A glimpse into my world of food

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Japan Restaurant Review: 強羅花壇 (Gora Kadan Inn)

Gora Kadan Inn
1300 Gora, Hakone, Ashigarashimogun, Kanagawa, JAPAN

Despite Gora Kadan's somewhat modern take on Hot Spring Inns (with the Westernized spa services and modern architechture), the kaiseki dinner they serve is very traditional. The course includes more than 10-15 small dishes and they always use the most seasonal ingredients to express the season. Their umeshu (plum wine) is my favorite; I think the hint of brandy makes it more fragrant than most plum wines. There is nothing more relaxing than enjoying a full kaiseki course meal before, and/or after a long bath in one of the hot springs. The food is not only fresh and delicious, but aesthetically pleasing as well.

Private rotenburo (outdoor bath)

An appetizer: snapper with various vegetables (broad bean, Japanese mountain yam, carrot etc.)

Abalone sushi

Ginnan Shinjou (Ginko nut soup with a light minced prawn ball)

Assortment of sashimi: Ise Ebi (Japanese lobster), Toro (fatty tuna) and Hirame (halibut)

Grilled Sawara (Spanish Mackeral) with a miso glaze

Braised tender pork croquette

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Japan Restaurant Review: Trattoria Fossetta

Trattoria Fossetta
Kanagawa, Kamakura, Nishi Kamakura 1-2-1, JAPAN
Closed on Thursdays and every 3rd Wednesday of each month

I worked here for 6 months before going to the CIA because it's one of my family's favorite restaurants in Kamakura.  Even though the food is not totally authentic Italian, the chef uses fresh local vegetables from Kamakura and fish from the local area (the chef goes to both these markets every morning six times a week!) and I think Italian cuisine and Japanese cuisine are similar in the sense that they place an importance on fresh and local.  Fossetta only seats up to 20 people but you will be surprised to see the extensive menu.  In addition to the regular seasonal menu is a black board menu with at least 20 dishes of the day (which depends on what ingredients he is able to get on that day).  The majority of guests are regulars and they absolutely love this affordable neighborhood gem where they know that the chef and everyone else (one cook and one to three servers, including the chef's wife for lunch service) who works there deeply cares about serving the best food.  As cheesy as this may sound, this is truly a restaurant that will feed your soul.  Family style is the way to go.

Assortment of antipasti: Caprese, Marinated Mackeral...

Fritatta (with local vegetables), Italian salami (don't remember what kind...) with pickles...

Parma Ham Mousse, and Sardine Scapece (Venetian style)
Oyster Gratin with Iwa nori ("Rock seaweed")
Deep fried Shiba ebi (Grey prawn)
Kamakura vegetables (including Italian vegetables that are locally grown) with Meto ika (Squid)
Anchovy & Garlic Pizza (we order this every time)
Porcini Cream Handmade Pasta
Clam & Prawn Arrabbiata
Mikan (Seedless Mandarin Orange) Sorbet and Almond Pannacotta
Apple & Cinammon Tart
Ricotta Cheese (from Inoguchi's farm in Hokkaido) with Chestnut and Acacia Honey

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Japan Restaurant Review: ひな鶏 小山 (Hinadori Koyama)

ひな鶏 小山 (Hinadori Koyama)
Kanagawa, Kamakura, Oofuna 1-20-5, JAPAN

Closed on Mondays

My father heard about this place from one of his friends and we went there for the first time in February. I've already been back there more than five times since! It's a must for chicken lovers and they do the best deep fried chicken in town! They don't stick to one brand/type of chicken but choose the best that they can find. There's no batter on the chicken- just salt. The place is run by a husband and wife pair and they're very friendly. They have a wide selection of awamori (distilled rice wine from Okinawa) and other alcoholic beverages.

Umi budou ("Sea grape" aka green caviar)- a type of seaweed from Okinawa

Grilled Sora mame (Broad bean)

Deep fried chicken gizzard- goes well with beer! SO good!!!!! Not oily at all

Grilled bamboo shoot- in season at the beginning of spring

Half a chicken- the skin is SO crisp (and not oily AT ALL), and the inside is JUICY! Even the breast meat is tender and juicy...mmmmmm

Chicken wings (with a lot of black pepper)

Broiled vegetables in bonito broth

The BEST deep fried chicken skin I've ever had in my life!!!!!

The best way to end your meal is with a bowl of nyuu-men (thin noodles made of wheat flour) in bonito and chicken broth. Simple but absolutely delicious!

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Japan Restaurant Review: La Lausanne (ラ ローザンヌ)

La Lausanne
Kanagawa, Chigasaki, Higashi-kaigan Minami 4-11-24, JAPAN
Closed on Thursdays

The chef/owner of La Lausanne worked in Switzerland for a few years and his grandfather was the 8th Executive chef at the Imperial Hotel (帝国ホテル). He holds a cooking class at his restaurant once a week. His son is a patisserie and has his own store specializing in French and Swiss cakes. The chef's wife is the waitress and she is very friendly- you sort of feel at home. Probably one of my favourite restaurants in the area.

Dinner Course:

Smoked salmon, smoked duck, cured ham

Perfectly seared scallop with diced vegetables

Asparagus soup

Pan seared Sawara (Spanish Mackeral) with a Uni (Sea Urchin) sauce

Wagyu Filet- very tender.

Freshly baked apple pie with vanilla ice cream. SO good!

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Travel Series: Hanoi COM PHOrt Food

May 2008

I had been to Ho Chi Minh about 6 years ago but this was my first visit to Hanoi. Even though it was the rainy season, we had great weather for the 5 days we were there. It was a very short trip but we managed to do a lot and of course, eat a lot! I really enjoyed the food overall, and I had quite a lot of Vietnamese food that I had never tried before.

