Lannae's Food and Travel

I hope you like my food and travel blog.

April 26, 2006

My Recent stay near Washington DC

Washington DC is the Republic of the United States of America’s power center. There are lovely buildings and monuments surround the White House, which is yet another fancy and lovely building. I wonder what all the government buildings would look like and how well would they be constructed if they were built today. Thank goodness they were not built recently, and their visual grandness can stand today. I just want to remind myself that all the federal govt buildings belong to the TAXPAYERs, and that every taxpayer, including myself, should have the right to access our govt buildings and elected officials who work in them. I still have hope for a representative government, but the hope fades at times when letters to senators and congressmen go unanswered, when clearly a response is requested.

Take a look at the Washington Monument “money shot”.
It is amazing to me that the Hope Diamond, stolen from India, lives in the Smithsonian.

Through my stops into the Washington DC area, I have stayed in the District and all surround counties except for one, until now: Prince George’s County. PGC is the home of Maryland’s premiere state university, Univ of MD, the home of the largest National Archive in the country, the home of the world renowned Goddard Space Center, and the home to persons of color making up 75% of the PGC population. It was odd to me to see that the UofMD did not have a really cool college town center like Amherst, Berkeley, or Athens to name a few college towns of big state schools. Where are the college bars, and where do professors go to dinner? I asked daily of the locals where there was a hip place to eat and hang out in PGC, and I was met with “no where”. PGC has lesser chain restaurants and the worst restaurants I have ever eaten in my life. One restaurant, NY Buffet did not have food up to temperature, the food sources were obviously from the lowest end of the distributor list, the sauces were congealed sugar water, and it was worse than eating Umass institutional food on the last days of school when they are running out of food except for iceberg lettuce and chicken patties. At least Umass had food that was hot. The other underlying tone of PGC I felt was that every store or shop I went to was not kept up like their comparable stores in Fairfax Co, and the staff watched me like a hawk as if they were expecting me to steal something. The contrast between PGC and the other counties, Anne Arundel, Montgomery, Fairfax and Loudon are striking in many different ways. I am not sure why it is, I did not invent it, but the differences are apparent.

April 24, 2006

Tapas on Top of DC

480 7th St NW
Washington, DC
Jaleo is in the same trendy area Rasika is in, Gallery Place/Chinatown of Washington, DC. Jaleo has been an honorable mention in the Wine Spectator for 3 years in a row, has been nominated for a James Beard award, and is number 2 of the top 3 most popular restaurants in the DC area according to the 2005 Zagat Guide public poll. Jaleo presents a wide variety of cold, temperate and hot tapas dishes, that you could keep coming back day after day without having the same combo twice. I love tapas and dim sum because I love little tasting dishes so that I can have lots of different tastes with each dish costing a reasonable price. If the dish stinks, then it is only tapas and I did not spend an arm and a leg on it, but if it is yumm-o, then order another one because it is tapas!

The patrons were quite noticeable because they are definitely are power brokers of the District. The older established crowd looked like they could be friends with Hillary Clinton, and they toted the D.C. 50-something uniform of classic clothing, pearl necklaces, and perfect political haircuts that would not embarrass if the paparazzi were to be around the corner. The 20-something crowd was also in force at Jaleo, and many of them were at the bar area to see who they can see on a Saturday night. They too had their uniform on, with sleek dark pants, refined power shirts, and for the woman, their hair cuts all were mid length, straight, parted on the side suggesting they buy into the power broker game. The 20-somethings who can last in this high pressure area of influence, will one day replace those 50-somethings I saw at Jaleo.

I went to Jaleo with a co-worker who is into volumes of food for cheap rather than the execution, flavor, texture, aroma and presentation of cuisine. Apparently he was mad at me because tapas are small tasting dishes and he just wants piles of calories. In general, I do not go into fine dining with people who find no enjoyment while consuming calories, but I was stuck on a work detail in the "food void" of College Park, MD all week. For me, I survived on the worst calorie intakes I have ever had in College Park, and every restaurant in College Park that I went to was basically disrespecting food resources by poorly preparing and mistreating food they way they did. I needed at least one decent meal before leaving, and Jaleo for me was a halo of food fun for me after a week of food disasters.

