Mateo Restaurant in Boulder CO: a taste of French Provence region

December is not only a holiday season but also my bday season. So, friends and family rallied together and I was craving for some heavy French food, so I chose Mateo for this year’s celebration feast, celebrating for my one step closer to a “stand-up adult”. πŸ™‚

There is a Chinese saying, “δΈ‰εθ€Œη«‹”, meaning when you hit 30 years old, you should already finished laying the foundation for future life and “stand up” straight and firmly on the “ground”, lol. In other words, I am getting *old*. πŸ˜›

We started with some appetizers, plateau provencal – a plateful of charcuterie and artisanal cheeses, fruits, olives and roasted nuts to get ready for the main course.

I had their confit de canard – of course, I got the duck, who am I kidding, I have a serious addiction for ducks! The duck leg was wonderfully cooked, the meat was tender and fell off the bone so easily and the savory flavor just sent me over the roof immediately.

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I tried husband’s ragout de sanglier. Wild boar usually is hard to cook and very hard to incorporate with the gamey flavor of the meat. But the ragout here was so good that night that I think it might have an slight edge over my duck! It was creamy but not greasy, very well seasoned and flavored. Bravo!

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And then we went onto the dessert, “black and white” and pot au chocolat. The pot au chocolat was good, but I am not a sweet person, it came off a little overly sweet in my opinion – although the accompanying gelato’s coldness was a nice offset to the cake’s sweetness.

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But the “black and white”! Oh, my, gosh! The brownie was great, but I don’t particularly have the sweet tooth for that. But the vanilla pot de creme! Jesus! That was to die for! The ultra smooth silky texture but not sticky, the tad bit of sweetness that teased the tongue, the creamy taste without the heaviness! I am drooling just thinking about that. And pairing that stick of home-made brownie (by itself, a bit too sweet) with that creme, now that IS genius!

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All in all, that was a great meal! From the fine ingredients to refined skills, we had a blast. I went home with the ambition of making my own version of vanilla pot de creme! Cannot wait to taste that again and this time, I want to capture the essence with my own hands! πŸ™‚

The Leaf in Boulder CO: vegetarian experience

So a family dinner brought us to this infamous Boulder vegetarian restaurant. I am always very skeptical of vegetarian food, lol. But I have to say, it was a pleasant surprise to find a place where they know how to cook well. But I was expecting to find good cheese, mushrooms and wine to offset the lack of animal protein or seafood, which they did seem to have these elements. πŸ˜›

I totally forgot to take pictures so I will talk about their menu items.

http://leafvegetarianrestaurant.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/leaf-dinner1.pdf

We had their beet perigees, pimento cheese poppers, and celeriac gnocchi as starters. The gnocchi was good, but the beet perigees and the cheese poppers were fantastic! Especially the cheese poppers, were excellently executed, crispy and light tasting, perfectly paired with the chutney. Their home-made bread was quite the hit as well – not being a bread person, I even ate 3 pieces, lol.

Onto the entree, I had their special of the night: home-made stroganoff with almond flour, cheese, portobello mushrooms, seitan and garnishing vegetables, way too much cheese in my opinion and that covered up the ingredients’ original flavor. I tried husband’s flat bread pizza, and beet steak, curried chickpeas & sweet potatoes from other family members’ plates. All the entrees were alright, I didn’t mind eating them, nothing to write home about though. But my palate is very hard to please, so I can be critical, especially cranky when no meat is consumed. Although, I was really full after the entree, so the portion was definitely generous considering I usually feel underfed when mainly eating vegetables. I was so full, I did not have room for dessert.

Overall, the best part was definitely the appetizers and I would love to try to replicate those items in my own kitchen. But it was nice to know vegetable dishes need not be blend but can also shine under good execution.

I will start blogging some of the new/good dishes I make again, slowly picking up speed here after a bountiful and relaxing holiday season! πŸ™‚

Short report on – Punta Arenas and in between

So I said I’d give a short report on food scene in Punta Arenas, the small town we first landed in Chile.

We only had a chance to try a couple meals and here is what we thought. The town is really small, and you can tell its energy level is closely correlated with the travel seasons. There are not many restaurant establishments to be explored per say.

But we stumbled upon a cafe near the downtown square that makes tasty yet cheap food, and hung out with the locals a bit as well. With a lot of wood structures and furniture in it, the cafe gave a nice relaxing vibe. The sandwich was pretty good but I cannot remember the name of the cafe.

