Zaru Soba for the win!

It is very hot here in the Front Range, high 90’s almost everyday for the past couple of weeks. The high heat deteriorates my appetite to eat almost anything let alone my desire to stay in the kitchen. If I could, I would rather have like 30 icy cold watermelons sitting in the pantry and eat one a day throughout the summer days.

Today I am going to talk about a traditional Japanese household food often prepared to combat the summer heat – zaru soba, aka buckwheat noodles (soba) served in bamboo basket (zaru). My cold soba is just as delicious but without the bamboo basket. 😛

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Ingredients:
Soba noodles 16oz
Sliced seaweed sheets (Nori strips)
Green onion, finely chopped (if available)
Mentsuyu (I actually had soba tsuyu at hand, you can usually get dipping sauce in local Asian grocery store. I kept mentsuyu in the fridge so it is also nice and cold when served.)

Boil water in a large pot. Add the soba noodles and put them in so that they form a circularly radiate wheel-like pattern. This is to make sure the noodles are somewhat separated from each other. Keep boiling for about 3-8 minutes. The time varies greatly depending the kind you get, make sure you read the heating instructions, as it is very easy to overcook the noodles and they turn mushy. Stir occasionally to avoid cluttering. Drain the noodles in a colander and run icy cold water onto the noodles for about 30 seconds. Keep a few ice cubes with the noodles in the colander to maintain the cool.

Sprinkle the green onions, seaweed strips onto the noodles. Dip every bite of the noodles into a bowl full of mentsuyu before eating.

If you do not have mentsuyu at hand, you can make your own.

Mentsuyu ingredients:
1.5 cup of dashi stock (or 5g dashi powder and 1.5 cup of water)
1/4 cup mirin
1/4 cup soy sauce
Salt

Mix everything and bring to boil. Add water if the texture comes out too thick. Viola!

If you have some chilled edamame and other side dishes to go with the soba, this will be a perfect summer meal without too much sweat and effort.

On the streak of cold noodles, I will talk about Beijing-style cold noodle dish with sesame sauce soon. Enjoy!

Happy Hour – Cork

I had a long day at work and going home straight to the kitchen in the heat was not exactly appealing to me. So we decided to avoid Pearl Street and check out the restaurant nearby our house: Boulder Cork for some happy hour action.

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We ordered baked stuffed chili with jack cheese, corn salsa and guacamole, Chicken enchilada baked in red chili, eggplant Parmesan sandwich with arugula, pulled BBQ beef on toasted roll with slaw. I had a house Cabernet and my husband had a glass of Dale’s.

The chili was alright but the chicken enchilada was really good. I liked the eggplant Parmesan as well as the pulled BBQ beef, both were well cooked. The buns though were tiny bit soggy. All the vegetables were super fresh tasting, which was a point proven again in the second round of ordering.

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Although our original plan was to have some snacks and I would cook up some light meal after we went home, as it turned out, it was hard to pull ourselves away from food once we started eating. So we went ahead ordered grilled Halibut with coconut curry, green rice and veggies and caprese with Andy’s Evo. The Halibut dish was good, but the fish and the rest of the dish did not all come together to wow us. It is hard to mess up with caprese and the fresh ingredients are the key. Indeed, the tomatoes and the basil leaves were quite wonderful.

The price for happy hour was hard to beat, especially about $5 for a sandwich coming with vegetables and/or fries. After all that, we went home very content.

Birthday Eat-out – Black Cat Bistro

So, June is a busy month: my husband’s, both of my in-laws’, my husband’s grandparents’ birthdays, and don’t forget, father’s day, all back to back are occurring in the month of June. Lol. To celebrate three birthdays, we decided to go a little extravagant and went to a local farm-to-table restaurant: Black Cat Bistro in Boulder. If I have not mentioned, we live in this infamous hippie town by the symbolic Flatirons in the Front Range.

The place is nicely tucked in on Pearl Street Mall, actually it was quite hard to notice it. I have lived in Boulder for so long and walked down that part of Pearl Street maybe thousands of times and it still took me by surprise when I finally paid attention to where the bistro is. Since it was sunset time, I could not see the decor very well, well, to be fair, neither did I took much notice. I in general do not care much about the decor. Food is my priority.

