Saturday, May 29, 2010

Abyssinia, Raleigh, NC (Ethiopian)

I have long known about Abyssinia, a hole-in-the-wall Ethiopian restaurant near NC State's campus, but due to a bad experience with Ethiopian food in Washington DC when I was a teenager (throwing balls of injera at each other? anyone?), I never tried it until this year. Park in the lot in front of Cup A Joe, and you should be able to see a sign for the restaurant. The door is not clearly marked, but rather covered in old posters for Ethiopian dance parties of yore. When you walk into the restaurant, don't be fazed...the tables are hidden behind a wall, but a friendly lady will come out and greet you. I don't know what it takes to sit at one of the mesob (round tables), but we automatically got put at a normal table.

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These triangular shaped things are called Sambusas. They are the Ethiopian counterpart to Indian samosas, and if you order them, definitely get the lentil ones...they are better than the beef sambusas. The outside is crispy, and the inside is a bit more juicy than Indian samosas.
We ordered different tibs (stewed dishes) that come on injera bread. They also give you an extra roll of injera bread on the side. The two blobs of red-orange on the very outside of the piles are lentils. They are so spicy and flavorful that it makes you forget you are eating boring lentils. Definitely not boring lentils. Be prepared to drink a lot of water, as everything is pretty spicy (but it hurts so good!). The downside of drinking a lot of water is that the injera majorly soaks up liquids, so then you're full after eating relatively little.
The is the "after" picture. Note that it looks like we barely ate anything before we felt full.
Tips from the friendly lady: don't eat too much injera at first. Use only a small bit of injera to pick up a large amount of meat. The parts where the spicy grease soaks through the injera are extra delicious, so be sure to eat those first. If you have leftovers (which I am sure you will), just pop them in the microwave with the injera wrapped around the tibs.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

新仕 Hotel 的早餐 (breakfast at shin shih hotel)

Having stayed in my share of hotels, I'm used to "continental breakfasts" offered in addition to a room for the night. In my experience, continental breakfasts usually include coffee, a few haphazard breads, maybe milk and orange juice, and if you're lucky, fruit. Since 新仕 Hotel markets itself to business travelers, I thought maybe they would offer more western styled food. In fact, they serve 稀飯 (rice porridge) and 家常菜 (everyday dishes), 米粉 (rice vermicelli), the requisite bread (do not recommend eating), eggs and ham, and coffee. They also have milk, which is reconstituted from non-fat dry milk, but it is SO rich and flavorful...just like how mom used to make it when we were little.

Below is a sampling of what they usually make, minus any strange dishes with 木耳 (literally wood ear, or properly called jelly ear fungus). I haven't liked 木耳 ever since I was a child. The 豆干 (hard tofu, top right) was good. The little fish (bottom right) were not as crunchy as mom makes it, but the flavor was good.
The bowl of white stuff to the left is 稀飯, and you eat it with the stuff on the plate to the right. Notice the crumbly stuff at the bottom? That is 肉鬆 (dried pork). I felt a little badass eating squid for breakfast...they really know how to make it though. It wasn't tough and chewy at all.
A few words about the hotel itself. We think it's a family owned business, as some of the staff seem less formal than most hospitality workers in Taiwan. The hotel only has 7-8 floors, 4 rooms per floor. Rates range from 1800 NTD - 3000 NTD (~$56.00-$93.00 USD), depending on how big the room is. Breakfast is from 7am to 10am every morning, and included in the room rate. The hotel is located in the block immediately next to MRT Shuang Lian Station (捷運雙連站), across from Mackay Hospital (馬偕記念醫院) emergency room, making it very convenient for exploring the city and having heart attacks.

Bonus: my grandma being a ninja and breaking a banana clear in half, unpeeled.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Fakhr El Din, Amman, Jordan

Once again posting because I cannot sleep - this time it is because my grandma looked at the clock wrong and woke us up at 5am instead of 6am. We are going on a tour of 龜山 today, and needed to meet the tour group at 7am. The following are pictures I took in Jordan last year, at Fakhr el Din, one of the nicest restaurants in Amman. It sits in a residential area up on one of the hills, and is a short walk to east Amman.

