Archive for the 'Middle Eastern' Category

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House of Basturma – Pasadena

House of Basturma - Pasadena

It’s a well known fact that cured meats make my heart go pitter-patter, so when a fellow Pasadena-based food blogger alerted me that a basturma specialist recently opened up shop down the street from my home, I made my way there at my earliest convenience.

House of Basturma - Pasadena

House of Basturma was completely empty when The Astronomer, Danny, and I arrived last Tuesday night. However, as soon as we walked in, the mom and pop who run the place unglued their eyes from the local news and assisted us in navigating the Armenian-Lebanese-Turkish menu. I kind of got the sense that the older couple was a little baffled as to why two Asian kids and a white dude were stopping in for dinner, but they were hospitable and friendly nevertheless.

House of Basturma - Pasadena

We ordered a chikofte platter ($5.99) to start. Traditionally served as an appetizer, chikofte is a mixture of bulgur wheat and finely ground raw beef. We were informed by the proprietress that only Middle Eastern palates appreciate this dish, but we went ahead and ordered it anyway because I heart raw meat as much as the cured stuff.

The chikofte was topped with lightly dressed fresh tomatoes and served with warm pita bread. The first few bites of the chikofte along with the pita and veggies were very lovely, but  after bite number five, it started tasting monotonous. Had the portion not been so generous, we would’ve left things off on a high note!

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Last Day in Spain: Breakfast in Girona, Lunch in Figueres, Dinner in Barcelona (a side of Dalí, too)

Breakfast at Girona Train Station

Our last day in Spain began bright and early. The Astronomer and I grabbed breakfast at the train station—a flaky croissant for him and a ham and cheese sandwich with a tall cup of orxata for her—before leaving Girona for the town of Figueres. The simple fare was just what we needed to get us through the morning.

Theatre-Museum Dalí - Figueres

We arrived in Figueres an hour later, slightly groggy, but also very excited. We penciled in a half-day in the city to visit the Teatre-Museu Gala Salvador Dalí, a museum designed by the artist to honor his hometown. Home to hundreds of Dalí’s original works, the museum is a must-see for anyone visiting Catalonia.

On our walk from the train station to the museum, we encountered a portrait of Dalí reflected onto a mirrored cylinder. It was definitely one of the coolest and most innovative public art pieces I have ever seen.

Theatre-Museum Dalí - Figueres

In true Dalí fashion, the museum’s facade was a spectacle. I couldn’t decide which element was more visually arresting—the giant eggs teetering around the perimeter or the gold Oscar-like statues holding down the fort. Or maybe it was the sky-high trees that were perfectly coiffed.

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Arde’s Bistro – Los Angeles (Burbank)

In this 498.3 square mile metropolis with notoriously bad traffic, meeting a friend for a meal can mean an hour-long commute. When my Valley-dwelling friend Sam and I wanted to meet up for lunch, it made sense to dine somewhere in the middle to save a little time and gas.What city is halfway in between Pasadena and Sherman Oaks? Why Burbank, of course.

Eating out in an area that neither party is familiar with can be a bit of a crapshoot. To avoid a dining disaster, I called upon my sometimes trusty, but oftentimes flaky friendYelp. Since Arde’s Bistro was the number one rated restaurant in Burbank, I figured it would be a good enough spot to hit up.

Mother and daughter duo Arde and Nina opened up Arde’s Bistro in 2000. The restaurant is smallish in size and laid back in attitude. The menu reflects Arde’s previous training as a Greek, Armenian and Lebanese cook, but with a couple of California-inspired additions like wraps and salads thrown in.

We started off our late lunch with an Appetite Teaser Platter ($10.95), which included hummus, baba ghanouge, stuffed grape leaves, a feta turnover, falafel, a small Greek salad and a side of Tahini sauce. Sam’s favorite of the bunch was the flaky and salty feta turnover. I was especially mad about the pleasantly tart stuffed grape leaves, with the smoky baba ghanouge coming in a close second. The falafel were decent, but paled in comparison to the one’sMama made back in Philly. I like my falafel spicy and rustic.

The generous Appetite Teaser Platter was served with warm pita and lavash—a soft, thin flatbread. Both were excellent vehicles for scooping up the hummus and baba ghanouge.

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The Tapasfication of Saigon

Communal nibbling is a tradition in many cuisines. Spaniards have their tapas, the Cantonese consume their dim sum, Greeks celebrate their mezze and the Japanese feast on sakana at izakaya bars. Cathy Danh checks out the big business of small plates in HCM City.

It used to be that going out for a meal meant ordering appetizers to start, which were then followed by entrees (usually a slab of protein paired with a carbohydrate and starch) and if there was any room left, dessert proceeded. Taking a cue from the global small plates trend, a number of popular establishments in town are deconstructing their menus. Appetizers, entrees and desserts are still present in some form, but the addition of small plates (or tapas as they are more popularly referred to) is notable.

HCM City’s chefs are adding an unexpected twist to this trend by rethinking and transforming cuisines not traditionally served in this fashion. Mexican, Cuban and Vietnamese foods are being given a modern makeover and becoming major players in the emerging small plates scene. Light bites, big groups and stiff drinks are the name of the game, and the city is packed with dining options that fit the bill.

