Brunch Basics

Posted from San Diego, California, United States.

An overcast Saturday morning in San Diego led us to Cafe 21 in the Gaslamp District for brunch. Filled with people and bustle, very personable wait staff (the maitre de remembered our name after the meal) and walls covered with eclectic glass vessels filled with liquors infusing in various spices and herbs. We started of with some Bloody Mary’s; even the basic one was stacked high with produce and prosciutto. Pearl replaced her prosciutto with a fresh oyster on the half shell for only a few bucks more. They were delicious, but we both found the spiciness a bit lacking.

bloody Mary

bloody Mary with an oyster

On to the main dishes! I couldn’t decide as there were so many that looked amazing. I settled for French toast stuffed with ruhbarb, strawberries, and cream cheese. Topping it was a homemade raspberry compote that had a wonderful fresh balance of tart and sweet.

strawberry rhubarb stuffed toast

Pearl chose the Tiramisu Pancakes. Starting with small cinnamon-cocoa pancakes with a lovely slight crispy exterior and amazingly fluffy interiors. Stacked 5 high, they were drowned in about a pint of an espresso mascarpone sauce. Topping off that was chocolate syrup and an espresso maple glaze, with a light dusting of powdered sugar on the plate. This was an absolutely amazing dish with lots of complexity and rich, intense flavors. A must-try. I thought it even better than actual tiramisu!

tiramisu pancakes

Sunday Brunch off Bourbon Street

Posted from New Orleans, Louisiana, United States.

The French quarter is a strange dichotomy. You have Bourbon Street, famous for racy strip clubs and gutters full of alcohol. But it also hosts some fantastic restaurants. On a quiet, rainy Sunday morning, we made our way from St. Luis Cathedral to Bourbon Street and Arnaud’s Dining Room for a four-course brunch.

Mimosa from fresh-squeezed orange juice

Arnaud’s exemplifies how I’ve come to see the city of New Orleans, a rich, patina of glory in decay. While clean and tidy, the restaurant is really showing its age. Wood paneling is fading, as decades of beeswax polish is undone by chemical cleaners. The beautifully patterned hexagonal floor tiles have lost their shine, and the waitstaff seem grizzled and tired in their worn tuxedos. The glory this place clearly once held is slowly diminishing, much like an ancient plantation manor being overrun by kudzu.

The food was certainly better than the decor. For the first course, I began with a cream cheese Evangeline. Fresh grapes, honeydew, cantaloupe, and strawberries were at perfect ripeness. Covering them was a wonderfully light sauce made by whisking together cream cheese and fruit juices, a refreshing way to start the meal.

Following this was a small salad, butter leaf lettuce, watercress, and Arnaud’s unique house dressing garnished with juiliened celery root and thinly shaved beets. The celery root was a surprise, but like the rest of the salads I’ve had here, the ingredients were at the decidedly warm room temperature, and not chilled as I had hoped.

For the main course, I went for a simple omelet, three cheeses, pancetta, and tomato. Exquisitely prepared, the eggs were very light and fluffy. The tartness of the tomato perfectly offset the saltiness brought by the pancetta. The mozzarella, parmesian-reggiano, and chévre nicely blended together in a perfect mix of sharp, creamy, and gooey. With a side of the thinnest fries I have ever seen, this was easily one of the best omelets I have ever had. I had to stop myself to leave room for desert.

And what a desert it was. A phenomenal bread pudding in a brandy sauce. Using their house bread, a French white with a unique top crust, the pudding is baked into a rich custard for that perfect balance between dry and gooey.

Add this to your New Orleans itinerary. The decor is nice, and the food more than makes up for the aging atmosphere.

Late Night dining in the Big Easy

Posted from New Orleans, Louisiana, United States.

After a very filling brunch, the little missus and I spent the afternoon wandering the French Quarter and the waterfront, eventually making our way to the Southern Food and Drink Museum. Afterwards it was nigh on suppertime, so we made our way back to the French Quarter with the intention of enjoying K Paul’s. Unfortunately they were closed on Sundays (as is most of this city), so we headed back to the hotel to cool off and wait for our appetites to return. After a few hours, we prepared to venture out to Camelia Grill, but a quick web search showed us they too were closed. At this point we were reaching closing time and decided to search for 24/7 dining options. Just down St. Charles Avenue from our hotel is The Avenue Pub.