Jaleo’s menu is divide into cold, temperate, hot, and dessert tapas. The way I approached my visit to Jaleo was to pick one tapas from each category. I opted for a salt cod salad made with tomatos and Spanish extra virgin olive oil. Tomato and SEVOO is always a winning combo, and was a good opening tapas. The second dish I got was a tuna carpaccio with capers, pine nuts and anchovy oil and this dish was distinctive and really sent my taste buds into a happy dance. The hot tapas I ordered was a lamb chop dish that was flavorful, but was heavily sauced and maybe a bit too heavy because it did not let the natural lamb flavor come through. I decided to order orange flan because I thought it what I should do in a Spanish themed restaurant. The dessert plate was delivered with fresh whipped cream, flan, fresh orange segments and thyme sprigs. I never thought savory thyme would work with a sweet flan, but it did. What a sweet way to end my fun food adventure at Jaleo.I can see why Jaleo is one of the most popular restaurants in the District. Cost is about $5-7 per plate, combine 3 plates and you got a meal for about $20 which is a good value inside the beltway. If people are on a budget, they can get 1 or 2 dishes, and if there is a lot of disposable income, then go for many tapas and share with the table!

Haute Indian Fusion in the District

633 D St NW
Washington, DC

Rasika is an India flavor fusion restaurant that has refined all components of a great dining experience. The atmosphere/interior has clean lines, warm earthy colors, funky room divider textures, and a balance of form and function. Rasika managed to maximize seating in the space, we sat very close to both tables on either side, but the layout design made me fell like I had plenty of room and a semi-private dining experience.

This restaurant is located between the National Archives and Gallery Pl/Chinatown metro stops, and currently this area is about high quality restaurants and going to the theater. Through the 1990’s this area around the Gallery Place/Chinatown metro stop was left in disrepair and decay. I recall dirty streets, dim lights, and crappy metros stop, streets and sidewalks. From 2000+, the District has transformed this area from being a complete mess to a trendy see and be seen area. Rasika does a great job fitting into the fabric of this renewed part of the District.
What struck me first was that this Indian restaurant has a well stocked bar, has a list of fun cocktails and a very nice dessert menu, and all these things are nice treats above and beyond any typical Indian restaurant I have been in. At that point I knew I was in for a great ride. Since there were only two of us, my cousin who is a complete “foodie” and myself, we had to limit ourselves to only a few dishes, but I could have ordered every dish! We got a fabulous mango cosmo that would make your toes curl! We opted for curry crab cakes and a flash fried spinach salad to start, and the concept of fusion food was executed so well with both of these dishes. Our second course included tandori salmon and green masala chicken with a side of rice and naan. As with the apps, our salmon and chicken dishes were executed well, and there was a freshness to each dish that beckoned you to take another bite. Everything up to this point in the meal had been prepared solidly that we just had to dive into the exceptional dessert list.

So we got a fig and walnut ice cream that came in the shape of the Washington Monument, accompanied by a maple like syrup and chopped nuts in the base of a shallow bowl. If I had to say a dessert was sexy, I would say this one hit the mark as sexy because of presentation, composition and flavor. I was so taken by the presentation of this fig and walnut ice cream, I just did not have a chance to take a photo. We also got a warm chocolate berry oozy torte accented with star anise. This chocolate lava dessert was made with an unexpected and perfect amount of star anise.

All in all, this restaurant exceeded every expectation of visual, flavor, and aroma of Indian-American fusion. I highly recommend this restaurant to anyone who is in the Washington Mall area.

April 16, 2006

Philadelphia, PA tourist photos

I spent a day being a site seer in the City of Brotherly Love - Philadelphia.

John Penn on top of City Hall

Independence Hall, Declaration of Independence. Check out the US $2 bill for a look at what Independence Hall looks like from the inside, and nothing much has changed.