If anybody has noticed, I usually mention very minimal amount about decor or service. I am often so indulgent in tasting the food that I am very oblivious with decor or service unless it is noticeably terrible or out-of-this-world fabulous. So, this probably will continue to be something I will fail to mention sufficiently in the future, please bear with me on that account…

We all decided to go with that night’s 8 course tasting menu and after hearing about the protein options that would go on main, I decided to switch from lamb to duck breast, which is something I was still craving from my Quebec city trip, haha.

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For appetizer, we had a potato soup with extracted drizzle of fennel oil, which was pretty good. I personally do not really like potatoes, but I did enjoy the soup.

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Rabbit pate on bread with crumbs of pistachio and apple slice, spring onion and spinach puree. I quite liked the pate and it tasted very fresh and clean. Knowing the rabbits were from a farm near Boulder was a bonus.

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This cold smoked Colorado trout with homemade sauce and leafy greens is probably my favorite out of all the above appetizer dishes. It was light but fresh and tasty. The fish was very tender and flavorful as well as fresh tasting. I love sushi so I was very happy to taste wonderful flavor from smoking while tasting the fresh flesh of the fish! Wonderful! It went really well with the sauce. In the sauce, I tasted some cheese, and a little bit spicy mayo-like flavor.

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Lamb steak on lentil. It was very good. The lamb was cooked very well, tender, moist and juicy. The sauce was some combination of 20 spices, with coriander and cumin standing out to me.

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Next we had “surf and turf” – grilled salmon on polenta shaped as a pig, which was kind of funny. There was green onion puree and curry to go with the fish. The salmon was a little overcooked to my liking – I prefer more on the raw side. The polenta was too filling since we already had 4 courses and turned out would have 4 more to go after this. I was not quite sure about the combo of salmon and curry.

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Apparently, my request for duck had slowed down the production of the main course. So the kitchen was very nice to offer us a free vegetable course while we were waiting. It was a homemade cheese on top of root vegetables. The dish was ok. At that point, I would have been fine with just the vegetables with light dressing. A big chunk of cheese was not helping with the fact that I was getting too full too quickly.

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And there came my duck breast, medium rare. It was beautifully pink in the center, exquisite flavor as usual. Ahhhhh, I just love duck meat. On one hand, I was not quite sure what were the raspberries and the chocolate sauce doing on my plate with the duck. On another hand, I was ok with a couple raspberries rather than another blob of starch. The duck was cooked beautifully but the flavor combination was tiny bit off in my opinion. I did for a second, thought it was a Mexican spin, a mole-like sauce or something. But, it was only chocolate-y sweet, no traces of other spices.

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My husband and my in-laws had the lamb T-bone instead and they enjoyed the dish tremendously. I was way too full to have another bite of rich protein. I am deeply regretting for not munching away another bite right now…

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It was a big relief to see one of the dessert course only require a small one bite. This cherry and lychee gelatin topped with rose petal was a good palate cleanser and gave my stomach a break after seven courses.

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I forgot the dessert ingredients but was very happy to see the manageable portion. It was also light, a little sweet and went well with the tea.

At times, I was not so sure about the flavor combo, but the freshness and the packed flavor in general blew me away. Overall, I had a very good dining experience in Black cat.

Once I get used to the heat in the summer, which is totally killing my appetite and my willing to stay in the hot kitchen area, I shall start whipping up more home cooking recipes. Thanks for checking in!

Quebec city eat-out 3 – EPIC ending with epic meals!

So finally I get to “brag” about the fine dining experience. Lol. I had 4-5 restaurants in mind that I was interested in and I had the pleasure to eat in 3 of them.

The two I didn’t have the time to try were: Le Champlain in Chateau Fairmont, and Le Patriarche. After coming back from Quebec, I accidentally found this article about renowned chefs in Quebec area, http://www.quebecregion.com/en/where-to-eat-restaurants/top-chefs#chef6 which to my surprise, my picks hit 5 out of 7 and I got to eat at 3 of them. I was very happy to learn that I banked my money on the right place!