We strolled the 4 short blocks and found a dingy gastropub with 47 different beers on tap, all of them smaller craft brews. The wife chose the Fox Barrel Pear Cider, and I went for the Steiner Weiss while we waited for our orders. The weiss had an incredible head that took the bar tender 5 minutes to pour and another 5 to fully settle. It was wheaty, as expected from that kind of beer, and a bit on the thick side. It stayed nice and cloudy throughout my entire meal and left no sediment.

Shortly our food arrived, a burger for the wife, and the grilled cheese club for me. Having seen mixed reviews, I was happy with the results, and the prices were quite reasonable. The grilled cheese had goat cheese, cheddar, and a heavy dose of a soft feta all melted into gooey yumminess. Along with bacon, tomato, and a fresh pesto, the whole thing was served on some nice thick slices of artisinal sourdough and grilled on a pannini press. The burger was good as well, tasty beef and cooked perfectly with all the juices intact, but otherwise nothing too special. Disappointingly, the burger was supposed to come with pecan crusted onion rings we wanted to try, but these were replaced with good, but generic cross-cut fries.

For late night dining, it was surprisingly good, and I would go back to sample more of the beer list, that being apparently scarce in the Big Easy where rum drinks abound.

White on white on white

Posted from Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States.

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Located on the 12th floor above Macy’s in downtown Minneapolis, the Skyroom is a lunch cafeteria that Richard Myer would be proud of. Curving white walls, white furniture, and even a white piano surround a soup and salad bar, and stations for pasta, burgers, Mexican food, and American deli sandwiches. Of course, being from LA, I passed on the Mexican station and made my way to the deli counter. Top of the list: a smoked turkey with applewood smoked bacon sandwich on cinnamon-raisin bread with cranberry aoli. The bread, pullaway style, cut thick and toasted, was sweet and packed with cinnamon. Unlike many delis, both the bacon and the turkey were rich with smokey flavor. The turkey portion size was a little small, but the ample amount of bacon made up for it. Coupled with a peppery coleslaw and your typical pickle wedge, this made for great way to spend a warm lunch watching the cold snow fall.

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Day 3: Bun, bun-bun, bun… bunnnnn!

Posted from Tai Mo Shan, New Territories, Hong Kong.

On day 3 of our trip to Hong Kong, we started off with a very common Hong Kong dish, the butter cream bun. Found in every train station and marketplace, are shops selling filled buns. They’re even more common than the ubiquitous doughnut shop in the U.S., and fill a similar niche. Think of them as the Hong Kong equivalent to the Parisian crepe.

Unlike what you’d expect from Asian pastries, these are almost exclusively wheat-flour buns, and are baked instead of steamed or fried. For the most part, they have the consistency of Hawaiian bread, and are available with both sweet and savory fillings.

butter cream bun
butter cream bun

First off, my favorite of the bunch, butter cream bun. This was a sweet bun, almost exactly the same as Hawaiian bread, both in flavor and texture. It was stuffed-full with a soft, creamy, butter filling. Thankfully, not margarine, and also not heavy or oily as butter can sometimes be. Dusted over the top with shaved coconut, this was a perfect way to start the day!

butter cream bun
butter cream bun

We snuck in that first one as we were waiting for the train. We headed to the outskirts of the New Territories to visit my wife’s grandmother at her nursing home. We arrived just as she was finishing lunch, but she quickly joined us in the courtyard to gorge ourselves on these wonderful buns.

Grandma Au taking a call
Grandma Au enjoying a call from her granddaughter in NYC
Beef Bun
Beef Bun

As I mentioned, many of the buns have savory fillings. This one had a nice stewed beef, and made for a perfect balance between a light snack and something more substantial.

Following the beef bun, were two filled with a tuna-salad mixture. These both were topped with chives, and had a hint of onion in the pastry itself.

tuna-filled bun
tuna-filled bun
tuna-filled bun
tuna-filled bun

This next one was a little different. Instead of being a bun, the “curry beef triangle” was baked in the style of a French pastry, with all the flaky crispy layers you could imagine. As you would expect from the name, the filling was a green beef curry. Slightly spicy, the contrast of texture and flavor between the pastry and the filling makes for a wonderful combination.

curry beef triangle
curry beef triangle
curry beef triangle filling
curry beef triangle filling

One last bun, appears to have been made using whole-wheat flower. Covered with sesame seeds, I can only guess at what the filling was. I apparently neglected to take a photo of the inside.

mystery bun
mystery bun

Now that I know about these buns, I can’t wait for a return trip. Apparently, there are peanut-butter filled buns, as well as sausage ones reminiscent of a bagel-dog!