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The next day, we were on the road from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales and in between, we stopped by this family hotel/restaurant – “Hotel Posada Rio Rubens”, since 1929.

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We went for a burger in which the cow was raised by the owners. The burger was divine!!! The juicy, tender and perfectly season patty went so well with the rest simple ingredients, plus a nice cup of latte – we were content! If you ever stop by the restaurant, do not hesitate to give the grandma and grandpa who run the building a hug, they are super friendly. πŸ™‚

Next time, I will give a detailed list of establishments we had the privilege to eat in Nacional Parque Torres del Paine.

Feasting on the go – Puerto Natales, Patagonia

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As an avid hiker, Patagonia always has a special place in my heart and this year everything came together, we finally decided to pay a visit to this outdoors men’s wonderland.

I will start with a cool city, Puerto Natales. We had tried quite a few places that were fantastic.

Let me start with a coffee shop. Is there any better place to be when you can plan a sea kayak tour while sipping on a cup of wonderful latte and looking out to the mountains and lagune around you?

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This coffee shop named “Kau” is on the edge of this small town up against the lagune and looking out to a mountain range. They make great latte and cappuccino and a sea kayaking company is situated in the same place where you can walk up and book a trip. Possibly the ONE coffee shop with the best view I have ever been, lol.

Next, a brewery. Coming from the Napa Valley of Beer, we seek out local beers and breweries whenever given a chance. In this town, Baguales is a good stop.

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Husband liked their pale ale better than the dark, but both were pretty good. But things tasted somewhat, hmm, familiar. And of course, reading on the history of the brewery, we learned that the owners do California-style craft ales, if they are not already Californians. πŸ˜›

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For a bar, their food is pretty decent. The burgers were a bit too greasy as usual bar food. But their tacos were done well. We had Carnitas and vegetables. I especially liked the Carnitas tacos.

Next, we recommend a pizza place suggested by our Italian nomad friend from hostel – Mesita Grande, which is located in the town’s oldest commercial building.

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All the pizzas were made to order, super fresh and well made. The topping portions were generous but not overwhelming. One pizza feeds one very hungry person, or two leisure eaters.

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In terms of other food items, while the pasta with lamb was just ok – a little bit dry and under seasoned, the spinach cream soup was quite hearty and hit the spot.

I saved the last for the best – an Italian restaurant infused with Spanish flare – Aldea. It was quite funny that, we told the owner/chef that we were from Boulder, CO and the owner were like, yeah, I know Boulder, my brother lives in Fort Collins. What a small world!

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Best sauteed wild mushrooms, need I say more? Lol. Husband ordered a mushroom gnocchi on top of the appetizer, and there was no doubt he was hooked. The flavor was earthy, savory, with depth. With just a little bit firmness, the gnocchi was soft but not gooey, which was great.

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I on another hand had their seafood risotto. It was Patagonia’s lamb and salmon season. Oh my gosh, the freshness! The various seafoods were well executed.

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The dessert was good, but a little acidic (because of the fruit) to my taste.

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But over all, this was a very satisfactory visit, we were surprised to be fed so well in this tiny town on the edge of the world.

There was this other restaurant called “Afrigonia“, that caught our attention as well. I have heard good things about the food, but also it also seems to have a high price tag.

Next, I will give a short repost on Punta Arenas and nearby. Thanks for reading!

Eating action at Miami Beach

When talking about Miami food, one inevitably thinks about Cuban food, but I tend to try all kinds of food, so there will be an international flare in this post. During our stay in Miami, we primarily stayed in Miami Beach about one block away from the beach and here is what we think of the food scene in Miami Beach, the good, the bad and all else.

Non-Cuban food:

1. Mexican: Alma Mexciana, relatively cheap and good tacos, really enjoyed their pineapple horchata!

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2. Spanish: Tapas y Tintos, relatively low to medium price range, overall mediocre food

We had their stuffed calamari “Calamares rellenos” and “Plato del Marinero” as happy hour snacks. Both dishes were just ok, nothing great.

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3. French: A La Folie Cafe, relatively cheap, very good coffee, right off the busiest part of Espanola Way with great background music choice

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I had a really good crepe. But I have to admit that I am biased, because there was confit duck leg on top of the crepe that is wrapping inside a lot of sautΓ©ed mushrooms melted in cheese. Everything tastes better with duck leg and mushrooms. Lol.

