Category Archives: Italian

A Patriots fan’s visit to NYC on Superbowl weekend

Before I forget, happy belated Chinese New Year to all! I didn't get to do anything special to celebrate, and I didn't have any of the necessary ingredients to make classic Chinese New Year desserts (I only had a navel orange in the fridge… that counts right? haha), so unfortunately, as much as this blog is related to Chinese food most of the time, I don't have anything to post about CNY. I'll try to make up for that with a post about my visit to NYC on Superbowl Sunday :)

So last Sunday I woke up bright and early at about 5am to pack and drag myself to the Boston bus terminal to ride the Greyhound bus down to NYC. I have to say, 4.5 hours is a long time to be cramped in a chair, with the sun shining in your eyes the entire time. Still, I got to the Big Apple just before noon, and met up with my hung over friend Zheng to grab brunch near his apartment haha. I've been on a brunch roll lately, it's almost like I've uncovered a whole new cuisine altogether (I guess there were benefits to never eating breakfast!). At this place, whose name I can't remember but I know it's located on 9th Ave, I saw that eggs benedict was $9 (hah, no way I'd pay that price now!). What sparked my interest however was the large assortment of omelettes that the cafe served, and with a choice of whole eggs or egg whites.

Feeling like I should eat healthy, I settled on an egg white Irish omelette, which had corned beef, onions, and peppers in it, topped with swiss cheese. It was served with a side of smashed and seasoned potato chunks and whole wheat toast. I have to say, it being the first time I've ever had egg white omelettes, it was really tasty! In fact, I would definitely choose it over whole egg omelettes simply for the health benefits, because I honestly thought it was just as good as the real thing. I think the swiss cheese helped give it a lot of savory flavor that perhaps the plain egg whites would have been lacking. The corned beef was also really tasty with the egg whites, something a little different from the usual ham or sausage meat additions. The potato side was not very interesting though, but I suppose it was nice to rotate amongst the different foods on the plate. And as you'd expect things to be in NYC, the price tag was steeper than I would see in Boston. This brunch platter cost me about $9 before tax and tip, and I only got water to drink on the side.

Later that afternoon, I walked with Zheng through the city to get to his friend's apartment for a Superbowl party. Having grown up in the Northeast, there is no way I could be anything but a Patriots fan, and I was a bit intimidated that I would be the only one at the party who wasn't rooting for the Giants. Luckily I was wrong, because otherwise it would have been really hard to watch the last few minutes of the last quarter by myself heh. Anyway, on my way to the party, I was taking in all the sights and sounds of the city, and then I remembered that I've always wanted to try the frozen yogurt phenomena known as Pinkberry. Since Pinkberry stores are only located in CA and NY, I was set on getting a taste before I left. Zheng informed me that we'd be walking by "Koreantown", which is literally just one block of the city with all sorts of Korean and Japanese restaurants and stores, and that Pinkberry was located there. Apparently Pinkberry is a Korean frozen yogurt concept, which was news to me haha. Anyway, we made our little detour there and I was all giddy and snapping pictures because I've heard so much hype about this place and how celebrities love it. I have to say, the interior decor was nice and hip, very Korean-cutesy. I bet a lot of the people just come here for the decor alone, to be able to say that they hang out at the "cool" fro-yo place lol.

They had these big round white lights hanging from the ceiling, with undulating wave patters on them. Certainly very eye-catching and chic. On the walls were printed names of many famous lovers (Zheng was asking me what half of them were heh), although I'm not sure how it has anything to do with frozen yogurt or Pinkberry… I associate neither with… love haha.

There was a long line from the cash register going all the way to the front door, all people waiting to be served on a winter's Sunday afternoon. Amazing. Notice the cutesy pastel things on the right side wall? I don't even know what they were supposed to be… but definitely your typical Korean cutesy items. The one thing about the way Pinkberry operates (btw all their staff was non-Korean) that annoys me is that they don't tell you anything before you get to the cash register. On the back wall are the prices (and damn, this stuff is over-priced!), which say that a small yogurt is $3, and each topping you'd like to add is an additional $0.95. That's all it really says about the frozen yogurts. I figured out eventually that there were three yogurt flavors: original, green tea, and coffee. They don't tell you what the toppings are at all… how the heck was I supposed to order my $0.95 toppings?!? So when I got to the front of the line, I ordered a small original yogurt with 2 toppings, but the cashier said I needed to specify the toppings. Well you didn't have a list of them!! So I had to run up to the counter where they were serving the yogurt, which is like 7 feet away from the cash register, to observe which toppings were available in the serving bins. Normally that's not a big deal, but when there's like 15 people in line behind you, you feel terrible having to step out of line to figure out what toppings are available before coming back to order. What a poor system. Anyway, I chose cookies & cream (oreo crumbles) and mango chunks for my toppings, which made my small Pinkberry yogurt a grand total of $5 plus taxes. What a ripoff, seriously! For that price, I could buy a whole half gallon of premium ice cream at a grocery store!