Streets of Phila, the old Wanamaker Building, the Phila subway

April 15, 2006

Italian in South Philly

1540 Ritner St
Philadelphia, PA

Nido is a small 32 seat restaurant deep into south Phila, away from all the touristy parts of the city, and serves up Italian food more like what you would get at home, not that heavy noodle and tomato sauce stuff of bad chain restaurants. Nido is the 1st floor of a typical Phila. row home, and it looks like a neighborhood restaurant that locals would like to walk to for dinner when they do not want to cook. Prices are about $10-15 per entree. This restaurant does not sell liquor, but you can BYOB. The table of us had meals of seafood risotto, mushroom potato gnocchi, and salmon in a tomato cream sauce. My gnocchi was light, fluffy, delicate with a savory sauce made of mushrooms and garlic. I had to get more bread to sop up the last drops of sauce. Every bite I took, I had to say "yummm!" The main dishes were fabulous to say the least.

The desserts were pretty, and we had creme caramel, ricotta cheese cake and cannoli. The chef made a very lovely creme caramel, the cannoli was just so cute as you can see from the photo, and the cheese cake was made with chocolate, a little grainy because of the ricotta, and served on the warm side, as the kitchen must have been very warm from the day's cooking. Italian desserts are tough to compete with in the fine city of Philadelphia because Philly has such a strong Italian history, and there are delicous Italian bakers all over Southeast PA, NJ and NY.

Iron Chef - Morimoto

723 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA

What would Philadelphia be without visiting the most famous Japanese Chef in the world? I did just that, and I made a lunch reservation for one at Morimoto. The feeling around my house is that celebrity chef restaurants are generally over rated, high priced and you can probably get a meal in a neighborhood restaurant that is just as good. That said, I have been dreaming of dining at Morimoto's restaurant for years, and I finally got to go. The space is beautiful, and I felt trendy in my sneakers and uncombed hair. The visual details of the clean lines, and white dishes on tables of glowing green and glowing blue, are a feast for the eyes. The background Japanese new age music is soothing, and makes you think of Iron Chef - Tasting and Judgement. The knowledge and demeanor of the waitstaff confirms you are being served by a well trained staff. I opted for a chef's choice sushi meal with miso soup and green salad to start. The soup was miso at its best, with a huge chunk of tofu. The salad was appropriately dressed to allow the flavor of the lettuce to come through. Then there was the sushi. It takes good technique to make sushi rice balls and these were the perfect size, consistency, and flavor. The garnish of pickled ginger was white, thank goodness because I cannot eat anymore pink food dye, and the wasabi was made with 1/2 wasabi root and 1/2 horseradish. The sushi chef on staff this day was also on par with generic sushi chefs in around the country, but not the best I have seen, a couple pieces of fish could have been trimmed more and the chef's cutting technique left a couple of fish pieces torn. Aside from chef's choice sushi, I ordered two pieces of Oh-Toro, which is impossible to get in landlocked USA. It was served nearly frozen, and I suspect it would be better if the sushi chef would have used a quick blow torch to get the fatty tuna to develop its flavor. I left the beautiful restaurant with a full belly, and still searching for an excellently served Toro Tuna.

Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia

Reading Terminal Market is on 12th and Arch, near the Philadelphia Convention Center. It is one of the oldest Farmer's Markets in the country, and is probably better known from the game Monopoly as the Phila. terminal of the famous Reading Railroad. Inside the market are Amish vendors, fresh veggies, meats, cheeses, flowers, ice cream, and the best variety of lunch counters you can get anywhere in the USA. Reading Terminal is a "must visit" for me every time I am in Philadelphia. You will see people buying their fresh foods for their evening meals, and perhaps flowers for their loved ones. This place does attract tourists, but it also is a functioning farmer's and meat market for those who live in and around Philadelphia.

For lunch I decided to eat at Rick's Steaks. Rick's is the orginal Pat's of the great South Philly Geno's and Pat's Cheesesteak rivalry, but Rick sold Pat's and started another Cheesesteak stand at Reading Terminal Market, and called it Rick's. The Philly Cheesesteak really isn't haute cuisine nor is it that great, and is traditionally made with shaved beef, CheezeWhiz, and other items liked canned mushrooms, onions and green peppers. Who would eat CheeseWhiz willingly? Apparently I am, everytime I am in Philly.So here is my cheesesteak, and it is more of a tradition to eat these things, rather than having a fabulous meal. I feel the history and tradition in every bite of a Philly cheesesteak. Philly Cheesesteaks at Pat's, Geno's, Jim's and Rick's, when eaten, should give a feeling of being in a hard working town with deep American working class and family values. It really isn't about taste, texture or aroma of the meal.
Bassetts Ice Cream is also in the Reading Terminal Market, and is about 150 years old, est 1861. Bassetts is considered one of the TOP 10 Ice Creams in the USA. Bassetts ice cream is dense, rich in flavor and a lovely afternoon snack before going shopping for the ingredients for dinner.

