Thursday, January 10, 2013


The wine-prepared crab at Jesse will change your life

I have some heavier topics to write about, but I'm just not feelin' it today. So, what I will say is that while I was away from Taiwan, I spent those weeks eating and drinking very well. Although this post isn't Taiwan related, as a foodie I feel like sharing some of the deliciousness I found abroad.

Jesse - First stop, Shanghai. Our flight was with China Eastern, which is not exactly a fantastic airline to take transpacific flights with - they don't give you individual TVs, the food is mostly OK, somewhat "eh" and a few items were downright inedible (that said, the hot bread rolls were great) and the movie selections on the overhead TVs are terrible. Otherwise it's fine, about the same as flying with any other airline. Because we had to transfer in Shanghai, we decided to plan our trip so as to spend a full day there (if you don't do this, China Eastern gives you a free hotel room, which we got on the way back. If you do, you have to book your own accommodation). I lived in China for a year but never went to Shanghai, so this was a chance to rectify that.

Taro in chive oil

We didn't eat much in the daytime, as our sightseeing made it difficult to get to restaurants during mealtime/opening hours. Our breakfast was Cafe 85, our lunch a snack at Starbucks (I don't really care for Starbucks but it was there and we needed the caffeine). For dinner, someone on Lonely Planet's erstwhile Thorn Tree helped me get reservations at Jesse, one of the best, and most famous, purveyors of Shanghainese cuisine in the city.

Braised pork

It was amazing. We tried gluten-stuffed Chinese red dates, cold salted chicken, braised pork (the fatty kind in the sweet, sticky sauce), eggplant in the same sauce, taro stewed in chive oil, cold-cooked crab (raw crab prepared ceviche-style in shaoxing wine) and the famous braised fish head in fried spring onions with cold Qingdao beer.

Delicious gluten-stuffed red dates in a flavorful glaze

Words cannot express how delicious the food was. The crab was breathtaking - the portion small and meat hard to get to (crab is like that) but the succulent meat you did get was so packed with memorable flavor, it'll make you salivate forevermore every time you think of it after you try it. In fact, I'm drooling right now. They tried to take it away as I was scraping the last of the roe and fat from the shell and my face briefly turned hideous and Gollum-like: you cannot take away MY PRECIOUS. Hiss. The braised pork (紅燒肉) had an undertow of complex flavor beneath the heavy sweet-savory flavor of the red sauce, and the meat was delectably tender. The gluten-stuffed dates were little red gems of delight. Imagine if pearls and rubies had flavors, each flavor delicious in its own way, and someone served you pearl-stuffed rubies for dinner. Like that. The taro was served in small half-rounds and was cooked to perfection: not too hard, not too sticky. It was velvety smooth in a buttery sauce redolent with chive, so rich it was like eating, well, liquefied velvet.

The codfish head in fried spring onions might be the most delicious thing in all of Shanghai

Glamour Bar - Later that evening we decided to have a drink, what with nightlife being the best part of Shanghai, despite our exhaustion and it being a Monday night. Glamour Bar is on the Bund - usually not my style, I'm not a Big Famous Nightspot In A Big Famous Place sort of gal, but rather a quiet pub, cafe or bistro with good drinks and food person - but despite its too-fancy address, it was accessible, well-known and walkable from our hotel. We only had one drink each - we were genuinely too tired for more and had already decided to take a taxi back to our hotel - but what I had was truly memorable: a cardamom mojito. Basically, a mojito with cardamom syrup. It sounds like it wouldn't work, it shouldn't work, it can't work, no way! - but it does. It was sublime. If you're ever in Shanghai I recommend stopping in just to sample that drink.

Also, for the Art Deco decor, including a huge round beveled mirror, the wine bar (which I want to check out someday), and drinks, snacks and water served in Art Deco etched glass.

The Art Deco fun of Glamour Bar

Cafe Gulluoglu New York - Gulluoglu is the famous baklava maker from the baklava and pistachio (fistik) capital of Turkey, Gaziantep. We stayed in their hotel while there and ate their divine baklava several times, and pounced on it when we saw it elsewhere in Turkey. Forget the sweet, sticky, hard-to eat stuff that just tastes of sugar. This manages to be sweet and soft but also flaky, with perfectly turned phyllo dough, pliant and flavorful pistachios (also, try the sour cherry visneli baklava, and grab a can of sour cherry juice. The stuff is addictive). I nearly wept tears of joy when we came upon Gulluoglu's Manhattan branch, not far from Rockefeller Center. We just had to go in, despite not being terrible hungry after lunch. You can get other food at Gulluoglu New York, but I recommend just filling up on baklava and getting a Turkish coffee, or two, or three.