1. Le Saint-amour
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So two friends of mine and I met up and went to Le Saint-amour. The restaurant interior was very cool. There were real trees scattered in the dining area and the ceiling was designed so that a lot of skylights can seep through. At the same time, they have combined modern furniture with classic decor. The chef is known for his work with foie gras so we got foie gras for appetizer. For main, I got deer steak, my friends got scallops with lentil and veal respectively. For dessert, two of us got raspberry creme brulee and the other got chocolate cake. Everything tasted wonderful. The one thing I particularly liked about was the salt trio combined with foie gras. They put those crumbles of black, white and red salt (one of them is volcano salt, and the other two were equally exotic sounding which I just cannot recall now) on my plate. The generous portion of foie gras was as usual, wonderfully fatty and I enjoyed it better with the red salt. The saltiness offset the fatty flavor and both go quite harmonically together. The deer steak was very well cooked to medium-well as I asked. I am regretting a little bit for not asking medium-rare instead so I could taste a little more raw ingredients. The sauce on the steak was phenomenal as well and I wiped my plate clean with breads, lol. By the way, my friend who ordered the scallops were floored the moment she tasted it.

2. Panache

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This other day, we decided to go check out Panache. Panache is sitting in this old building made from stones and a recessed door which looked super intimidating. From the front to the actual dining area there was a good 5-10 second walk in a super fancy-looking hallway, I definitely felt a little out of place wearing sweaty t-shirt and dirty jeans with my camelbak on my back, haha. I had a gazpacho made with cucumber and mint and some homemade goat cheese cubicles. The presentation of the gazpacho and its fresh taste was a hit for sure! My friend had a pate made from liver meats and some salad if I remember correctly. I had pork and he had veal. I tried the veal a little bit, it was just a tiny bit dry to my liking but my pork on the other hand was perfectly executed. And the savory sauce with the pork and some tomatoes and spicy sprouts went really well. I like the pork dish quite a bit. For dessert, we had lemon cakes and bottoms were a bit harder than I would like and it seems to be the case with most of the cakes I have tried in Quebec city.

3. Restaurant Initiale

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My girl friend and I were on a girl’s luncheon date. We walked in again this intimidating-looking building and was greeted by very friendly staff. They gave us some free tasting menu item as well, the fried fish balls shown in the photo. I had some bread seared in foie gras to go with buffalo yogurt for appetizer as my friend had a leek soup. We both had a duck leg confit and duck breast for main and cream puffs and ice creams for dessert. The duck dish was epic!!! I do not know how they did it, the leg not only had its usual fatty, savory flavor profile and it had a slight hint of sweetness. And the duck breast, my friend took a bite and ask me if it was beef steak! The duck breast was cook to medium-raw, where the look of it can really fool you to think it is a nice slice of steak. But once you taste it, there is this unique taste to it that you know it is duck. I do not know how to describe this, but the leg and the breast were two totally different “species” in terms of their tastes on this plate and yet they worked very well together! The cream puffs were great also.

All in all, I had quite a culinary experience in Quebec city as you can see. If you ever catch yourself wandering in old town and having a meal to spare there, out of the above three, I would say Le Saint-amour or Initiale. In terms of ambiance, I like Le Saint-amour slightly better, because of its combination of the old world and the new. But if you are lucky, you might get some free tasting items with Initiale. Panache is great too, but somehow there is just slight lack of consistency across all the dishes to me, judged by my ONLY one meal experience. For example the veal was a tiny bit tougher than I would like but my pork dish was wonderful.

And here I conclude my trip to Quebec city with three epic meals I had there. I hope this will point to a thing or two when you are there. If you are on a budget, look out for some of these restaurants’ lunch or brunch menu, they can be significantly cheaper than their dinner menu and you can have a taste of what the chef is capable of. 🙂 Thanks for checking in!

Quebec city eat-out 2

In last post, I talked about a few family-style restaurants that I sampled during my stay in Quebec city. Since the schedule of my trip starts out in the early morning almost everyday of the week, I went on to find some cute coffee shops or local pastries for quick bites before a day started.

And here are a handful of places I stumbled upon.

1. Cafe-boulangerie Paillard

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This is a local pastry where wonderful things emerge together, lol. They have a lot of pastry items, good coffee, as well as awesome gelato ice cream! Their drip coffee does not have that typical smokey, bitter taste to it, very smooth instead. Their latte is also superb. As a scientist addicted to caffeine, I will have a dose whenever I get a chance. So, pretty much every sit-down restaurant or coffee shop I went to, I got a coffee. To be fair, I have yet come across a bad coffee in Quebec city (mostly in Old town), so you will have a pretty decent chance of getting a great coffee anywhere in the old town in Quebec city. I do not like sweets very much so I tend to order things like croissants more often. In Paillard, the croissant was very good. But I did go out of my way to order some macarons, and man, aren’t they delicious?!! It was light, fluffy, and not too sweet. Some of them had a citrusy flavor which was a wonderful offset. They go great with coffee.