After the best ice cream in Philadelphia, I continued my visit in the Reading Terminal Market by visiting various vegetable booths and a cheese shop. The ingredients I bought were all organic and fresh - zucchinis, Japanese eggplants, tomatoes, Italian parsley, garlic, oregano and Romano cheese. I layered all these ingredients with olive oil, salt, pepper and baked it with some tomato sauce for over an hour. It was a nice treat for my friends who lent me their kitchen for the evening.The Reading Terminal is dear to me, and I recommend a visit to it if you are in Philadelphia.

Chinatown in Phila, PA

Philadelphia has a small, but vibrant Chinatown, and is only a few blocks long by a few blocks wide. The grocery stores and restaurants are top notch, cheap and satifying.

Sang Kee Peking Duck House
238 N. 9th St
Phila, PA
As I was walking through Philadelphia's Chinatown (9th and Race streets), I stuck my head into a friendly Chinese bakery to ask where there is good duck in this town. The shop owner told me that Sang Kee is the best, and Joe's Duck House used to be the best, but the new owners changed Joe's and they do not even serve duck anymore! Note to self, "Do not got to Joe's Duck House because there is no duck there dispite the name of the restaurant." Sang Kee is located in the very back Northeast corner of Chinatown, a bit off the beaten path, and only locals in the know seem to go there. So we went to Sang Kee, CASH ONLY business, and ordered my 2 favorite Chinese dishes, Chow Fun (Chung Fun - wide rice noodles) with beef, onions, peppers and black bean sauce. The sauce was made the traditional way with dried fermented gingered black beans, and the dish was cooked in peanut oil to the smoke point. Scrumptious, and this dish could hold up to any NYC and Hong Kong noodle house any day!
The duck from Sang Kee was hanging in the window, and it too was prepared well, and as well as you can get in NYC and Hong Kong. Philadelphia's Sang Kee is delicious, and judging by how packed the place was from 8-10pm, other Philadelphians think so too.

Philadelphia, PA

Ben Franklin in Philadelphia

I used to live in Philadelphia, PA, but it has been over a decade since then. I never thought much of the city then, but I have learned the city has a lot to offer during my recent trip. The Philadelphia Art Museum was the 1st art museum in the USA. There are only 2 places you can see a Rodin Museum, one is France, and the other is center city Philadelphia. There are only 2 coin mints in the USA, and those cities are Denver and Philadelphia. There are only 2 cities to eat at Morimoto Iron Chef's restaurant, and those would be NYC and, you guessed it, Philadelphia. The Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Reading Terminal Market - one of the first farmer's markets in the USA, the first paved street in the USA, Philly cheese steaks, all three major USA sports Eagles and Phillies and the Flyers, and Ben Franklin's old house which is now covered by an expressway. The restaurant scene in Philadelphia is one of the best in the USA, and I would have to say that the restaurants can go head to head with any restaurant in NYC. The biggest observation I saw was that the city is in transition, where there are a lot of condos and restaurants going up for the rich, and there is a grown number of lay-offs and poverty for the poor.

