Sunday, March 29, 2015

China Part Three: Shanghai

This post is all about dumplings (and a really delicious pork belly;-)). 

Shanghai is a completely different city than Beijing. It’s very westernized, modern & most people speak English...some would say this is a good thing, others not so good. Ryan and I thoroughly enjoyed our experience all the same. Shanghai is known for their dim sum (dumplings), particularly soup dumplings otherwise known as Xiao long bao. As we’re both dim sum lovers, we were psyched to eat up. Everything.

While at The Bund (A lovely, waterfront area in Shanghai with amazing views and fabulous restaurants and hotels. Very swank.), we went for drinks at The Waldorf Astoria. We befriended one of the managers who’s friend worked at nearby Hakkasan. I was familiar with the place as the group has multiple locations, including one in NYC. He made a call and we were able to nail down the best seat in the house with stunning views of Pudong’s Pearl Tower. The environment was trendy, slightly clubby but super fun. The food was very good. The whole experience fantastic. They made us feel like super stars. Ryan still claims they have the best dumplings...ever. For a “fancy” evening out in Shanghai, I would definitely recommend paying a visit. 

Another incredible place was Yang’s Fry Dumplings. Lucky for us, this spot was located just a short walk from our hotel. Yang’s is no frills. A few simple seats. Very cheap and beyond good. Think puffy fried dumplings filled with a flavorful, soupy mix of pork, vegetables and/or shrimp. If you go to one dumpling spot while in Shanghai, go here! They also have a nice menu of soups and noodles. We just stuck with the fried dumplings. Beware: VERY long lines.

We were lucky enough to have time for a day trip to nearby Suzhou. Suzhou is a pretty little town known as “the Venice of the East”. It’s a city on water. We even got to experience a gondola ride! While walking through the town, we found several dumpling tables serving up the craziest dim sum I’ve ever seen. Everything from the traditional three-color to insane animal and flower shapes; roses, pigs, name it! Best of all, each dumpling was about 25 cents. I dig the cheap eats. If you have time for a day trip while in Shanghai, try to fit Suzhou into your schedule.  

Our Steamed Dim Sum Platter from Hakkasan
Scallop siew mai, har gau, chive dumpling and roast duck mushroom. Amazing.  

Hakkasan’s Crispy pork belly with wolfberry and mustard sauce. 
If they had this dish at the New York location, we would be there weekly. 

Of course Ryan felt the need to get dessert. The Chocolate Sphere. 

Yang’s Fry Dumplings. Epic. About $2 for an entire order. Four huge, puffy (yet crispy), soup filled pork and/or shrimp dumplings. A must-try. 

Hanging in Old Town. Doesn’t everyone sip soup dumplings with a straw?!

Our dumpling guy in Suzhou. All sorts of different dumplings in many shapes and sizes. 
Check out the little piggy’s & ducky’s!

Chī qǐlái! ("EAT UP!" in Chinese) ;-)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

China: Beijing Part Two

Beijing Part Two. This post covers the wide span of cuisine types and price ranges dining in Beijing has to offer. First up, Chef Brian McKenna's Courtyard. Located by the Forbidden City, the restaurant is in a perfect location with limited views of the city walls. The reviews I read prior to going raved about how fabulous the views are. We had the best table in the house (thank you Tana!), but the views were just ok...however the food and presentation did live up to the hype. 

Chef McKenna blends Mediterranean and Western influences with subtle Asian flavors. The menu gives the guest a choice of course numbers and then the kitchen does the rest. Very Blue Hill at Stone Barns. We decided on the 5-course prix-fixe, which clocked in at about $100 per person just for the food. The cocktail and wine prices are also on an upscale, Westernized level.

Our dinner was wonderful. Ryan and I dined with my parents so it was a true treat. Even my father was impressed. The whole "pricey, small bites, many courses thing" isn't usually his bag. They started us off with fresh, homemade bread and butter and then continued with 5 innovative, well-plated dishes. Please see images and descriptions below. If in Beijing, I would highly suggest a visit. They only have about 8 tables and no bar so make your reservations in advance and come prepare to spend some $$$.

The Beijing Night Market. Famous for selling yummy street dumplings and noodles as well as all things strange and buggy. The major draw are the fried scorpions...yes, fried scorpions (ekkkkkkkk). Check out the crazy pictures below. Starfish, grubs, seahorses, skinned name it, they have it. We chickened out and didn’t try anything extreme. Instead, we noshed on scrumptious fried dumplings, octopus and pineapple rice. One of my favorite items was a savory veggie pancake. Yummy! My parents weren’t feeling the street food so much so we had to pop into another restaurant afterwards but the Night Market is still a must. Best part? Most items are no more than a dollar or two. 

Beijing, China is well suited for people in the mood for cheap eats OR an elevated dining experience. Enjoy!


