Food Diary: Munich, Lausanne, Geneva, Venice
Munich was meat galore in different forms and sizes, chops, sausages, shank, and offals. Breakfast was interesting because they served cheesecake. I am not a cheesecake person, never really liked it but the Germans make the best ones, plain and simple without the fruit jam topping. It is even better when accompanied by morning black coffee. Another sweet breakfast is the apple pancake/apple pie. It is literally chunks of apples formed in a round dish. It is as thick as the cheesecake, but instead of cheese, it’s all chunks of apple. It's like one whole tree of apples fit into one cheesecake pan. One slice will surely keep the doctors away.
Lausanne, just like Vevey, is lined with cafes and restaurants along Lake Geneva but Vevey is more pristine even with the giant fork in full view. Cuisine was typical European, pizza, pasta, but with more seafood options than the Bavarian territory. Iranian cuisine was the surprise in Vevey. In Lausanne, the most exotic offering on the menu was the crispy fried frog legs. It reminded me of the fried frogs we used to eat in Los Banos. Back then we knew the source of our frogs, mostly from the rice paddies of the international research center or the university campus, and not from lakes and rivers where the sewer mixes with the fresh catch. Thus, the assumption was the frogs were clean. There are no rice paddies in Lausane, therefore, the source of their frogs is uncertain and I did not bother to ask. I guess the Swiss do not appreciate several fully formed frogs on their dinner plate, only the legs like choice cuts are served so that it will pass as mini chicken legs. As expected, the crispy fried frog legs tasted like boney mini chicken legs but it was not crispy enough that you could chew on the bones. The ones we had when we were kids were deep fried literally to the bone.
The apple pie, German style served for breakfast.
They were so crispy that you munch on it like French fries. Perhaps, it was well fried, but the vinegar and olive oil sauce soaked the legs that it made it rubbery. It was actually a dining hazard because it could get stuck in your throat if your tongue and thoracic muscles were not coordinated.
Crispy fried frog legs in Lausanne.
My first dip on a cheese fondue was in Geneva during the hot summer month of June! It makes you sweat like a pig, that’s why it is a winter food for the Swiss. Usually made with a combination of 3 to 4 types of cheeses, we were served with only Gruyere. I wouldn’t have known the difference since it was the only fondue I have ever tasted, but I am sure it is much better than the ones you buy in packets and fondue kits in the store. The bread was just as great, sliced into 1.5 inch thick, crispy on the outside but soft and airy on the inside. True enough, you breakout a good sweat while eating fondue. It is so rich, you can feel your arteries clogging up! Best when accompanied with a big plate of salad, unfortunately, I am not a raw veggies kinda person. But to neutralize the fat, I had to pick on the olives and had a little bit of greens.
Veal liver, Venice
Venice, like Lausanne is surrounded by water. Laussane is by the lake, while Venice is all about the canals. I prefer that my seafood come from the lake rather than the canals but the canals in Venice is not the same we have in the city, where all the city gunk accumulates. The crispy calamari was served as an appetizer that was supposed to be a single portion but a group of 4 could actually share. I refrained from ordering veal liver steak while in Munich because I was trying to eat “healthy” but it catches up on you so on this last leg of the trip to Venice, I gave in and had a big dish of veal liver with onions. Great with Chianti! To add to my cholesterol binging (specifically LDL), and instead of a sweet chocolate dessert, I chose the spicy goat cheese over the tiramisu. Finally, on the last night, I decided to stick to the octopus salad.
Spicy goat cheese
Penn Quarter comfort food
Duck noodle soup at Full Kee
Winter can be depressing! even with the sun shining in 10 degrees weather will make you want to stay in your PJs and hide under the covers, but then you have to get out of bed to EAT!
I could warm myself in front of the stove while cooking but I would have to braze the cold to buy ingredients for whatever dish that might give me some warmth. So instead, I seek comfort from Full Kee across the street for some duck noodle soup. Full Kee is one of the oldest surviving Chinese restaurants in Chinatown DC. It is not a fancy restaurant, in fact, it is a very typical Chinese restaurant with a window display of roasted duck, plain wooden tables with condiments of chilli sauce and soy sauce, and paper place mats with chinese characters written all over it. Most important, the servers are all Chinese, complete with the Chinese accent.
