Friday, December 30, 2005

Weekend Dog Blogging #15

Sweetnicks holds an adorable dog blogging event every weekend. This week, I decided to join in on the fun.

Meet D:

She's a cutie. However, she is as dumb as her tongue is long. Not the brightest pooch we've ever had, but certainly the most rambunctious and the sweetest.

D poses for us in her puppy bed. We call it that because although she actually outgrew it a while ago, she refuses to sleep in anything else. We've even tried to get her to sleep in *gasp!* the bedroom with us, but she'd prefer to lounge in the warm confines of her puppy bed.

She wishes everyone a safe and healthy New Year. Best woof in '06!

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Monday, December 26, 2005

A Jewish Christmas Dinner : One Family Chinese Restaurant

Christmas dinner, for many people, means gathering at home to eat a traditional meal of ham, potatoes and the like. For Jews, Christmas dinner means a night out at the local Chinese restaurant chowing down on beef with broccoli and lo mein noodles.

For my Chinese-Jewish family, we’re usually found devouring a bit more authentic Chinese cuisine. A plate of General Tsao’s chicken is not typically found amongst our orders.

Last night was no exception. Having spent the whole day cleaning the post-finals mess of the apartment (imagine papers strewn into every nook and corner), I joined Mama and Papa Rose in Flushing for dinner. I was hoping for dim sum, but it was really too late in the day for it and Mama Rose suggested going back to a restaurant they had been taken to by others the previous week, 一家餐廳 (One Family Chinese Restaurant). I never question her Chinese food restaurant choices, she’s usually right on the money.

Mama Rose is quite discerning about Chinese food—whether ordering it or making it herself. As a kid I never really realized the good fortune I had with a mom who could make all sorts of food and best of all—different types of Chinese cuisine. I’ve tried very hard in the last few years to make up for it--when I’m home, I ask a lot of questions while she cooks. “How much of X spice do you use for this dish?” “Why would you add those two ingredients together/separate?” “Why do you use X spice instead of Y spice?"

It is a similar story with ordering Chinese food. Until I went to China during college, I had never ordered food in a Chinese restaurant and all of a sudden I had to order Chinese food in CHINESE! It was a daunting and frightening task and I wasn’t very good at it in the beginning. I somehow managed for those six months, but I vowed when I returned home to learn the names of dishes (in Chinese and English) my mom ordered and that I loved to eat at Chinese restaurants. With my language skills improving over the years, I’m now able to order more competently in either English or mandarin, but I always desire to expand my cuisine vocabulary.

Last night was no exception and I paid close attention when she asked the waitress specific questions about a variety of dishes and then I peppered her with a few of my own food queries. I find that I now scan the menu to find the names of the dishes in Chinese, a way to remember them when I’m ordering by myself or with a group of friends.

One Family Restaurant serves a wide variety of food, such as Taiwanese snacks, Chinese breakfast items, and more familiar northern and southern noodle dishes. There are also some dim sum on the menu as well as cold dishes and Chinese casseroles.

We started our meal with 海鮮豆腐羹 (Seafood and bean curd soup). It was thick and gooey, similar in consistency to egg drop soup. The soup was loaded with shrimp, scallops, and fish plus mushrooms, egg whites and sliced green beans. The ingredients were simple and the freshness of the seafood came through in every slurp. I must admit, I’m a big fan of gelatinous soups because I love the way it clings down my throat, warming me from the inside. What I really liked most about this soup is that it wasn’t very salty. Many Chinese restaurants load their soups with salt (or worse, MSG) which forces you to drink an inordinate amount of tea that eventually leads to multiple trips to the restroom.

Our next dish was 核桃脆皮大蝦 (Crispy Prawns with Walnuts). When it came out I realized right away that this was most certainly Taiwanese cuisine. The prawns were fried and smothered in sweet Japanese mayonnaise and served on a bed of broccoli. The 50 year colonization of Taiwan by the Japanese in the first half of the 20th century left an indelible mark in Taiwanese culture and society--food is no exception. With the politics of today, Taiwanese often still look to Japan for cultural inspiration and the use of sweet mayonnaise is a product of all these influences. That said, I’m not a fan of the mayonnaise and I find it overpowers what ever else is in the dish. In this case, I spent a couple of minutes trying to slide each shrimp back and forth across my empty plate in order to remove the excess mayonnaise. The lightly caramelized walnuts were a nice crunchy complement to the prawns, but the whole thing was too sweet for what should be a much more savory dish.