April 2, 2006

Midtown Cafe in Nashville

Midtown Cafe
102 19th Ave So.
Nashville, TN
Midtown is an unassuming little restaurant on a side street off the main drag of Nashville. Midtown is part of so you can make a reservation online, and be assured to have your table waiting when you arrive. I am impressed that Midtown is taking advantage of this nation-wide online reservation service that other larger restaurant meccas have embraced. Midtown has a menu that changes often, depending on ingredients, and some of the recipes and combinations are a bit experimental. Midtown also has a tasting menu, 3-courses for $39, or 5-courses for $54, and I opted for the 3-course.
The first course I opted for was seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras with a sun dried tomato polenta cake, and garnished with capers and fresh herbs. I now know why Iron Chef taste testers go ga-ga over Foie Gras, as it is so decadent. My taste buds were so happy!
The 2nd course was a cool green tea soba noodle, Thai pesto with Asian slaw veggies, and topped with a shrimp tempura. This dish was light, cleansing and refreshing, which balanced well with the first course which was rich and flavorful. The shrimp might have been better on this dish if it were grilled rather than fried because the tempura batter was heavy, and missing that light airy feel of real tempura. This course was exactly what was needed before the last course.The 3rd course was a carnivore special with antelope sirloin and a wild boar ragu and sides of beans and fennel. The antelope was lean, melted in my mouth, and surprisingly, it did not have a gamey smell or taste. The wild boar ragu packed a powerful punch of flavor to the other parts of the plate that were more subdued.

I could not imagine having any more of any of these dishes than what was plated because each one was so well made, and the ingredients were so fresh, that you only need a few bites to feel satisfied. Each dish was just enough to make my taste buds happy, and left me wanting to come back to Midtown for another try on another day.

Woodlands come alive in Nashville

Woodlands - Indian Vegetarian Cuisine
3415 West End Ave.
Nashville, TN
This restaurant is in the condo high-rise right next to the I-440 and West End Ave. interchange, and it is nearly impossible to make a left into the parking lot for this building during business hours. There is barely any parking, and this restaurant space has been "cursed" for as long as I have lived in Nashville. There were some mediocre to bad restaurants in this space until now. Woodlands Vegetarian is tasty and I did not miss the meat in these spicy meatless dishes. We got a couple combo plates, which is enough for 2 - 3 people.
The lentil and bean dishes were cooked well and not pasty, the soup we had was a simple spicy broth that started off our dinner well, and the breads tasted fresh and hot. The prices are so reasonable, and there will be food leftover to take home. There was little to no use of cream, so the food will not weigh you down, rather the food made me feel like I was doing something nurturing for myself. I felt great eating this food! The Nashville Scene food critic Kay West suggested that Woodlands may be bring the cursed location to the end of the curse, and I would have to agree.

Chinatown Square Chicago

Lao Sze Chuan
Chinatown Square Mall
2172 S Archer
Chicago, IL

This places is crowded and the wait is long. I spied other dinner guests having "hot pot" for dinner, which is a big broth pot used like a fondue pot to cook veggies and seafood. After you have had your fill of hot pot cooked food, you can use the rest of the unused ingredients to make a lovely soup. We opted for a house special beef stew with tons of crushed red peppers and chinese veggies. It was spicy! We also had an under-whelming chicken dish that was like mall food, and of course, my favorite clams in black bean sauce. It is tough to get a good black bean sauce anymore, now that chefs are are using manufactured jarred sauces, rather than starting with dried ginger fermented black beans. This place is chef owned by Tony Hu, who as been on local cable tv, cooking up some of his recipes. While we were there, he paced up and down his restaurant aisles like a fretful nervous man worrying about something and stressing out talking on the cordless phone, yet getting nothing done for customer satification. An interesting thing the staff did was while seating us, they only brought a fork for the white person at the table and for the rest, chop sticks. If you want hot pot and some spicy dishes, this is the place, but the atmosphere and the pacing owner leaves something to be desired.

Palos Hills - Hidden Gem

Hong Min
8048 W 11th St
Palos Hills, IL

Palos Hills, IL is a small suburb of Chicago with this authentic Chinese restaurant. We had 40 garlic clay pot chicken (how could chicken be bad with 40 cloves of garlic?), bok choy and roasted pork, clams with black bean sauce, snails with black bean sauce, ong choy (my favorite Chinese spinach and water cress like veggie), steamed oysters with cilantro and scallions, egg drop soup, and chung fun noodles. I might be forgetting a dish or two, but all of these were delicious, cozy and like my mom used to make. The building this restaurant is in what looks like a former fast food chain, like Cap't Ds, and the atmosphere inside is a bit under-whelming. Did I go to eat the building, or did I go to eat lovely Chinese food? I am saying the food, and it was awesome!