Unlike Chinatown Express at the corner of 6th and H, where you will be served by Hispanic servers, who do not speak English (and Chinese!). But don't get me wrong, I am loyal to Chinatown Express because their peking duck and roast pork dominate all the other Chinese restaurants in DC.
However, the Full Kee is the winner for its noodle soup, especially the duck noodle soup. What used to be USD 5.95 lunch special, the noodle soups are now USD 7.95 plus USD1 for extra vegetables. Lunch is usually a busy time for Full Kee, and you could end up queuing outside their door especially during the warm weather. It is one of those places where you walk in, and if youre lucky to get a table as soon as you arrive, take it, order your food, eat, then go! That's how the Chinese do it, they do not linger. But Full Kee has evolved into a business meeting place for men and women in black (and white). During one of those cold days when I didn't bother to dress "appropriately" (this happens quite often) for lunch, and decided to cover my lounging outfit with my winter coat, then quickly walked to the not so fancy noodle place at the corner, I found myself surrounded by decent looking people on their lunch break. I quickly felt out of place with my pajama look, and my undone hairdo. I wondered, don't these people have other places to go to for lunch meetings? If they can afford their fancy suits, they could surely afford Jose Andres' JALEO, or that snooty place across from the Verizon Center called PROOF, or better yet that overpriced Mexican restaurant on 7th and H, Rosa Mexicana.
I was not intimidated by the unexpected well dress people in Full Kee, but I was annoyed that no one seemed to have any plans of leaving to give way to some hungry people like me whose only desire at that point in her life was a hot bowl of noodle soup! Eventually, I was seated at a corner table where I could over hear a group of lawyers from the next table talking about their cases, another reason why they should look for a more private place for a lunch meeting. It's funny how sometimes you can tell the profession of people by the way they dress. The group of lawyers all wore black suits and white shirts, while another group of men and women in another table looked more like professors with the men in their tweeds and the women in their long winter skirts. They are most likely not from this part of the city. Proof of their profession? The topic of conversation was about some publication...need I say more? In my outfit, I probably could pass for "jobless"!
After my bowl of duck noodle soup, and my orientation to the legal system and the world of scientific publication, I was satisfied! I paid my for my meal, and gave way to the next lone diner waiting to be seated.
Deep dish pizza - π
Pizza will always be in my list of comfort food. Not exactly the kind of food that will keep you warm like the duck noodle soup but the cheese and all the fat that go with it will surely add to the celluletic insulation of your body. I have never tried the deep dish pizza in Chicago but I heard it is the best EVER! But I don't need to go all the way to Chicago just to have deep dish pizza because I am very happy with the deep dish pizza at District of Pi on F St. Matchbox Pizza (also in Chinatown) is more popular but the pizza crust of District of Pi is different because of the combination of cornmeal and wheat, which gives it a gritty crunch to the crust. I admit that I was not a fan when we were first introduced to the District of Pi because I was trying to shed off the weight gain from a recent vacation. So having a carb-fat filled meal was not exactly part of my weight loss regimen. The first try turned out to be unforgettable!
Combined with a glass of cabernet sauvignon, the deep dish pizza topped with tomato sauce and chunks of diced tomatoes, could probably pass for a nutritious/healthy meal disguised as junk food.
If we were to dissect the pizza ingredient by ingredient, we would be faced with the six basic nutrients essential to nutrition: energy giving nutrients from the cornmeal and wheat that makes up the crust and the oils and fats from cheese and meat and whatever grease that stays on the pan; proteins from the salami, sausages, cheese, and mushrooms; and the vitamins and mineral from the tomato sauce, green and red peppers, and whatever added veggies that were included as extras. If not for the high proportion of fats and carbs, the pizza wouldn't be such a scary food for LDL and sugar conscious foodies. Should you plan to burn off the calories from the three slices and half from the 22" deep dish you ate for lunch, then the guilt won't be so bad. And maybe, the alcohol from the glass of red wine will help in the maintenance of your cardiovascular health.