Smoked Salmon with Green Apple Crema & crispy, cheese crackers. Loving the presentation...

...speaking of presentation. This is a bowl of crab salad with cucumber and vinegar. The top? A sugar shell! We were instructed to crack the shell into the bowl. When we did (to our delight), the sugar melted into the crab salad and gave the dish a yummy sweetness. My dad was thrilled!

Seafood "pasta". The noodles were actually made of squid. No carb, all protein.

I'm not a usually a salmon OR foie gras fan BUT this plate changed the game. 
The combo of both was deliciously rich, creamy and satisfying. Fabulous.

This dessert was a green apple custard with vanilla ice cream. The dessert was tasty but the best part was obviously the presentation. Chef creates a green apple (clearly green apple is the inspiration this evening) candy mold then fills it with the custard. Pretty cool.


We loved our noodle guy. 

Beautiful fried pork dumplings.

Bugs galore!


Monday, March 9, 2015

China: Beijing Part One

Tired and still jet lagged, we’re back from a long 10 day vacation to the far east. Beijing, Shanghai and the small town of Suzhou. It was an incredible experience. In all of my travels, this was my first trip to Asia and I have to say that it was nothing short of epic. The food, of course, was one of the many highlights. I will start with a few of our Beijing hits as this was our first stop. With so many food adventures, this is only part one. Stay tuned for part two which will include the swanky Courtyard and "all things bugs" at Beijing’s infamous Night Market. 

We arrived ready to eat. Our first stop was actually a small fast-food type Chinese spot near our hotel. It was late and we were hungry. No one spoke any English, there was no english on the menu and virtually no pictures. We like to go local. The fish/veggie dish with rice we ended up getting was surprisingly awesome and only cost about 3 American dollars. Ok, so far so good. In between seeing all the phenomenal historic sites and wonders Beijing had to offer, my mom was dying to hit up the “Fake” Market. This 6 story complex is full of everything from clothes, leather goods, jewelry, sunglasses and of course, a plethora of very convincing fake designer bags. On the top floor of this famous market sits a food court. This food court was bad ass and had everything from local cuisine to Indian food to pizza. I immediately headed for the dumpling counter while my mom and Ryan settled on noodles. My dad, a Jim Beam and Diet Coke...he’s not really into Chinese food. ;-) My dumplings were made fresh right in front of me. This took some time but the wait was worth it. Ryan loved his spicy noodles so much he wanted to come back the next day and although my mom didn’t love her noodle bowl...Ryan and I helped her finish it off. They were good. See the image below...good right?! All of the noodles were homemade and the broths were full of flavor. 

One of the highlights of our trip was our planned dinner at Made in China. Known for their open kitchens, spectacular decor and tender Peking Duck, it’s a must-try when in Beijing. This spot is located in the Grand Hyatt so expect Westernized prices and all the comforts of home (i.e. a detailed wine list, american liquors, etc). We started with Pork Dumplings and Egg & Pork Belly with dan dan mian (made from one long, fresh noodle). Even my dad was a happy camper with all of this pork goodness. Our mid-course was their Peking Duck. Served with all of the traditional accompaniments, they did offer one stand out addition. A small bowl of white sugar. We were instructed by our server to dip the crispy duck skin into the sugar and eat this alone. The sugar and duck skin combo literally melts in your mouth. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience but not being a sweet flavor fan, I moved on to assembling my Peking Duck wraps. Ryan and my dad however, thought this combination was the greatest thing since sliced bread.  We then chowed down on their Waygu Beef and String Bean entrees and finished off the meal with a dessert sampler. A fantastic experience.

One of our lunch stops was actually at a Korean restaurant. Korean BBQ is huge in both Beijing and Shanghai. My dad needed some meat in his life and Ryan was "jonesing" for more noodles so the hilariously named "Yummy Kiss" Korean restaurant fit the bill. My dad and I split the BBQ Rib Sampler. Ribs marinated in 5 different ways...YUM. I was a little disappointed as this place did not serve wines by the glass and the service was underwhelming. But the food was good none the less. Apparently, westernized wine has only become popular in China in the last five years and still hasn't made it’s mark. It’s cool. I can roll with rice wine in a pinch. 

Please enjoy the following food porn from Beijing and stand by for Part 2! If you have any questions or have a trip planned, feel free to comment or message me. 

Delicious pork and vegetable fried dumplings at the “Fake” Market. 

My mom’s spicy vegetable noodles. She gave them a 5, I would’ve given them an 8. Very good. 

One of Made in China’s fabulous Peking Duck Chefs carving up the goods. 

The spread. Notice the little bowl of sugar. 

Our smorgasbord of desserts. Amazing. 

Our BBQ rib sampler at a Korean restaurant in Beijing. English translation of the name of the restaurant?...The Yummy Kiss..(we literally laughed out loud;-))

Eat Up Everywhere!