2. Picardie

This place is on the other side of the fortification surrounded by a lot of modern bars and restaurants. I had a very good mochachino. But the ambiance was fantastic. You know you are in for a treat when great selections of coffee, salami, cheese, gelato, pastry all are right there in front of your face begging you to try them out. It would be ideal if I had the chance to have a quick breakfast or a light afternoon tea here.

3. Le Fudgerie

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This is a cute little place in old town and what drew my attention was the combo of those hanging sausages and display of chocolates by the window. I was like, hmmm, this is a weird combo and walked in. The sausages turn out to be filled with chocolate fudge, aha! I sampled some of their toffees, which were fantastic and I wish I had a cup of espresso at hand.

4. (I cannot remember the name, but there is a black and red sign outside says “Baguette et Chocolat” near pub St. Patrick in old town)

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Great croissant and coffee, what more needs to be said? 🙂 The decor was very open and contemporary. A great place to enjoy some newspaper reading and breakfast. They have very big illy coffee sign everywhere in the shop in case you cannot find it. Lol.

I will be ending my Quebec city eat-out trilogy with my fine dining experience next time. Thanks for checking in.

Quebec city eat-out 1

A recent business trip to Quebec city has brought also quite a culinary experience to me.

I did some homework online to figure where I would go eat and have had the luxury to sample quite a few restaurants from family-style to fine dining.

I am going to talk about some wonderful family-style restaurants I’ve tried in this post first.

1. Le Lapin Saute – the Rabbit place

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My friend and I had their Thai-style soup for appetizer, tout lapin tout canard (photo) to share and maple syrup creme brulee for dessert. Tout lapin tout canard had duck and rabbit three ways: duck leg, duck breast, foie gras, rabbit leg, rabbit sausage and rabbit pate, served with bread, cheese, pickled/confitted vegetables, and some salad. It’s $64 CAD for the large plate and it WILL fill you up. The meats were perfectly cooked, they fell off the bone just when you touch it, very tender and moist. The rabbits were good, but they taste a little more plain (not far from chicken) than I anticipated, not quite wild/gamey as I would like – maybe they are farmed rabbits. But the duck never disappoints – love the breasts as well as the legs.

2. Cafe St.-Malo

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We went to this charming little family restaurant one day and was pleasantly surprised with their hearty home-made food. We ordered snails cooked with butter and garlic, a seafood stew, and a baked cheese and eggplant vegetarian dish to share. We had spinach soup for appetizer and chocolate cake for dessert. The snails were well cooked, not dry or tough, chewy and aromatic with the garlic. The seafood stew comes with a variety of stuff in it: scallops, shrimps, mussels, tilapia, cod, etc. And the broth itself has a very complex yet satisfying flavor to it which I think thanks to 10-20 different fish bones. There were a few different kind of spices being used in the soup such as mint, walking onions, green onions, etc and the combo almost made it has a slightly similar taste to tomyum soup, which was very good. The eggplant dish was great – I am definitely not a vegetarian, but I would eat this everyday and that says a lot about the dish.

3. Restaurant Au Parmesan

I had a battered veal fried and topped with parmesan cheese and tomato sauce served with pasta according to the waiter’s suggestion. It was ok, the veal was patted till it is a very thin layer and the lack of thickness made it almost impossible to taste the meat itself. The meal overall was pretty good, but I did not have anything to rave about. The decor was very cool and that was what drew me in at the first place.

4. Le Billig Creperie-Bistro

It was my first breakfast and my co-workers and I had some time to spare. And we decided to go to this crepe place that we walked by the night before. I had a crepe with eggs and mushrooms. The mushrooms were wonderful and the crepe was cooked very well. A nice little place to have a quiet breakfast.

5. (I cannot recall the restaurant name…what a shame!)

My friends and I went for a $14 3-course meal with a soup, a salad and rabbit sandwich and a cake. The food was good and the rabbit in the sandwich had a particular taste to it which I was not sure if it were for the marinating sauce or for the rabbit meat itself – it did taste game-ier. I will have to seek out in the future and try rabbit meat again sometime just to educate myself how exactly should the meat taste like.

I will blog about some quick bites in next post about pasty and coffee shop for a morning fix that I discovered around Quebec city. Thanks for checking in and Voilà!