31 Dong Du, District 1
Qing has the honour of being the city’s first small plates joint. “When I looked at what was around Dong Du, there was already a Vietnamese restaurant and Al Frescos,” says Tony Fox of Qing. “We wanted to do something different and decided on tapas with a twist—Asian tapas.” Qing opened its doors in December of 2004 and has been doing brisk business ever since. Even though the menu includes traditional entrees and appetizers, “70% of our customers order wine and tapas,” says Fox. “It’s all about small bites and big flavours.” The Korean-spiced salmon with kimchi blinis and wasabi cream cheese (68,000 VND) are a crowd favourite. The delicate pieces of diced fish are placed atop a crispy pancake smeared with spicy cream cheese. The prawn wontons with ginger and spring onion dressing (75,000 VND) are also stellar. Each dumpling is daintily served on a porcelain spoon, and the combination of flavours are reminiscent of traditional dim sum.

La Habana
6 Cao Ba Quat, District 1
With over 50 delectable Spanish and Cuban-inspired tapas on the menu, live music and dancing nearly every night of the week and cocktails sold by the pitcher, La Habana is guaranteed to be a great night out. “Tapas and paellas are our signature specialties,” says Jane Speeger of La Habana. The Cuban meatballs (60,000 VND) in tomato sauce are hearty, rustic and satisfying, especially atop toasted slices of bread. The chilli garlic prawns (60,000 VND) garnished with a fresh spring mix are juicy, succulent and will leave you wanting more. The croquetas filled with mushroom, cheese and ham are served with a chilli pineapple sauce (60,000) to create an unstoppable combination of flavours. Every Monday at La Habana is a Tapas Fiesta where diners have a choice of three tapas for 150,000 VND. Add 30,000 VND for a glass of house wine.

Xu Café Bar
71-75 Hai Ba Trung, District 1
The Xu restaurant empire is taking a stab at small plates at the café bar on the first floor of their flagship establishment. A varied selection of modern “Vietnamese tapas” share menu space with an extensive wine and cocktails list. According to Elizabeth Fisher of Xu, the concept for the café bar was to keep food light and informal. “The menu provides something to snack on while drinking,” says Fisher. “If people want a full dining experience, then they can go upstairs to Xu Restaurant.” One of the best-selling tapas is the Vietnamese Pizza (60,000 VND). The base of this fusion dish is a cross between a Vietnamese crepe and a tostada shell. Squares of rare tuna and a smattering of cilantro are piled on top, and a chilli and lime dressing provides the finishing touch. “We’re taking traditional Vietnamese herbs and spices and giving it new style with our tapas menu,” says Fisher. A fine example of this blending is the Rau Ram Arancine (60,000 VND). The fried risotto balls combine the heartiness of Italian risotto with Vietnamese coriander. With the Vietnamese tapas menu receiving rave reviews from customers, the folks at Xu are now working to bring late night acts to the venue. “We want people to eat, drink and be entertained,” says Fisher.

Cantina Central
51 Ton That Thiep, District 1
For the past year, Cantina Central has been satisfying HCM City residents’ cravings for Mexican street food through its selection of small plates. While burritos and tacos dominate the menu, the short and sweet anojitos/tapas section is a fun option when noshing with friends. Start with the ceviche—tender cubes of fish marinated in lime, chilli, cilantro and onions topped with jalapenos (60,000 VND). The well-presented dish is a refreshing albeit tart palate cleanser. The selection of five mini tacos (steak, chicken, pork, fish, vegetarian – 55,000 VND) is just the thing for those who can’t decide what to order. The pork and vegetarian versions shine the brightest. The grilled steak torta with avocado and tomatoes (60,000 VND) is interpreted by the kitchen as a Mexican hamburger, and although it’s not authentic, it’s executed well enough.

97 Hai Ba Trung, District 1
Opened in September 2006, Pacharan is the only restaurant in HCM City specializing in authentic Spanish tapas. Stepping into the three-story restaurant, one instantly gets the sense that Chef Fernando Olivares knows what he’s doing. Bulky legs of Serrano ham hang above the bar, while the drinks menu is heftier than the bill of fare. The menu is divided by protein and is complete with all the flavours and textures of the Mediterranean. “We intend for diners to share each portion with our tapas menu,” says Nguyen Thanh of Pacharan. “These finger foods are best paired with white and red wine or sangria.” Sangria is served by the jug (215,000 VND) or glass (45,000 VND) alongside an ample array of red, white, rose and sparkling wines. The Montaditos de Jamon Serrano (75,000 VND)—toasted rounds of bread are drizzled with olive oil and topped with minced garlic, fresh tomatoes and Serrano ham—pair well with any of the libations. The cured meat is sliced paper-thin and has just the right amount of saltiness to balance the tomato’s tartness. The Spanish omelette (65,000 VND), which is served alongside fruity purees, is also deftly prepared. The tender Pincho Moruno pork skewers (65,000 VND) are marinated in savoury Moorish spices and grilled to perfection.

71/7 Mac Thi Buoi, District 1
The term mezze comes from the Persian maze, which means taste or snack. Warda, HCM City’s premier middle-eastern eatery, serves up hot and cold mezze for lunch, supper and late night. There is little more pleasurable than lounging with a group of friends upon plush pillows, passing around the hookah and indulging in a smattering of mezze. The Egyptian havashi (55,000 VND), grilled pita bread topped with sautéed spiced minced lamb, is a savoury dream. The lamb’s pure flavours stand out from the soft pita and fragrant spices. The sambousek (50,000 VND), oven-baked filo pastries filled with creamy goat cheese and spinach, are a lovely vegetarian option. The bite-sized turnovers are rich, crisp and airy. Another great meat-free option is the baba ghanoush (48,000 VND); roasted eggplant dip drizzled with olive oil and served with pita chips and warm flat bread. The small plates served at Warda are anything but; so do invite a big group to share in all the deliciousness.

Published in AsiaLIFE Magazine July 2008

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