After the first try, I could not keep the District of Pi off my mind and the craving was hard to fight off. So again I brazed the cold to walk 3 blocks even if Matchbox was just across the street from our apartment. It was worth the walk in the cold and the risk of a frost bite, and somewhat warmer after having my pizza fix, thanks to the calories from deep dish pizza brunch.
Pricey pisco sour courtesy of Jose Andres
If your're going to eat, you must have a drink! Jose Andres is now serving Chinese Peruvian fusion dishes at his new restaurant China Chilcano. The restaurant is on the same block as JALEO on F and 7th St so if Jaleo is crowded (as it usually is), just walk down to China Chilcano for ceviche, causa, and of course pisco sour but expect to leave with an empty wallet!
I have been to Peru and have a couple of Peruvian friends who introduced me to really good peruvian cuisine. When we decided to explore China Chilcano for lunch, I felt like I was robbed! I decided to order the causa, which I never got to try while we were in Peru for two weeks. My sister in law, ordered the causa almost at every meal but I was too preoccupied with the ceviche and was too eager to try the other dishes. The causa also seemed too filling as an appetizer with layers of potatoes, meat, and guacamole that it might not leave room for dessert. Anyway, I never forgot about the causa in Cousco so I thought China Chilcano would give my first ever culinary experience of the causa. Imagining how large the portion sizes were back in Peru, and the offered price on the menu of China Chilcano of $15, I concluded that this would be a filling lunch that would last through dinner. Instead, I ended up with six pieces of mini sushi sizes of causa. The chifle (plantain fritters) did not help fill the gap between hunger and satiety!
After paying $40 for my causa, my share of chifle, and a chicha drink, I headed for Pret A Manger for quinoa and edamame salad and a large chocolate chip cookie!
I am a forgiving person when it comes to food and drink, when I am in a good mood! It was inappropriate to have the pisco sour during lunch when you're scheduled to meet your boss and prospective partners from the Department of Medicine of Johns Hopkins so I decided to come back for the pisco sour during happy hour. I could not complain about the pisco sour for the price of $12 per glass, it had to be good! But my Peruvian friends can make a better mix. Heck, my Filipino high school friend who lived in Ecuador, and who first introduced me to pisco sour makes a better mix! I am hoping that China Chilcano will have a half price pisco sour for happy hour, because the first happy hour was not so happy!
Footlong Banh Mi
There is a pho restaurant along H street called Pho DC, which my vietnamese manicurists do not recommend because it is no where close to home cooked vietnamese food. I am not vietnamese and would not know the difference so this restaurant is as close as I can get to authentic vietnamese pho and banh mi. The upper floor is the pho restaurant/bar, with proper seating but like most restaurants in Penn Quarter, you will have to queue for a table during peak lunch hour and happy hour. For a quick bite, go to the basement vietnamese fast food where they serve the footlong banh mi and bubble tea.
If I remember correctly, the banh mi in Saigon was not 12" long, the ones from Pho DC seemed to adapt to the US supersize. It looked more like a Subway footlong but the bread was original french baguette. The baguette was good, crispy and airy, and not too gluteny! This was supposed to be a chicken liver pate smothered sandwich with steamed pork with fat and skin intact just the way we Asians like it, but what I ended up with could pass for a vegan banh mi. It could use thicker slices of steamed meat, and a much thicker spread of chicken liver pate. Maybe if the bread was 6" smaller, I would end up with more meat and pate. The upside of it was you didn't feel like you were consuming cholesterol and the pickled vegetables, cucumber, and cilantro added to my fiber intake for the day.
The banh mi was not a disappointment, although I have not had a pickled vegetable sandwich before. Except for relish on hotdog sandwich or a hamburger but in both cases, the meat usually dominates the sandwich.
THA-XING: A restaurant without a menu
2020 9th St NW Washington DC
Thai restaurants are all over DC, it is almost like a CVS pharmacy that you can find in every block or corner.