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4. Breakfast: Aroma Espresso Bar, the lattes we had there were pretty good, seems like a nice place to chill for a lazy morning.

Cuban:
Havana 1957, the one on Espanola Way, medium price range, overall good food, great ambience

Husband had their “Havana 1957 Specialty”: A Family Traditional Roasted Chicken in Our Delicious Cuban Gravy
Served With White Rice, Black Beans, Salad and Sweet Plantains, which was very good. The chicken was tender, moist, well seasoned, quite flavorful. The dish came with a big salad as well.

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I had a pulled pork sandwich. The portion was very generous, which I could not finish even with some help from Husband. but the meat was a little dry and under seasoned. And under the giant sandwich, there buried a half-inch deep small fries, which I barely touched.

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Nights in Miami were warm and humid. So drinks were mandatory. We enjoyed our sangrias as well as cans of pineapple-flavored Jupina soda.

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Places we didn’t really like:
Usually, I tend not to talk about places I don’t like. But for places that receive overall positive or raving reviews on rating sites to be rather disappointing, I feel the need to point out the possibility that they might not be as good as they claim.

1. Doraku Sushi, medium to expensive price range, bad quality of food considering we are right by the beach (I would say ok if we were somewhere inland). There was too much mayo, chili sauce or jalapeΓ±o pieces being abusively put on sushi rolls that we could not quite taste the fish at all. Since the cold dish was disappointing, we ordered some yakisoba and fried rice and both were just OK at the best. The yakisoba was slathered with soy sauce and a bit too salty. And you know you sort of made a wrong restaurant choice when you see odd items such as fried rice on a Japanese menu and the fluffy intro to the chef/owner’s “zen/art” of food at the back of the menu. People all dressed up fancy trying to put out high class vibe and seemingly enjoying shitty food is something I really cannot tolerate and we got out as soon as we could. Heck, we were there during their happy hour to take advantage of the price break even.

2. Serendipity III, ok, I went in knowing it would be a tourist trap because of the movie and all that. I also went in knowing that other than their trademarked Frozen Hot Chocolate, there would be absolutely nothing else worth ordering. And thinking how hard it is to screw up with a drip coffee, we ordered a coffee along with the Froze Hot Chocolate. The coffee was absolute the worst either Husband or I have ever had in our lifetime, instant coffee would be 100x better, at least given enough sugar and stirring patience, you can eliminate the bitterness and the sandiness. And there comes the Frozen Hot Chocolate, basically cold hot chocolate with cream and chocolate shavings on top – I miss my $14 already. And yes, it was OUTRAGEOUSLY priced given by the terrible quality and the ultra-low difficulty to prepare the food!

3. Hiro’s Sushi Express, to be fair, the food was ok given the low price, especially if you order hot dishes. But the way they prepare the raw fish that goes into sushi dishes were unforgiveable – every freaking chunk of raw fish was pre sliced and sitting out with no wrappers over them to ensure the freshness intact or the more basic, HYGIENE (and I weep for the fish that died just to receive such mistreatments) – we didn’t look further for bad clues.

Alright, enough of the negativity.

Even though it already drove me insane just staying in this beach town for about 3 days doing nothing but to lay by the big body of water, it was relaxing to not worry about anything every once a while. We did enjoy staring at all the big b**bs (maybe fake, but who cares) and any other skin exposure that is considered sexy around the beach area, lol. Thanks for reading!

One day Los Angeles food report

Due to a last minute glitch regarding the upcoming trip, I found myself booking the round-trip flights to Los Angeles to solve the travel issue and of course, I went through all the trouble to fly out here and I was desperately in need of some great food to comfort myself.

Here I am, eating some very-much-missed mum’s dishes in the LA suburbs with my Shanghainese friends from LA. Lol. The taste of home is called “Shanghailander Palace”. The decor is very old school, bringing back 30’s, 40’s feel of old Shanghai bund diner style. We got some seasonal vegetables, a Grandma drunken crab, dumpling soups made with grounded pork and Shepherd’s purse (a vegetable delicacy that peaks in taste for about a couple weeks in the spring every year) and and a big bowl of tantalizing red braised pork belly.

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Everything was beyond fabulous, especially the pork belly. The dark red silky color, the tenderness of the meat, and the perfectly cooked the fat layer juicing over the lean layer, the savory rich and slightly sweet flavor — that bowl of pork alone almost brought tears to my eyes — that IS what home tastes like to me! And on top of that, almost all the waiters and waitresses spoke Shanghainese with us which was such a great bonus.