Our second course was 紅燴海參 (Braised Sea Cucumber in Brown Sauce). Considered a delicacy in Chinese cuisine, especially due to its medicinal value, sea cucumbers are used with other ingredients to create a glutinous texture to braised dishes. With some shredded beef and snow peas, ours was both light and flavorful. Like the soup, it was not weighed down with salt and the brown sauce covered the ingredients, but did not drench them. It’s a rather expensive dish compared to the rest of One Family’s menu, but if you’re looking to try something new in Chinese cuisine, I’d highly recommend braised sea cucumber.

During our ordering, Mama Rose questioned our waitress about a specific roast duck dish she had tried before. Aptly named 香酥鴨 (Fried Crispy Duck), it was just that. The skin was certainly crispy, but I did find the meat a bit too dry. Papa Rose felt it tasted both “ducky” and salty, but I felt it was a pretty good version of a dish that can often be well overcooked.

Our final dish was a simple side of snow pea leaves with braised scallops. I’m particularly found of snow pea leaves and have found them a refreshing change from the usual spinach leaves and watercress I often eat during a Chinese meal. The scallops were very fresh and like the braised sea cucumbers, they were not drenched in brown sauce.

The biggest problem with One Family Chinese Restaurant is the noise level. The downstairs section is a rather narrow room with no carpeting and wall to wall mirrors. This makes every whisper into a shout and the upstairs karoke room does not help the matter. Throughout much of our meal I found myself nearly screaming to my mother across the small table. The ambiance aside, the meal was very good and definitely a place I’d go back to with friends.

So another Rose Christmas dinner of Chinese food goes down as a keeper.

Yi-Jia (One Family) Chinese Restaurant
46-26 Kissena Blvd
Flushing, NY 11355
Tel: (718) 886-1558

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Saturday, December 24, 2005

Now that I don't have finals anymore...

...I can make myself a decent breakfast.

I've discovered that Sonoma Jack hot pepper flavored cheese is an excellent filling for omelettes. It adds flavor and heat to the eggs. These mini wheat pitas are decent, but Barbara has inspired me to try making my own. A food adventure that awaits for me this holiday break.

I recently bought some fig jam from a local greenmarket vendor, Beth's Farm Kitchen and have been waiting for the right time to use it. Well, the jam pairs deliciously with nonfat greek yogurt. I wonder whether it can double as an ice cream topping ...I'll have to try that too.

To top it off, I had a refreshing glass of ruby red grapefruit juice, nicely countering the heat of the hot pepper cheese.

Now, if I could only have a breakfast like this every moring during the semester.

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Just a Reminder: A Menu for Hope 2

There has been an AMAZING response to A Menu for Hope 2 campaign: $11,749 as of this moment.

A recap: this is a campaign to to help raise funds to support the victims of the devastating earthquake in the Kashmir region of India and Pakistan.

It is a virtual raffle that offers a really diverse range of prizes from food bloggers all around the world.

Pim has a montage composed of pics of the prizes, go check it out. The hardest part is choosing which prize you REALLY want.

To add to the huge pot of gifts, I will be offering a historic restaurant tour of New York City's Chinatown for up to 4 people. The tour will highlight the history of restaurants in Chinatown and Chinese food in America and will include stops at local eateries.*

All you have to do is donate $5 and you will be eligible for the raffle drawing for a gift of your choice.

To peruse the long list of prizes, click here.

The deadline to give will be 12am PST on December 24th. Winners will be announced after January 1st on Chez Pim.

PLEASE NOTE: No money will pass through any person's hands. All donations will be through First Giving, going directly to UNICEF, for the victims of the earthquake.

*The tour must take place before September, 2006. All arrangements must be made by email. My schedule is pretty flexible, but please be aware that the winner must give me at least a month's notice and that there are some "blackout dates" (i.e. times when I will be unavailable).

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Thursday, December 15, 2005

Chinatown Restaurant Tour: Menu for Hope 2

It's that time of the year again...the time to give.

In what is becoming an annual event, Chez Pim has organized A Menu for Hope II, a drive to to help raise funds to support the victims of the devastating earthquake in the Kashmir region of India and Pakistan. This year there will be a virtual raffle that offers some really novel and delicious prizes from food bloggers all around the world.

This year The Hungry Rose will offer a historic restaurant tour of New York City's Chinatown for up to 4 people. The tour will highlight the history of restaurants in Chinatown and Chinese food in America and will include stops at local eateries.*

So, what's the 411?

First, check out the fabulous prizes you can win. Then, donate just $5 to A Menu for Hope campaign.