Located in the not so pleasant, somewhat seedy, neighborhood in the District of Columbia, Thai-xing serves authentic Thai food (for real!), with no menu but reservations is a must. The meal is pre set and served almost immediately after you settle in your seat. No tough decisions to be made, and surely makes life simple especially when you are dining with indecisive diners. It is not fine dining restaurant hidden in the back alleys or trying to be a stand out in one of the most rugged areas of DC. The waiters are in round neck cotton shirt with some kind of oriental print, matched with an apron, and faded jeans. Surprisingly, the crowd that have discovered this very discreet fine cuisine dress for some almost like a home cooked meal.
Last night’s dinner included a vegetable (yellow) curry soup, chicken on a skewer sprinkled with peanut sauce, and the staple appetizer of papaya salad with crushed peanuts. Then we were served with several “small dishes” of huge chunks of pumpkin in red curry with basil, salmon, ribs, garlic noodles, and pad thai. All the dishes were served on banana leaf lined mini platters. The room was dark, so it was a bit difficult to see what you were putting in your mouth but the dining was almost like eating at home with a bunch of strangers around you. For dessert we were “surprised” with the usual mango sticky rice garnished with blue berries and slices of strawberries, alongside the sliced mango. The chef could have skipped the berries but we devoured the coconut rice slowly as we were still in the process of digesting the huge dinner.
It was a very flavorful, a very filling, and a happy dinner despite the cold rain! I ate a lot!
Food Tripping in NYC
I was dreading the six day trip to NYC thinking what the hell am I going to do there for that long? I am not much of a shopper, at least not high end stuff, and most of what they have in NYC we have in DC. I am not much of a broadway fan either because I am not cultured THAT WAY! My idea of cultural experience is community immersion, and food and drink.
We left DC while Pope Francis was addressing congress. We made it to NYC where the Pontiff will follow in the afternoon. No, we are not travelling together, but sure feels like it! We were in Manila when Pope Francis visited in January, and the year before, we were at the Vatican for a once in a lifetime experience of actually staying with the Holy guy! A few days back we were in DC and watched all the TV coverage of the Papal visit. So I guess we have a bond! Now in NYC, everything is chaos with traffic and security because the Pope is arriving in a few hours, and Putin is attending the UN meetings, while the Clintons are holding their own shenanigans! There was so much road closures that our cab driver dropped us off two blocks from our hotel because we would end up sitting in traffic for possibly 45 min or so when the hotel was just around the corner. Coming from DC, we are walkers like New Yorkers, except we usually do it without luggages in tow.
With all this happening just outside our hotel, I was tempted to stay in with a bag of chips and a good bottle of white wine. Thank God that Duane Reade and much of the corner delis around 7th Ave sell wine, and they even have Proseco! But there's so much to do in NYC and so much to eat! Walking to our hotel Lindy's caught my eye and it claimed to be the "best cheesecake in the world!" I am not a cheesecake person, however, I was suddenly reminiscent of the cheesecake I had in a Munich hotel. I can still feel it on my taste buds that creamy, tangy, sweet pastry I fell in love with. My craving paved the way to a plan: check in, drop of bags, then have some that "best cheesecake in the world" and a coffee!
Lindy's turned out to be a diner, my type of restaurant that served pancakes, sausages, bacon and all that great greasy stuff for breakfast. The selection of cheesecake was more than I could handle. I just wanted a plain cheesecake but the blueberry, the cherry, the Oreo, and the brownie cheesecakes caught my attention, and some other flavors that I never thought could be mixed with cream cheese. I guess it's all about creativity and innovation when it comes to cheesecake in NYC! So I settled with brownie cheesecake with mixed feelings wondering if this would be another cheesecake awakening or should I have settled with the plain cheesecake? So with my mission complete, I settled with my freshly brewed coffee and dug into my brownie cheesecake. As soon as my fork pierced into the cake, it became clear to me that this was not going to be the most exciting cheesecake experience but more like a rude awakening. Be wary of signs claiming they are the “the best in the world!” There was no tanginess, there was no creaminess, not even sweetness, it was mostly air! I couldn’t even taste the chocolate on the bits of brownie.