So now that I've got my Pinkberry in hand (and I had to leave the store to eat it because all the seats were taken up), what is the verdict? Like many people, I had thought the "original" flavor, since it was white colored, would taste like vanilla. But it didn't… in fact it had a very distinct but very familiar taste to me, something I had often tasted while growing up in China. It was the taste of fresh yogurt… the kind that is sold in small bottles in China where the yogurt is partially liquid and partially soft curds, and you shake it up so that you can drink the thing with a straw. That's exactly the kind of thing that Pinkberry tasted like, except it was in a soft serve form. If you've never had the yogurt drink I've mentioned, I can only really describe Pinkberry as sour – not citrusy but more of a mild tartness that is accompanied by a hint of sweetness. It's not really creamy at all, which is what makes Pinkberry a refreshing and healthier alternative to ice cream. It's kind of an acquired taste, I think. Personally, I loved it because it brought back all my childhood memories of those yogurt drinks that I really enjoyed, but I think if you've never had such a flavor before it might be a shock to associate it with frozen yogurt. As tasty as the yogurt is though, I felt like the toppings didn't add anything to the experience… this isn't ice cream, there's no point in topping it with the traditional toppings aside from ripping customers off (honestly… $1 per topping?!?!). So while the flavor of the yogurt itself is appealing to me, I will definitely not be going back often due to the exorbitant price tag. When I go to China this summer… I'll just have my fill of my little yogurt drinks for a few pennies each :)

Moving on… the Superbowl itself was a pretty intense game to watch, and it was a lot of fun with a room nearly split 50/50 Pats fans and Giants fans. Zheng's friends had an enormous apartment (they had an entire floor of a building to themselves… with 2 bathrooms, 4 bedrooms, and a giant living room with kitchen. In fact, and this was exciting to me haha, the elevator of the building opens right up into their living room when you hit their floor button. How cool is that?!? Okay… sorry haha I clearly am easily excitable. We had the usual pizza and wings and chips and beer at the party, and then we stuck around for a while after the game since there were riots going on in Times Square (near where Zheng lives). We walked through some of that on the way back, and Zheng, a Giants fan, high fived a lot of random people in the streets haha. I saw policemen sitting on horses, trying to keep the order, but everyone was screaming and shouting and cars were honking (I almost got run over crossing the street). It was pretty crazy and a little scary too I have to admit, although I guess we've had our fair share of riots up in Boston for the Red Sox too heh.

The next night for dinner, I went with Zheng to a little French-Italian fusion restaurant on 9th Ave called Nizza. Zheng wanted to get dinner from the Olive Garden, and I was having none of that chain restaurant stuff while out traveling, so we settled on this small but nicely decorated restaurant with decent prices (entrees $12-16 each). After being seated, the waiter came and told us about the menu, and informed us that the food here was a fusion of French food from the area of Nice and Italian cuisine. He also told us that the portions at this restaurant were about 3/4 normal entree portions at other places (no wonder it was priced cheaper than most places I saw), but that worked out nicely for us since neither of us can eat big portions anyway.

We started off the meal with two appetizers, which the waiter told us were tapas-style and great for sharing. We got the warm calamari with potato salad, and a plate of prosciutto crostini with sheep's milk ricotta and balsamic syrup. (Sorry for the pictures with flash, it was just too dim in the restaurant).

The calamari (right) was not fried as I had expected, instead it was naked and tender, probably braised. It came with little jalapeño pepper slices and grape tomato halves that were so sweet and juicy, in a savory vinaigrette sauce, on top of a small bed of skinned and cubed potatoes. I'm not a fan of spicy, so I let Zheng eat all the peppers, and he's not a fan of seafood, so he let me have most of the calamari (oops! I forgot he hates seafood and he didn't tell me not to order it when I suggested it). But in any case, the squid was just so tender, with that warm and perfectly soft chew that fresh and lightly cooked squid has.

On the left is the prosciutto crostini with sheep's milk ricotta and balsamic syrup. It was soooo good. The prosciutto was fresh and lean, sliced very thinly so that it pretty much melted in my mouth. The flavor was wonderful too, not too salty, not too bland. It paired perfectly with the creamy sheep's milk ricotta, which was much milder than I thought it would be, but I thought that was nice, because it would have competed too much with the prosciutto otherwise. And then, with the sweetness from the balsamic syrup on top of a crunchy slice of French bread, I was in heaven with each bite. I really liked the ricotta, it was nothing like cow's milk ricotta with its gritty texture. This cheese was so smooth and creamy I could have sworn it was a different cheese altogether. What a perfect pairing of fine flavors and textures!

