrooms, shallots, roasted garlic, red wine reduction, toasted baguette ($11)

Entree I: Grilled Free-Range Chicken – Haricots verts, sweet pineapple forbidden black rice, whole grain honey mustard glaze ($17)

Entree II: Peking Duck Pappardelle – Shredded roasted Peking duck, mini bok choy, Portobello mushrooms, star anise broth ($17)

Dessert: Strawberry Shortcake – Apple brandy strawberry compote, coconut whipped cream, vanilla almond pound cake and mixed berry topping ($6.50)

Lovely meals at Audrey Claire inspired the Astronomer and me to try Twenty Manning. Both restaurants are owned by the same restaurateur—Audrey Claire Taichman. The dining room at Twenty Manning is perfectly modern with dark wood floors and big windows looking out onto the street. Each table is accented with candles and miniature pots of bright green grass. The Astronomer and I were seated at a cozy table by the window.

Much too soon after we placed our orders, our appetizer arrived. The Escargot Fondue was presented in a copper pot filled with crimini mushrooms and a mouth watering wine sauce. The baguettes were thinly sliced and toasted with olive oil and chives. While we were expecting some dipping action a la “fondue,” there was less dipping than the menu description implied. In any case, I really enjoyed this dish. The earthy mushrooms and red wine worked wonderfully with the surprisingly delicate snails. The Astronomer liked the appetizer as well, but prefers his escargot more traditionally prepared with butter and herbs like at Le Bec Fin and in France.

The appetizer was brought out so speedily that the starter bread course came after (sigh). We were offered a choice of sourdough, multi-grain, or French baguette. I chose the baguette, while the Astronomer chose the sourdough. We each had multi-grain during our second round of bread later in the meal. The breads were accompanied by a wasabi cream cheese. All of the breads were good with hearty crusts and moist interiors and the cream cheese was excellent—I really liked the jolt from the wasabi.

Unfortunately, the tasty appetizer and breads were overshadowed by the poor service. To make matters worse, our entrees arrived before our appetizer dishes were even cleared! Timing is everything and Twenty Manning was completely off this evening.

I loathe feeling rushed, but wanted to give the food a fair shake. I ordered the Peking Duck Pappardelle. The word Pappardelle should have been in quotations because what arrived was chow fun (flat rice noodles). I could not help but feel disappointed; if I had wanted chow fun I would have headed to Chinatown. Expectations aside, the “Pappardelle” was really good. The roasted Peking duck was fabulously spiced and the perfumed star anise tied together the entire dish. The fried onions and cilantro reminded me of Vietnamese banh cuon.

The Astronomer had the Grilled Free-Range Chicken. The skin was left on the chicken breast and the glaze was brushed lightly on top. The Astronomer liked the glaze, but could not make out a distinct mustard taste. The black rice, which was similar in texture to sticky rice, was the highlight of his entrée. The rice was cooked in a savory broth and accented with little bits of pineapple.

Since we did not order our dessert until we were through with our entrees, it arrived at a more leisurely pace. Thank goodness. The Astronomer loves berries and chose the Strawberry Shortcake. The strawberries were delightfully fresh (although most likely from Chile) and the pound cake was full of buttery/nutty goodness. The layers of whipped cream, cake, and berries more closely resembled a trifle than a traditional strawberry shortcake, but I am all for unique interpretations.

I hope that the hurried service we received during our meal was a glitch because Twenty Manning offers solid cuisine and superb ambiance.