To start off, the centerpiece is edible - carrots, tomatoes, celery...supposed to dip it in the olive oil, but I think it's better if you don't.
You can also dip the vegetables in this garlic whipped cream looking sauce. It is light and fluffy, and the proper way to eat the garlic whip is to spread a little on a fresh tomato and sprinkle a little bit of sumac powder on it all. It is a flavor I have not tasted before. The sumac is tangy and the garlic is spicy, which surprisingly brings out the sweetness in the tomato.
The menu is much loved, and includes familiar western dishes for those who aren't daring enough for Middle Eastern food.
The bread is like pita but thinner, with a puffier pocket. The way to eat the different dishes is to break off a little piece of bread and use it to dip in the sauce-y dishes.
The plate of brown is tangy beans, sort of the consistency of baked beans, but without the sweetness and goopiness of baked beans.
Shanklish (shang-kleesh)! Shanklish is dry hard cheese that is orange, mixed with olive oil and spices. There's also some basil and tomato as garnish.
It is necessary to break up and mix the shanklish before eating it, as demonstrated below.
Eating tabbouleh makes me feel like I'm eating chopped up grass. The flavor is great, but I can't get over the texture.
This is a cup of minty lemonade. It is very reminiscent of the lime-ade that I used to have at VVG in Taipei.
Fried batata - spicy and crispy fried potatoes. Not so Middle Eastern, but very tasty.
Garlicky mushrooms. Once again, not so much Middle Eastern, but very tasty.
Kebab Halawbi. The kebab part is actually strips of meat with bumps. The yellow thing to the right is very thin bread. I think you're supposed to eat a bit of meat covered with a bit of the bread with a little slice of onion and tomato.
After dinner they pass small cups out and a guy comes by with a kettle of dark digestive "turkish" coffee. I have turkish in quotes because the coffee is not exclusively turkish, but refers to the style of finely ground coffee and how it's made.
Every meal ends with slices of fruit, EXACTLY like in Taiwan!!! I bought a small watermelon at the farmer's market in Chapel Hill for $5 the week before I left for Jordan, thinking it would be juicy and sweet and what have you. It was not. It barely had any flavor, and was mostly just watery and tough. And then I had the watermelon from Jordan. OH MY GOSH FARMER'S MARKET I HATE YOU! The watermelon in Jordan was amazingly sweet, juicy, and flavorful! The cantaloupe was also quite sweet.
I do enjoy the habit of eating a bit of fruit after a large dinner, especially since Middle Eastern desserts tend to be on the sweeter extreme.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Thaiphoon, Raleigh, NC

I'm jetlagged in Taipei right now, and missing my homeslices a little, so I thought I'd post some long-overdue pictures from Thaiphoon. Whenever O-face and I can't figure out what to do about dinner, we go to our default - Thaiphoon. It's just behind Hibernian, off of trendy Glenwood South area of Raleigh, although there is also an entrance next door to Sushi Blues.

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The decor is super posh, and the menus come in DVD cases. They have a full bar, plus a lot of Asian beers, sake, and soju.

If you are unsure of what to get, definitely start off with the chicken satay. The chicken is always extraordinarily tender, and the sauce is not spicy at all (for those of delicate pallate). Seriously one of the most amazing things I've tasted. The sauce is peanut based, and the cucumbers on the side are drenched in sugar syrup...a little too sweet for my taste, but it is quite delicious nonetheless.

O-face always gets the beef penang - it is quite spicy but not so bad if you eat it with noodles or rice.

I always get the pad ki mao with shrimp. There's something about the spiciness and the texture of the noodles that make it so good. It is the perfect balance of spicy, sweet and salty.

You can modify how spicy you want the dish to be by adding the red pepper powder to the dish.

Good for: groups, drinks, pre-gaming before going out on Glenwood South. Our favorite waiter (I think his name is Justin) "don't work there no mo'," but the ladies there are all super nice - they'll take care of you.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Tinto, Philadelphia


I spent most of Labor Day weekend in New York, but because of the holiday and airline tickets being as jacked up as they were, I flew into Philadelphia for a day trip before taking the train to NY. For dinner, we went to Tinto, a wine bar/Basque restaurant near Rittenhouse Square.

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The restaurant and its tables are very small, but it makes for a very cozy and romantic dinner date. (Extra points for the scallop-patterned tables, wall to wall horizontal mirror behind me and wall of wines in front of me).
Their menu changes constantly, so go to their website for the latest version. Below are cheese crisps as an amuse-bouche, with a roasted red pepper sauce for dipping.
Frisee salad with a very hard dry goat cheese - very nice contrast in character between the richness of the cheese flavor and the lightness of the greens.
Arugula salad with figs and fried cheese balls - the fried cheese balls are as good as they sound.
Tinto's version of moules frites - mussels and herb encrusted fries. The fries alone are amazing, and even more amazing dipped in the tomato based moules sauce.
We didn't order the pork belly, but somebody was looking down on us and they delivered these to the wrong table. Marinated pork belly with cucumber garnish:
What we did order was the duck confit - the duck flavor highlighted by the sweetness of black cherry at the end of the bread.
Herb roasted chicken with truffle mashed potatoes - AMAZING. I don't know what the little green pea-like things are, but they are more sturdy than peas, and definitely more delicious than peas. The skin of the chicken was crusty and crispy. Truffle mashed potatoes are simply the most delicious thing ever. I wanted the aftertaste to last in my mouth forever.
I would have voted the seared scallops on creamy corn puree the best dish of the night, except for the truffled mashed potatoes above blowing everything else out of the water. The creamy corn puree was not mindblowing, but the scallops were pretty great - slightly crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. Best eaten with the lardons scattered on the corn puree.
I don't have any pictures of dessert because there simply was not time. All these dishes were delivered as soon as they were made, one at a time, and it took quite a few hours because of the sheer number of dishes eaten. There was also a slight snafu with the pork belly that came that we did not order, and them forgetting to deliver our last two dishes - the scallops and the chicken. All the food paired with wine, I was happily tipsy and distended to the max after this delicious meal.