The next morning before getting business done, we decided to drive to check out a Korean place located in Korean Town nearby. It is a mom’s style restaurant again, “Seongbukdong” — the name itself refers to a neighborhood in Seoul. I had vegetables and beef slices boiled in beef broth. It was a little too heavy for the morning, I had to admit, but it was really good. Got a lot of pickle dishes on the side as usual Korean style, lol.

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After getting the problem solved, I had a few hours to myself wandering around town, and the Farmer’s Market was conveniently located within walking distance — so, I had to check that out.

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There were a lot of quick bite places mixed with vegetables/fruit vendors and some meat/poultry butchers. There was a spice shop called “Dragunara Spice Bazaar” that caught my attention. It had quite the stock of spices/herbs, and I sampled some lava salt and some wood-smoked salt, both were great.

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Walking to Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), I noticed an array of food trucks outside the museum. I was not hungry at the time so I did not get to sample the food, but nonetheless, it would be worth another trip to the food truck scene next time I land myself in LA. πŸ™‚

I will post some food adventure in Miami that I recently got to experience soon as well as the Patagonia trip. Thanks for checking in!

Italian gem in a strip mall – Il Pastaio

I have been to Il Pastaio quite a few times and every time I went in a grumpy and annoyed mood mostly after work and I left a very happy person. That is how magical this little place is to me.

The location of Il Pastaio is by no means, a prime one — a pretty bad spot quite frankly. How can you expect to sell when you are out of peoples’ sight most of the time and stand right next to a giant grocery store, some laundromat, some fro-yo place, etc. all by a big gas station and absolutely nowhere near downtown Boulder?

But, on a Wednesday night, they will be booked up to 8:30pm and I had to make a reservation right before they close. Even when I remember to make a reservation for 7pm in advance, we still end up waiting for our seats for a good 20 min. That is how busy they are, which is incredible given their location.

They do not feature anything “fancy”, no buzz words like “farm to table”, “organic”, “non-GMO”. For how much they charge, my guess is it is probably not going to be packed with expensive, full-on organic ingredients. But, a good chef knows how to make most mundane ingredients just fabulously delicious and Il Pastaio has some great Italian cooking going. Plus, they make all the pastas in the house, making it taste all the better! I like organic food, don’t get me wrong. But in general, I just like food, GOOD FOOD, food that is made with care and love, no matter it is organic or not. I would take a well-prepared dish made without organic ingredients any day over any plain organic salad that speaks no character of the chef whatsoever. Saying that, I would eat at Il Pastaio whenever I can. πŸ™‚

The most recent trip I had was like before, a fantastic one! For appetizer, we had their calamari salad. Not your usual fried calamari smothered in the batter. Very refresh and light.

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Husband had their gnocchi, which he really liked but deeply regretted that he did not order what I had. And I had their special of the night, a seafood stew, with a gracious portion of scallops, shrimps, calamari, mussels and some white fish meats. It was SOOOOOOOOOOOO good, oh my gosh, talking about some orgasmic, onolicious flavor!!! I remember last time I had their “Tilapia Mare Chiaro”, which totally blew me away! The guy knows how to cook seafood man!

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We had their tiramisu for dessert and enjoyed it tremendously as well. Their flan is also quite stellar from my past memory.

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During the meal, the owner/chef came over to greet us and we shared a little conversation about cooking and Italian food. The owner/chef grew up in Pisa and is deeply in love with the cuisine as anyone can tell. We had a blast that night. πŸ™‚ Cannot wait to go back again or just go buy some of their house-made pasta products!

Thanks for checking in!

Native Foods Cafe spotted in Boulder

Okay, I know it is extremely suspicious that I even would walk into a restaurant at my own free will that offers only meatless options, let alone a freaking VEGAN restaurant! But, I thought to myself, what the heck, in my life I happily ate snakes, insects, turtles, frogs, camels and the list went on, it would not make sense that I’d fear vegetable-only entrees even more than all the above food choices.

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This chain was founded in 1994 in Palm Springs, CA and allegedly a vegan fast food franchise. And all the meat-substitute is either tempeh or seitan — cooking for years, having never heard of these items tells you much about my diet. I ordered a Portebello and “Sausage” Burger with salad. The salad was very fresh and light. And burger was surprisingly pretty decent thanks to a big amount of seasoning. As I prefer real meats much better, the burger was not standing a very good chance for me to claim converted or anything — but I do like how they season things very well so that the vegetables do not taste bland at all — always something to learn and some message to take home with, haha. And the plateful of food did not fill me up either.