As soon as we arrived in the Old Quarter of Hanoi and checked in at our hotel, we walked around to find a place to eat lunch. I wanted to eat pho because I had read that Hanoi is the birth place of pho, and I was eager to taste how good (and perhaps different?) it was in Hanoi. There were so many noodle shops and it was hard to tell which one would be good, so we just randomly chose one that was quite crowded with locals, and sat down on the low stools at the low tables.

This noodle shop was at a corner along Hang Bong Street, and they seemed to only have one dish so we gestured that we wanted two of whatever they serve. Unfortunately, it wasn't pho, but the bowl of bun was good (nice and light). We couldn't identify the meats but we stopped questioning what we were eating because it was delicious.

Wet Market near Ma May Street

Prawns, snakehead fish, and various shellfish

Dried bamboo shoots (?), beans etc.

Rabbits for sale...

A lot of spices!

61 Bat Su

Coffee break at a cafe on Bat Su Street. Had an iced coffee with condensed milk. I love Vietnamese style coffee! So thick and aromatic...

Banh Goi (52 Ly Quoc Su- near the Nha Tho Lon Great Cathedral)

On our way to dinner, we walked by this stall selling deep fried dumplings (with pork, vegetables and vermicelli) and couldn't resist. They were like samosas on the outside. I would've eaten more but I resisted so I could eat more for dinner...

Quan Com Pho (29 Le Van Huu), 04-9432356

Deep fried spring rolls

Bean curd fritters with black pepper

Deep fried chicken with deep fried glutinous rice cakes (like mochi)- my favorite dish!

We also ordered black pepper beef with red/green peppers, stir fried sweet potato stalk (very interesting texture), and rice. We finished most of the food but we definitely ordered too much (shared it between the two of us). The service was quick and the food was great. I was quite surprised to see that their menu was in English and Japanese. We paid less than VND 200,000 (US$12) in total.
Breakfast to go

On our way to Handspan Travel Agency (to do our trip to Mai Chau), we saw a bunch of people getting breakfast to go and we were curious to try what they were all buying. It was glutinous rice with some sort of beans and dried shredded pork, wrapped in huge leaves. Apparently you can get something similar in China. I also saw a lady selling sweet snacks made of glutinous rice so I bought a small rice cake that was very similar to Japanese daifuku, except there was lotus bean paste in this one. They were both great breakfasts to start our day.

Mai Chau (three hours north of Hanoi)
We took a trip to Mai Chau with Handspan, for one night. It was meant to be a homestay trip but it wasn't as intimate as I had imagined. We didn't eat with our host or her family but she did cook us a lot of delicious food. We went trekking and cycling (did a lot of active stuff), which made our meals even more enjoyable. We also had a really good guide (his name was Ngoc) and he taught us a lot about Vietnam and its culture.

(Right) Deep fried breaded fish (very crispy!)

(Left) Stuffed tomato (Right) Pumpkin stalk with chicken liver

(Left) Yummy dinner (Right) Banana pancake for breakfast

Free range chicken with a soya sauce based sauce

Bean curd with tomato and dill (great touch!)

Spring rolls deep fried with leaves instead of rice paper

I tried this stick of bamboo stuffed with glutinous rice...it was alright- just plain glutinous rice...

We asked Ngoc where his favourite pho places were and this was one of the places he said we should try. The soup was very light but flavourful. The noodles were also very light. It was right by the Quoc Hoa Hotel at the corner of Bat Su and another street...

Hang Manh Bun Cha (1 Hang Manh)
Another place recommended by Ngoc. We had passed a couple of bun cha places before and were attracted to the smell of the grilled pork. They only serve one thing here- bun cha. The pork is marinated in a sweet marinade (very similar to Korean BBQ) and charcoal grilled. The pork sits in the dipping soup, which is flavoured with nguoc mam. They give you a plate of bun to dip into the sauce/soup, and plenty of vegetables and deep fried spring rolls. If I remember correctly, it was about VND40,000-50,000 per person (less than US$3). I really liked these noodles but was a little full from the chicken pho we had right before! But we wanted to eat as much as possible.

The grilled pork in the dipping sauce/soup

Halong Bay
We took a day trip to this UNESCO World Heritage site with Handspan (again). Our guide wasn't as good as Ngoc but the weather was amazing and we had a great time. We pretty much had the junk boat to ourselves (there was a nice couple from Texas on the tour as well), and I was surprised that the seafood lunch included in the tour was actually good! We had drunken prawns, stir fried squid, assorted stir fried vegetables, stuffed crab cake, garoupa with a tomato based sauce, fries and rice.

Dong Thien Chung Cave

Cha Ca La Vong (14 Cha Ca), 8-253929
For our last dinner in Hanoi, we decided to go to this well known (and apparently oldest surviving- since 1871) restaurant that only serves one dish: snakehead fish deep fried in tumeric oil. It's served with a lot of dill and spring onions (which you put into the hot sizzling pan of oil when they bring it to you), bun, and nguoc mam. The place was packed and there was a mix of locals and tourists. I really liked the fish and I especially liked eating it with all the dill. I don't think I had ever eaten cooked dill until I went to Hanoi, but I think cooking it makes it more fragrant and nice. Despite the fact that the fish was drenched in oil, it actually wasn't oily or heavy. Looking at the interior (and the old fashioned lady who happened to be sitting at the table next to our's) made me feel like I had slipped back in time...

Our last breakfast

We saw these women deep frying dough fritters with prawns and had to try! There wasn't enough salt on it but it was still pretty good.

Pho Suong (one street north of Ganyu)

Another pho place recommended by Ngoc, and a great meal to finish off our Hanoi trip.

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