Hainanese Chicken Rice is one of those seminal foods that I distinctly remember from my childhood. Silky slices of tender chicken, fragrant rice, clear gingery soup and the accompanying dipping sauces -- this dish stands out as an early taste memory so pleasurable that it can make my mouth water even today.
It was a treat to go to the restaurant in Tradewinds - one of the Manila hotels in the upscale business district of Makati. Unfortunately, hardly a trace of this hotel, its restaurant or its menu can be found on the Internet today - but it existed, a while ago - back in the early 80s. I found one blog post that confirms it here - its author reminisces about the dish and her commenters also confirm the name and existence of the hotel and restaurant.
So why was Tradewinds so special? One went to Tradewinds just for the Hainanese Chicken Rice.
Osaka has a central wholesale fish market much like Tsukiji in Tokyo, with its own 4:15am Tuna auction. Had we known that Tsukiji would be so restricted (we should have known and watched for this after the earthquake), we would have made more of an effort to make it to Osaka's version, which seems more welcoming to tourists.
But the real reason we journeyed to the Central Fish Market was in order to visit a tiny sushi-ya that's been around for over a hundred years (est. in 1907) we had read about from Chubby Hubby, and really, how could one go wrong having sushi for breakfast right on the grounds of a fish market?
As I'd mentioned before, I often tend to focus on the savoury, giving short shrift to sweet things. In my family my mom and I were the cooks, my little sister (with the sweet tooth, naturally), the baker. But DD has that sweet tooth, and less of an inclination to bake, and is more like to coerce me into emerging into the dark streets in our pyjamas, in search of dessert. We luckily live by a great Gelato shoppe a scant 1/2 block away and a cafe that offers crispy waffle bits and Bi-Rite ice cream catty-corner to the Gelato shoppe.
But with this recipe there's really no excuse to not make dessert at home.
One of my favourite restaurants in town, I’ve been going to Blue Plate since it opened in 1999 and began serving its wonderful, hearty neo-American fare with plays on old classics like Meatloaf and Fried Chicken. Today, it can still pack in a crowd, so that last-minute reservations on a Friday night yielded only a 9:15 opening, but we were able to get seated around 9 or so by arriving around 8:45 and waiting for a couple of the counter seats.
This is a crazy luxurious dish, containing some of my most favourite seafood in the world, and cream and butter. I've had uni sauce for pasta before, mostly in fancy restaurants and the like, but not to this degree at home. Well, ok, we did attempt an uni cream sauce once, with actual fresh uni, but this dish, this dish nails it just so. Just the right amounts of cream and uni and other goodness (mentaiko was definitely the key) to turn something fantastic into something orgasmic.
Ok, I’ll admit it, Wakuriya only hit our radar after it received its first Michelin star. I have a horrible fault of usually turning a blind eye (with a few exceptions) to anything south of San Francisco, preferring to focus on wine country or Oakland/ Berkeley instead. DD had tried to get reservations before, but had called too late for a birthday dinner.
We wish we had gotten to Wakuriya sooner. I’d go every month if we could.
Whenever I open a cookbook for the first time, I’ll usually skim the recipes with photos first. Are they appealing? Do they make me want to read the recipe? Do they make my mouth water and immediately start plotting out how I might make the dish, and soon?
Restaurant menus can be different. They often don’t have illustrations or photos accompanying the text, and the way a dish is described or written may have to work twice as hard to entice and lure and seduce.
flour+water had been popular right out of the gate, spurred by a buzz going even before it opened - with Chef Thomas McNaughton boasting a resume listing La Folie, Quince and Gary Danko; a number of stages at Michelin-starred establishments in Europe, including an artisinal pasta apprenticeship: "...basically Tom and a bunch of old ladies with rolling pins..." according to David White, one of the partners at f+w.
DD and I have been jonesing to go back to flour+water but trying to get a decent online reservation in advance lately has been quite difficult. On 98% of my attempts, I've usually encountered nothing earlier before 10pm. Once in a while, if I looked out far enough, I’d spot a listing for 9:15 or 9:30pm. For a Tuesday or Wednesday. Sheesh! They opened in May of 2009, and 2 months thereafter garnered 3 stars from The Chronicle’s Michael Bauer. Accolades followed from the other local food press, and soon there was even a blurb in the New York Times. The restaurant purportedly holds back 1/2 of their seats for walk-ins, but we've been hesitant to try this tactic, not being from the immediate neighbourhood.
NYC in late 2009 was a great trip. I'm jonesing to go again, perhaps sometime next year when I hope to also make it to another favourite eating-town, Chicago. As I've mentioned before, our trip to New York had turned into a bacchanalia of eating and drinking - would that our bellies were bigger, or that I had a higher tolerance for alcohol. 5 days and 4 nights just wasn't enough to make a dent. Momofuku Ssam Bar was indeed a highlight, and one of the dishes that struck me the most for its beauty and delicacy was the cured Hamachi crudo dish.
Saison’s website proclaims that there is no dress code, and urges folks to “come as you are.” While the food is elevated, there’s a nice dichotomy between the white-tablecloth cuisine and the service and warmth of the staff. We had finally made it - after a couple of years and one pop-up when Chef Skenes was away.
How to describe Saison with words of praise that have already been said in a style far better than mine? DD and I had a wonderful meal here, full of beautiful and delicious moments. Sometimes, it might be better to just let the food speak for itself.