Next came the entrees. Zheng ordered something that was pretty much like spaghetti with marinara sauce (it's not on the online menu right now), which wasn't interesting enough for me to waste a flash photograph on :P I ordered the crab ravioli, which came in a lobster cream sauce with fennel and parmesan.

I think the thing about Nizza that impressed me the most was the freshness of everything they served. The ravioli blew me away with how tender and fresh the pasta skin was. It was this pillow-soft texture that I had never ever experienced eating ravioli or any kind of pasta before… simply amazing. The crab meat filling was silky and subtle, with the lobster cream sauce giving it most of its flavor. I really liked the added kick from the fennel in the sauce, which gave the creamy flavor an edge that made it memorable. The portion size was perfect, each ravioli was two bites, and I felt just satisfied after dinner. I had room for dessert, but none of the dessert options (of which there were 4 or so) interested me, so we left to grab dessert at a bakery on the way home. I would definitely come back to have dinner at Nizza again, the appetizers were fantastic and the portions were surprisingly just right (there's something to be said about being able to eat your whole meal and not feel too full or not full enough). The price tag with 2 appetizers is a little steep (I paid about $27 including tax and tip), but that ends up being about on par for dining in NYC, as I was seeing a lot of restaurants advertising prix fixe menus at $24-27 per person before tax/tip.

So then on our way back to Zheng's apartment, I stopped by a busy little bakery called Amy's Bread, which had some tasty looking cakes on display, as well as a lot of sandwiches and breads. Apparently everyone else waiting in line was getting some of their fresh handmade bread to take home, too bad I'm not a big fan of bread. What caught my eye from the street were their red velvet cupcakes, complete with lots of whipped cream cheese frosting on top. It was no Magnolia, but it looked just right for dessert (although $2.50 for a cupcake is steep!).

Truth be told, it was my first time eating red velvet cake, and it's true that there is nothing special about how it tastes (it's really just red cake), but I guess it's something of a visual experience not to be missed out on in your life hehe. The frosting was just great, it wasn't sweet and overpowering like most cupcakes that use royal icing or even buttercream. This frosting also wasn't thick and heavy like cream cheese frostings. I really liked its lightness, which most resembled the kind of frosting that whipped cream cakes tend to have, with a bit of butter in it. Of course, with cakes that have this much pretty frosting on it, it's hard to eat properly without getting frosting all over your face, so I'll remember not to get such a thing when I'm out with important guests :)

So those were some of my food exploits on this trip, yummy and pricey as always! Until next time, NYC!


Ziti with meatballs in tomato sauce

When your significant other makes you an entire meal for dinner without you knowing ahead of time, the food tastes a lot like love. I was having a terribly busy night, trying to finish and submit a homework assignment that I had been working on for 9 hours straight during that day (not including the countless hours I worked on it on previous days). I was ecstatic to come home to my boyfriend having made pasta with meatballs in tomato sauce for dinner. Sure, he was unhappy that I came home so late (he cooked everything an hour before I was ready to come home, so it had gotten cold), and sure the meatballs had been bought pre-made, but the thought of him rolling up his sleeves to boil the pasta and make up the sauce was touching. It also brought a smile to my face, thinking about him enthusiastically making the pasta sauce. Getting a man to enjoy the thought of cooking can be so tough sometimes! :)

According to him, the sauce was made using a jarred pasta sauce from Classico (tomato and basil flavor), to which he added fresh garlic, onions, and seasonings. He also sauteed the meatballs before letting them simmer with the sauce, and the flavor was wonderful because you could really taste the meatiness in the sauce. I always get kind of disappointed when sauces are made separately from the meat, and combined at the end. By cooking the meat with the sauce, the flavor of the ground beef really came out and heightened the taste of the tomato sauce. Just wonderful, over the perfectly al dente ziti.

And a few more…

In my ever-continuing quest to mimic Cafe Mami's pork cutlet curry in the comfort of my own home, I had the idea to make mock pork cutlet by taking pork tenderloin and baking it in Shake n' Bake to get a crunchy coating. I also had some Vermont House brand Japanese curry roux cubes, so my boyfriend and I whipped up this dish for dinner. We only had onions in the curry sauce, but we kept it separate from the meat unlike last time when I made it. The taste was actually quite good, though we could have used more sauce and less onions. The only thing was that the flavor of the Shake n' Bake crumb coat on the pork competed with the curry flavor (unlike the milder flavor of simple fried pork cutlet), and the tenderloin was very lean, which was a bit different in texture from the restaurant cutlet (read: fatty). But hey I'm getting closer to the real thing, and this is probably about as healthy as the dish is going to get heh.