Each $5 donation gives you one chance to win. The more you donate the more chances you have to win. Make sure that you note your desired prize or prizes in your donation's comments section.

The drawings will be held December 23rd and results will be announced after January 1st.

Please note: No money will pass through any person's hands. All donations will be through First Giving, to UNICEF, for the victims of the earthquake.

*The tour must take place before September, 2006. All arrangements must be made by email. My schedule is pretty flexible, but please be aware that the winner must give me at least a month's notice and that there are some "blackout dates" (i.e. times when I will be unavailable).

(photo by Heidi Swanson)

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Saturday, December 10, 2005

Roberto Passon

The snowstorm that never came on Monday (I saw like three flakes—the weatherman was so off) pretty much ruined any chance of having my entire family together to celebrate my birthday. Mama Rose and little bro Rose both did not want to drive back in the predicted (although unrealized) weather conditions, but Papa Rose did make it into the city.

Having already cancelled our original reservation at a swanky uptown restaurant (which will remain nameless because a new reservation—and eventual review—has been made), we decided to try a new-ish (it opened up right before I left for Asia this summer) Hell’s Kitchen Italian restaurant called Roberto Passon. Zagat and citysearch both had pretty decent reviews and Papa Rose really wanted Italian.

I’ve always had a somewhat uneasy relationship with Italian restaurants, whether it is Northern or Southern cuisine. Most tend to serve pasta that’s extremely heavy and loaded with sauce, therefore overpowering the texture of the pasta itself. Another common problem I’ve encountered is that the pasta is almost always overdone—a mushy plate of pasta, yuck! When I have eaten some great Italian meals, they’ve often been extremely expensive (or even just plainly overpriced). So I was a bit hesitant to try this new joint in my ‘hood. Would I just end up with a blown up belly, an unsatisfied tongue and a much lighter wallet?

I am happy to report that it was one my best meals of 2005.

The restaurant, owned by New York City Restaurant Group, features Venetian cuisine (i.e. lots of seafood and spices) by—get this—chef Roberto Passon. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten Venetian cuisine (or at least not knowingly) other than my trip to Venice some three years ago, so to try it once again—with hopefully a more refined set of taste buds—turned out to be a pretty great choice.

The restaurant is located in the former space of Dashkin—an Indian restaurant that should have sailed out long before it did this past spring. Dashkin’s boring red awning and orangish exterior brick walls have been painted an eye-popping bright yellow—I noticed the restaurant from almost a block away! The interior is simple in design—the light beige walls are only decorated with just a few wine racks that display some of the restaurant’s all Italian wine selection.

Our waiter was clearly Italian—he had a lovely accent and was pretty good lookin’ to boot (hey, it never hurts). Unfortunately, for me that is, he went off shift before our meal ended, but alas, he was replaced by yet another good lookin’ Italian man—this restaurant seems to be stocking up on all the best eye candy from Italy. Ah, but I digress—both our waiters were friendly, always prompt in taking our orders and serving us our food.

Now, onto the review of much more important matters...the food and the drink!

Speaking of the latter, I had had the whole day to think about what kind of drink I wanted to celebrate my birthday with. I realized I was best to have a glass of one of my favorite drinks. Unfortunately, they’re wine selection does not have any Italian version of champagne rosé, nothing even close. Our handsome waiter suggested I try a Kir Royale. While it did not have the same soft fizzle I love in champagne rosé, it was sufficient.

As we often do in the Rose clan, we decided to split our entrees—that way we could sample more than one dish. We chose three appetizers: a warm beet salad with haricot verts and leeks that was garnished with crushed walnuts and alpha sprouts, fried rice balls stuffed with saffron and mozzarella on a bed of thick marinara sauce sprinkled with some alpha sprouts (chef seems to like this ingredient) and breaded sardines with caramelized onions and raisins on a bed of sweet potato.

I chose the salad in part because of a recent blog post on beets by Shauna, who made beets sound so much tastier than they look in the produce section of my local supermarket. My first bite told me I had made the right decision. The warm soft beets really complimented the crunchier haricot verts and the leeks spiced the entire dish just a tiny notch.

While I enjoyed the rice balls—salty and lightly spiced, I have to admit they tasted like a zupped up version of a mozzarella stick. The sweet chunky marinara sauce didn’t help in distinguishing them from their bar food cousin.

Papa Rose had most of the sardine dish and he felt that the sweetness of the onions and raisins balanced out the saltiness of the sardines. He felt it wasn’t overly heavy, considering it was breaded.