It took a few days to get over my Lindy’s cheesecake experience with the help of a Japanese woman from Toho Shogi on 6th ave and 36th St. As I was checking out, she suggested I walk to 40th St and there I would find Lady M. I wasn’t sure what she was recommending due to our language barrier, but she made it clear that Lady M is very good! Could it be a better bead store for jewelry making than Toho Shogi? I heeded to her recommendation with her sketch of how to get there. Lo and behold, it was a Japanese pastry shop! It is not exactly NYC pastry, but Lady M has redeemed the cheesecake! It had less body but more manageable to eat although it is still a chunk of cream. Plus it was a perfect combination of tangy and sweet. True to form, all the other Japanese pastries of Lady M were all about aesthetics but very tasty. The chocolate crepe layered cake tasted like chocolate (as it should!), with enough cream layers covered by milk chocolate.
Seafood Ceviche at Bryant Park Cafe
Shepherd's Pie at Rosie O'Grady Saloon
Seafood Ceviche at Bryant Park Café
Across from Lady M is Bryant Park, where everyone gathers for outdoor lunch on a beautiful autumn day. It is not as big nor as lush as Central Park and it is more like a square than a park. The Bryant Park Café is outdoor seating only without the smoking, with a few umbrellas under a canopy of London plane trees, which are in danger of rotting. Their seafood ceviche was perfect light and refreshing lunch, with hand cut fries. The seafood ceviche is “small plate”, and it is not even an appetizer but if it were a bigger serving, I would be “fished” out for the rest of the year. Some may consider consuming alcohol in the middle of the day sinful, but the ambiance, the food, and the weather required a refreshing glass of sauvignon blanc with the ceviche.
The Shepherd’s Pie: Rosie O’Grady Saloon
Moving on to dinner at Rosie O’Grady Saloon for Shepherd’s Pie. I have never had shepherd’s pie before because I found it too intimidating with too much meat, and too much potatoes, and therefore, too filling. As part of my New York cultural immersion, I decided to be adventurous and ordered a “traditional favorite”, a “comfort food” for some. When the price is close to USD20, be reminded that the serving size could probably feed a whole colony. Nothing wrong with the flavor, in fact it was great and comforting, but they might as well have served in a pot because it was huge!
Hotdog and Empanadas: Madison Sq Eats
One could have lunch, happy hour, and dinner while occupying the same table at Madison Sq Eats (http://urbanspacenyc.com/mad-sq-eats/), and if you are food tripping in NYC, this is a one-stop shop. And, if you know you are going to spend the whole afternoon hanging out in Madison Sq Eats, plan for a very long walk to burn the calories! The first choice was AsiaDog’s hotdog sandwich topped with mango salad. It was small sandwich, enough for tasting to allow more room for La Sonriza’s Empanadas, Roberta’ pizza, churros and a glass of sangria.
Perogi Combo: Traditional Polish Food (Food truck)
During the weekday food trucks line (some) streets. Like Madison Sq Eats, rows of food trucks showcases a wide selection of food. Sometimes too many choices can be confusing, but one food truck that stood out was the Traditional Polish Food truck on 52nd between 7th and 6th Ave. Fearing the serving size, I settled for the small combo meal for USD 9 which comprised of seven pieces of spinach, cheese, and tuna perogis. Seven pieces seems few but the perogis were huge, like everything else in NYC. It is always good to leave some room for the next food adventure.
Bicol Express, Kare Kare Fried Chicken, and “Taba ng Talanka” Rice: Jeepney Filipino Restaurant
One of the most amazing and fascinating food in a diverse city such as NYC is the Filipino restaurant on 1st ave. Fascinating because they managed to make traditional Filipino food look like something else but still taste the same, and amazing because they manage to capture all sorts of clients from different race. Filipino food is not that popular (except among Filipinos, of course) but Jeepney is able to transform Filipino cuisine into something more acceptable to a very diverse crowd.
Sarabeth Seafood Salad
After my meat overload with Rosie, and reaching my cholesterol quota from the “Taba ng Talanka” at Jeepney’s, I opted for a seafood salad and a side order of pizza at Sarabeth on our last evening in NYC. Sarabeth faces Central Park and provides outdoor seating, which is great for outdoor dining on a pleasant autumn evening. Since it is so close to Central Park, and right across from where the horse carriages are parked, indoor dining is highly recommended, unless you prefer the mix of the wonderful flavor of your food and wine with the smell of horse sh--.