It was not an orgasmic dining experience, but I would admit that my forever hatred towards vegan food was very much mitigated after the visit. I would say in the summer heat, it is a good place to check out for some light and fresh meal.

Sushi Den – a treat to Denver

We found ourselves wandering around the area during dinner time and realized this sushi place has got hundreds of raving reviews, we were like, SOLD, no questions asked.

I ordered a hand roll of uni (sea urchin) that is supposedly flown in everyday fresh from San Diego. As far as sushi went, we had tuna firecracker roll, rainbow roll and rocky mountain (smoked trout) roll and the array of sushi rolls is displayed as below.

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So the sushi rolls were very good, very fresh tasting as they should. In recent years, I have found myself grew more and more out of sushi rolls where things get stuffed and rolled — I crave more raw fish, in its simplest and raw-est form — a slice of prepared premium cut on top of a small perfect cooked rice ball. Nothing more. I regretted a little that I did not order a sushi platter or just an array of sashimi instead.

A good way to tell how good any restaurant is, is to order something basic, simple yet sometimes either hard to make or needing to be extremely fresh. A good cheaper alternative is to order something as basic as agedashi tofu or egg rolls (tamagoyaki). Traditional Japanese egg rolls/omelets only has egg and salt or sugar in them — the authentic ones should have eggs and eggs only. However, Sushi Den’s egg rolls contains pork and vegetables, so I opted out. A video tutorial teaching how to make tamagoyaki.

Therefore, I ordered Uni hand roll. Good uni should taste like clean deep ocean yumminess with a custard texture and a light, slightly sweet flavor with a hint of brininess. And the uni hand roll was great considering we were in Denver and my tummy was quite pleasantly surprised although my wallet was not. Lol. It cost $14 (mkt price, probably winding up to $17 including tips and tax, lol) that night to have one small hand roll! Ehhh, what the heck, my tongue and my stomach was happy and that is all that matters. Here is a nerdy article talking about “why uni tastes so good?!”.

http://echinoblog.blogspot.com/2008/09/why-sea-urchin-sushi-uni-tastes-so.html

We cleaned the plate of sushi and my hand roll and at that moment we were in the mood for something warm. I asked the waiter about their tonkotsu ramen and he said the chef went to Southern Japan to learn how to cook the ramen. We went ahead and order their tonkotsu ramen. Tonkotsu ramen is a specialty in the area of Kyushu with Hakata style being particularly famous and popular. The dish usually comes with a few slices of marinated pork, sea weeds, a half hard-boiled egg, garnished with some vegetables and spring onions. The key to umami is in the broth made from pork bones (aka tonkotsu), that is usually a cloudy white thick broth cooked for tens of hours to even days. The picture below was taken when we were halfway done with the noodles, lol.

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The ramen was quite good with a plus on the flavor of chashu pork. The broth was close to what I have had in East Asia, but not quite as good, which was sadly expected. To be fair, since we live in such a health-obsessed area, Boulder/Denver metro, I cannot tell if it was done at the chef’s best or it was on purpose so that most customers will not complain about how “greasy” or “fatty” the noodles taste. On a different note, I totally disagree with the whole mentality that “fat equals bad” and “oh my gosh my cholesterol is shooting above the roof just because I had this bowl of noodles” stupidity.

Overall, the experience was quite positive and I would go back again for sure. Just be aware that what you order might not be actual authentic version of the food.

Dagabi Cucina – revisit for Paella

Dagabi cucina has Paella Mondays, which features a paella special every Monday for $12. A couple weeks ago, husband and I went to go check out the paellas.

I had their regular seafood paella, “Paella de Mariscos”, which had shrimp, clams, mussels, calamari, red peppers, peas, artichoke hearts and Calasparra saffron rice in the plate. The portion was generous, 1.5 -2 meal worth of food for my appetite. Everything was cooked well and fresh tasting except that I thought they needed to add another kicking in spicing up the dish.

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The husband had their special paella of the night, which featured a giant chicken leg, peas, bell peppers, chorizo, and saffron rice. Husband liked it but also said something along the line that the dish needed a little more spices.

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Overall, the dish was good for quantity and quality to some extent, but we were not wow-ed. Need to revisit to try something else next time. πŸ™‚