Our two entrees came up out one at a time. First, they served us taglieri with lamb ragu—a thin, narrow and flat variety similar to spaghetti that was by far one of the freshest bowls of pasta I have ever eaten. The meat bits were just at peak tenderness and there was only enough sauce to coat the pasta, rather than drowning it. Papa Rose felt that it was one of the best ragues he’s ever eaten!

For our second entrée, we had a Mediterranean sea bass that was baked in a coating of sea salt. Our second handsome Italian waiter brought the fish tableside, removing the salt, de-boning it and squeezing a fresh lemon over the whole thing. I must admit, watching him carefully arrange the fish on our plates was added entertainment. Again, I digress…the fish had a good balance of flavor and texture—it was subtly salty and fluffy soft with just a hint of acidity from the lemon juice.

Maybe the only slight disappointment in our meal could be found in the desserts. There was nothing inherently wrong with them, but neither my saffron crème brulée nor Papa Rose’s profiteroles (supposedly the chef’s favorite) were standouts. They were just good—satisfying but nothing that leaves your mouth craving for one more bite.

However, Papa Rose—a finicky eater, to say the least—did say “This whole meal was excellent, all cooked just the way I like it!” And I have to agree with him because it really is so hard to find good Italian fare and at such reasonable prices. The lamb ragu was a steal at $13! The sea bass was a tad more at $28, but it was also a special that night and had been cooked cooked so well to be worth the extra money.

Overall, prices were really not bad at all, considering the quality of the food—especially the freshness of the pasta, the variety of ingredients and the creativity of the dishes. If you’re looking for a good, unpretentious and practical place to eat before or after seeing a show (it is in the theatre district) or are just looking for good Italian fare at reasonable prices, Roberto Passon is an excellent choice.

Roberto Passon
741 Ninth Ave, NYC

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The Breakfast.

For breakfast at home, I'm a Cheerios with fruit kinda gal, but this morning I decided to be a bit daring and eat something totally different.

So I had a toasted slice of tomato garlic basil sourdough from my local greenmarket bread vendor, medjool dates from Fresh Direct, portabello Sonoma Jack cheese bought at--get this--Costco and green grapes from the local supermarket.

It was all very fresh and tasty, but I think that was enough of a breakfast adventure for the time being--I do miss my dear Cheerios.

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Monday, December 05, 2005

Another year...

...has gone by.

Yes, today is my birthday, a great reason to try a new food destination.

Originally, the Rose clan was going to celebrate at a fancy schmancy UWS (Upper West Side, for all the non-NY'ers) restaurant . Unfortunately, an impending snowstorm has forced Mama, Papa and little bro Rose to stay in the suburbs while I get to blow out my imaginary candles alone.

However, after wallowing in this small bit of self-pity, I am going to take this day as a sign that great things will be coming my way this year.

UPDATE: As it turns out, Papa Rose made it into the city after all (Hooray!). Unfortunately we had already cancelled our reservation at aforementioned "fancy schmancy" restaurant. With only the two of us, we decided to try a more low-key venue, which turned out to be terrific and I hope to put up a post about the experience in the next few days.

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Sunday, December 04, 2005

A few changes...and more problems.

I spent a good part of my saturday night fiddling with the layout of my blog. It's getting there. I like the white background a lot better than the pink/purple color combination of the original template.

I'm a bit frustrated because I spent a lot of time and came up with very little of what I really wanted to change in the design/look of this blog. I'd like to change the banner and add some borders too. Quite frankly, I'm a bit lost in the html.

I think the rest of these changes will have to wait until I have completed my finals.

On a food note, tomorrow is a very special day for me and a time to celebrate with my family. The result of which, I hope, will be my first ever published restaurant review!

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Saturday, December 03, 2005

Fridge Check 2005: Tanying!

Lately, I haven't had much in my fridge. With the extended weekend holiday of Thanksgiving at Casa de la Rose and a tendency to eat out/order in more as the semester comes to a close (and I get bogged down with my studies), I haven't bothered to stock up on much. Besides the staples of cheese and milk, there's been a few bell peppers, some ginger and I even had this chocolate bar, dark with a spicey afterkick. Unfortunately, it didn't stay in there for very long.

So instead of exhibiting the bare confines of my refrigerator, we're going to peek into the one owned by my friend Tanying. She has some terrific photographs of her last trip to China this past summer up on her blog. Go check it out.

The pic isn't the best, but I think I spy green tea ice cream, lots of soft tofu, apples, salmon fillets and a lot of asian leafy greens.

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