Friday, October 26, 2012

NIB: Vegetarian Cuisine from Easy House

While in Tao Yuan I stayed at the Tayih Landis Hotel, they have these lion mascots. The hotel was really nice and compared to US standards a bargain. Anyhow when I saw one of their staff dressed up in the giant lion costume I couldn't resist snapping a picture.

Anyhow, my girlfriend and her family took me to this vegetarian restaurant Easy House. I wish I took pictures of the restaurant, very modern open seating design. There's been a recent surge in demand for vegetarian cuisine in Taiwan the reasons behind it are unclear to me, reading around the web gives various answers from general increases in the price of food or increase popularity of the adoption of Buddhism. Either way I've found that vegetarian cuisine here is different from my impression of vegetarian food in America.

I have a hard time giving up meat, I know there's a good variety of reasons people do so, but the bottom line for me is that generally after eating a vegetarian meal I feel quite dissatisfied. My girlfriend has a good phrase for it, "My stomach is full but my heart is empty".  I have to say that after eating at Easy House I was genuinely surprised at how full and "satissfied" I felt. So here's what we had.

First up was a fresh vegetable salad. The salad was mostly large chunks of vegetables with very little "leafy green". One of the vegetables was leaves of a succulent plant that never occurred to me as edible (I've been scouring the web and can't seem to identify this leaf). I didn't snap a picture but I'll have to track it down and post it here. It's one of those you usually see in people's zero-scape gardens. Anyhow, all of it was tossed with a vinaigrette which I could not identify. The interesting thing here was a texture play of using toasted/fried barley. The use of the grain gave a nutty flavor to the salad and a nice crunchy texture that would normally be the "croutons" in a traditional salad.

The soup course was a Chinese herbal soup. It had goji berries and several variety of mushrooms including abalone, wood ear and shitake mushrooms and some sort of lilly blossom.  I liked the use of multiple types of mushroom and the broth was extremely flavorful.

For the entree we had a coconut curry noodle soup. I have to say this was a very interesting bowl of awesome. Again, there was a use of a variety of mushrooms: golden mushroom, wood ear, and abalone. Then there was an unexpected addition of two types of seaweed which added a crunchy texture. The use of broccoli and tomato was more of a garnish than a feature of the dish. All this was swimming in a delicious coconut broth (not sure what made it yellow). To make it extra special awesome they tossed in a couple of tater tots (and what dish couldn't use a couple of tater tots to put it over the tops)

We ordered the fixed menu for one and supplemented with additional salad as well as this side dish "Gao Li Cai". Although it's said to be sautéed cabbage I find it hard to believe this is the same napa cabbage that we have in the states. The ribs of the cabbage were more tender and the leaves tasted more like sauteed iceberg lettuce. Maybe they blanch it first before they sauteed it with goji, lilly blossoms and shitake mushrooms.

Finally dessert was a coconut taro tapioca pudding. The yellow blob in the center was some sweetened green mung bean. Lovely cold "soup" dessert that wasn't too sweet.

As you can see it was a large quantity of food. But it wasn't the quantity that made the meal satisfying it was the fact that I ate everything without a single thought of how meat would play into the meal and make it better. It stood on it's own using the ingredients as they were without apologizing for being vegetarian by trying to mock some sort of meat. (e.g. using tofu and making fake duck). I thoughroughly enjoyed the experience.

Ok I get to do a bento this weekend so maybe you'll finally see a bento post from me.

Friday, October 19, 2012

NIB: High flying eats part 2

Short post on another leg of my trip and the business class treatment. I realize that when you go business class you're paying a pretty hefty premium, I think the cash amount is like 2x or more depending on where you're going. Even with miles and cash it's a considerable sum if you translate the miles you spend into actual money. But the upsides? Seating is bigger (2x), they're very "lenient" on baggage weight, priority seating, real forks and knives, it's really night and day. And then there's the food, as in, "not only do you get food and free booze, but they try to make it nice". Instead of a theme dinner designed by a Michelin star chef, this time I picked from the "regular" selections.

First course Lobster with King Oyster Mushroom and Roasted Yellow Bell Pepper Tapenade. Err wow, kicking it off with lobster. Very tasty, I liked that they had nice grill marks on the king oyster mushroom. This mushroom goes by many names, the chinese name is abalone mushroom for it's meaty/chewy abalone texture. It's often used in a lot of vegetarian dishes for it's texture qualities to mimic meat. It was an nice pairing with the lobster. The tapenade wasn't very remarkable.

For soup we had a corn chowder soup. The soup was nice and creamy different from any corn chowder soup I've ever had here in America. Not as sweet and no sign of actual corn kernels for texture just a smooth blended soup with some bits of roasted vegetables.

Salad. Nuff said.

Chilean Sea Bass and Confit Lemon with Capers and Cream Sauce. It was accompanied with spinach, roasted root vegetables and a cauliflower puree. The fish was nicely cooked, not dried out. The cream sauce was not too heavy. I didn't care for the confit lemon it was bitter. I have to say that the attention to detail is impressive considering we're talking about airplane food. Adding that fresh sprig of thyme again, couldn't have been done by anyone other than the flight attendant staff just prior to serving it would have fallen off otherwise.