By the way, anyone know where I can get good baklava in Taiwan? I have never been able to find it.

Veselka Bowery - (They have their own website but I can't get it to load) - this well-known Ukrainian establishment has expanded, and they now have branches beyond the original East Village location. The decor in the one on Bowery is simple and modern, with big windows and long, wooden tables. The pierogi are spectacular, with flavors you wouldn't imagine when cooking up the frozen cheese-and-potato basics in most supermarkets. Potato and cheese is there, but so is short rib and beet with goat cheese. We got a sampler, as well as some deviled eggs (two caramelized onion and bacon, two smoked salmon and caviar) and I got borscht. Another friend got potato-leek soup and truffle fries, because she clearly loves a well-done potato. This differs a bit from the menu online, but it was what was available when we were there.

I highly recommend the place - if you want something unique but don't want to go too weirdly ethnic, or have dining mates who aren't into things like tentacles, raw meat and hot sauce, but want a stellar meal, this is a great choice. Also, really nice to get good pierogies and borscht, two more hard-to-find things in Taiwan.

Nocturnem Drafthaus - Belgian beer is all over the place in Taipei, but we still enjoy drinking it and trying brands not as common or not imported to Taiwan. We found this place on New Year's Eve in Bangor and sidled up to the bar for some St. Feuillen Noel and Green Flash Double Stout  (Brendan had cider as he was driving later that evening). Always nice to find good beer places in smaller towns.

Dysart's and Governor's - I include these two because they're Maine culinary staples (we also went to Tim Horton's and got whoopie pies at a gas station, by the way). Dysart's is a truck stop outside Bangor that has turned into a popular restaurant in its own right, with preservative-free breads and desserts and the best corned beef hash, well...ever. Also, don't miss the cinnamon rolls. You can substitute them for toast with your meal, if you want to be super healthy! Governor's has solid, standard American fare - the thing that really recommends it is their desserts. They make a scrumptious graham cracker crust pie, and their mint chocolate chip pie has a similar crust...but in chocolate. Also, the gingerbread looks unforgettable.

Meskerem - (warning - the site plays music) - another thing you can't get in Taiwan is Ethiopian food. Trust me, I looked. We have a little tradition of always going to this restaurant in Adams-Morgan after our friends pick us up at the airport, which they pretty much always do, for a delicious dinner we can't get in Taipei. I recommend the kitfo, and get it super rare, even go raw, tartare-style, if you dare. The Yedoro Wat and Yebeg Alecha are also great. I liked the shurro wat (milled chick peas in berbere sauce) although our friend was less impressed. I strongly recommend getting a bottle of tej - honey wine, like mead - with your meal, and trying to sit at the more traditional low tables on the righthand side of the restaurant.

Another good place for Ethiopian is Dama on Columbia Pike, near the Sheraton. Go in the morning for Ethiopian coffee and pastry, or their range of Ethiopian breakfasts (foulle - fava beans with spices,  onion and tomato - and baguette is my favorite, and there is also a spicy egg dish that's great) - enter in the side through the market, not the main door. Don't worry if you're the only non-Ethiopians there. I often was when I lived nearby and nobody ever made me feel weird or unwelcome. In the same complex is Dama's restaurant, which consistently serves up superb Ethiopian, the best in Arlington if you ask me, and patronized by the local Ethiopian community. It's definitely not on the tourist or yuppie urbanite maps: I found this place because I lived right down the street for a few years.

Tallula - fine southern-inspired cooking with a fantastic brunch in north Arlington (Metro Clarendon) - we had brunch here with relatives. Absolutely get the biscuits and gravy with poached eggs if it's available (the gravy is maple-sweet with a spicy, meaty undertow). They also have scrapple (for real), shrimp & grits, cheesy grits and more, and that's just their brunch menu. Very kid-friendly. Excellent Bloody Marys.

Me Jana - we had dinner with friends at this Lebanese place in Arlington (you can tell our DC life was and is kind of Arlington-centered), moving away from our usual get-together at Lebanese Taverna. The food was fantastic - I can't even recommend one thing. It was all so good! We got the family-style tasting menu: kibbeh, fattoush salad, tabbouleh, falafel, sujok, grape leaves, babaghanoush, hummus, cheese rolls, fassouleh, lebneh and a pile of delicious meats (the lamb chops were especially good) with pilaf, and a great baklava for dessert. I also recommend trying one of their Lebanese wines. This place is also very convenient to the Metro, has free parking and is very accommodating of groups and children (they have a children's menu). For large groups including children it's a great choice.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Living in Fairfax and working in Merrifield, I hardly cross over the beltway, due to the traffic in this area. Even by knowing that Arlington has more well established restaurants.