Cheese course: Brie, Cheddar and I believe a Gorgonzola

Fruit plate with a sprig of mint

Sorry about the pictures, it was kind of dark and I took the photos with my iphone. I'm not exactly sure what this was. I believe it was my "Western breakfast" it was a piece of puff pastry and some sort of egg mushroom scramble and green pea and lima bean side dish. This is certain not anything I've ever eaten in "the West" for breakfast. It did taste good, but not knowing what I was eating was a little disconcerting.

Please bear with me I'll be doing a few more of these types of posts since life is so hectic I've been unable to produce my regular bentos.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

NIB: High Flying eats

I've been doing a lot of travel recently, I mean two-trips-that-involve-30-hours-of-travel-time-each-way-inside-of-two-months type of lots. I've had the fortune (and airline miles) to upgrade myself in the crucial legs of the trip to make it not suck too bad and the first thing you notice in business class is that the food is clearly superior to what you get in coach. (not to mention free drinks and lots more leg room) So I'm going to devote a few posts to the stuff I got to eat.

This first post is my China Airlines flight to Taiwan. It's pretty nice, they bring you a big menu where you get to choose each course of the meal, but the "China Airlines Michelin Sky Feast" caught my eye. Basically they teamed up with Chef Albert Tse of Tokyo's China Blue restaurant, he has earned a one star designation from the good people at Michelin. This really piqued my interest since this has to be one heck of a challenge for a chef, you have all the challenge of creating a first class meal and all of the constraints of delivering food *not* freshly prepared and put together in an airline kitchen. Obviously the meal itself will not ever earn an actual Michelin star since service and experience is part of a star evaluation but I was curious to see what the food would be like. Having never dined at a "starred" restaurant I have nothing to compare to.

First course was not listed on the menu so I'll do my best to describe it. It's a pineapple wrapped in ham with a fruit jelly. I don't really know what it was or what fruit was suppose to the flavor of the jelly. The consistency was definitely not like jello. It was more dense, it reminded me of what it would be like to take a bite out of those big rubber balls you find at a toy aisle of the supermarket (not the hard super bounce balls) or a really rubbery cheese. The flavor was also indistinct not a very promising start but since it wasn't on the menu I can't blame or say it was part of the chef's design.

Next up was: summer flavored chicken. Which if you click into the menu pictures above you can read the full description. The short version is Chicken breast and chicken drumstick in a wine broth. It was served as a cold soup. The flavor reminds me of the herbal taste of the chicken soup from the wedding banquet I talked about. (oh side note if you were still looking for the easter egg take the first word from every paragraph and see what it says) The soup was an interesting play of textures from ingredients with varying degrees of soft to crunchy.

For the salad we had: Tomato, red wine braised apple, shaved fennel, celery salad with a green apple and mint dressing. Again served very cold. This was actually quite tasty as well. The dressing was pretty mute with only a hint of mint which was good since the apple was very bold.

Sorry about the use of the "dramatic lighting" (read: overhead light) the no light versions were too hard to see. Main Course was: Baked egg sauce spread on cod fish rolled in sweet soy bean, abalone mushroom, crispy chilli sauce braised assorted vegetables with julienned ginger and wok fried yifu noodle with onion. (whew quite a mouthful) I enjoyed the fish, the "baked egg sauce" was a bit unusual it felt like custardy topping and the fish was quite tender and not overcooked. I've been fairly well impressed with the use of abalone mushroom in my recent travels, especially when used in context of vegetarian cooking (more on that in another post about this vegetarian restaurant later). The noodles were a bit odd. For the type of noodles used I was expecting a bit more elasticity and I think it's because they fried the noodles (so said the description on the menu). This no doubt preserved the noodles for delivery (without them drying out or being mushy if stored in a broth) but ultimately I didn't really like them.

Finally dessert: Pineapple mousse, passion fruit jelly. The description really kind of nails it ".... pineapple, baked in low heat until the pineapple is dehydrated. The pineapple puree, top-grade vanilla ice cream, and home made syrup, whipped into slushy, aromatic, and ready to melt to adorn passion fruit jelly with dehydrated diced pineapple the distilled flavor of elegant scent to smooth out your traveling tiredness." It was a very refreshing dessert, which is saying a lot since I don't usually do dessert. The mousse was very smooth and light, and like most Taiwanese desserts not too sweet.

Anyhow, it was an enjoyable meal especially considering it was prepared/heated on an airplane. I like the attention to detail in the presentation, notice that they even placed the multicolored bell pepper squares on the noodles (that had to have been done by the airplane staff no way that could have survived a truck trip from the kitchen). I'm not sure what I expected from the somewhat gimmicky nature. I will say that compared to the other meal I found the quality of food to be about the same. I think the attention to detail and the full explanation of the thinking involved in the Michelin menu gave this meal an edge over the other one.