My boyfriend made this yummy dinner for us on a night when I was busy experimenting with another baked good that I'll post momentarily :P He used fresh ground lean pork for the meat, and added onions, garlic, home-grown tomatoes from his aunt's backyard, milk, and some jarred pasta sauce for this tasty bolognese sauce. Only he knows the entire recipe, but I know that you first saute the onions, then you add the ground meat and cook until just starting to brown. Then you add the tomatoes (we substituted the fresh tomatoes for the canned crushed tomatoes in the recipe), milk, and water and let it stew for a while to break down the tomatoes. Finally he added some jarred pasta sauce to give the flavor a boost, and the final product was definitely legit. It went perfectly with spaghetti, and I imagine it would have been quite good with a side of homemade garlic bread as well.

When we have no vegetables to cook with our dinner, our ideas begin to get pretty crazy. Luckily my boyfriend found time to stop by the convenience store and buy a box of Annie's deluxe shells n' cheese, as well as a bag of frozen sweet peas. With the starch and vegetable on hand, we set out to figure out the rest of the dinner. We had a lot of frozen boneless skinless chicken thighs, so we thawed out a bunch and went about experimenting with them. I made Thai peanut chicken, and my boyfriend made some sort of garlic salt rubbed chicken. I butterflied the chicken thighs so that I could pan sear them without overcooking them (we don't have an oven-safe skillet, so baking or broiling them is out of the question). Then I marinated in a mixture of salt, sugar, Kikkoman's roasted garlic teriyaki sauce, soy sauce, garlic powder, white pepper, cornstarch, and olive oil, for about 15 minutes or so. Meanwhile I whipped up some peanut sauce by whisking together smooth peanut butter, water, soy sauce, and teriyaki sauce. When the thighs were ready to cook, I sauteed them in a medium hot pan until both sides were nicely browned. Then I poured the peanut sauce on top to finish, cooking for only a minute or two just to heat through the sauce and coat the chicken nicely. And that was dinner! Plated with the mac n' cheese, peas, and some garlic parmesan roasted potatoes, it was a delicious dinner (though with too many peas for my taste). I especially liked how moist and tender the chicken was, and the sauce gave it a lot of flavor. It's not quite the same taste as the Thai peanut chicken lunchbox I like to get at the Asian food truck at my school, because I couldn't figure out how to mimic their peanut sauce, but I still enjoyed it and it was great for lunch the next day :)

This was a meal made using the help of a small George Foreman grill! Okay, admittedly I am not very adept at using it, and I was always afraid I'd set off the fire alarm from producing too much smoke. I marinated chicken thighs in a mixture of Grey Poupon (my favorite) dijon mustard, honey, garlic powder, and onion powder. Then I threw them on the Foreman grill with some cooking spray, and closed the lid. But the sugar content in the honey mustard marinade began to burn very quickly, as I hadn't thought of the fact that the recipe was designed for real grills where charring is okay, whereas I definitely didn't want smoke and charring in my room. So I shifted the grill into the hallway next to a window to finish grilling the chicken, and it took a while b/c the thighs were thick. So by the time I was done, the outside of the chicken was blackened, you can see it in the picture above. The flavor was really good, as you could taste the honey mustard sauce and since I grilled the chicken until it was just done, the meat was still very juicy. My boyfriend went about cooking up some Chinese eggplant with garlic, and we made some chicken flavored Rice-a-Roni on the side. The whole meal came together nicely, I just wish cooking the chicken hadn't been such a hassle lol.


Now, for some eating out experiences…

My parents took me out to a new dim sum place the other day, called Jin. I've gone there before for their 24/7 Chinese buffet whose selection (and price tag) is the largest of any Asian buffets in all of North America. They have Peking duck, lobster, sushi, prime rib, and all sorts of other foods and desserts that you could possibly want. Anyway, I digress. They have started offering a new venue which is Saturday morning dim sum. Every single dish regardless of size or ingredients are $1.99. In comparison to all the other dim sum places in Chinatown, this price is phenomenal. Dim sum is usually offered at about $2 per small dish, $3 per medium dish, and $4-5 per large dish. So it's a huge savings, with the downside being the location (Jin is like a 20 minute drive from Chinatown), and the somewhat limited variety. In the picture above, clockwise from the top dish, we have pork ribs in with black bean, steamed beef tripe, fish balls with ground pork filling, and stewed chicken feet, which is also often called Phoenix claws in Chinese. I despise tripe, but the other three dishes were yummy. Chicken feet and pork ribs are two of my dim sum favorites!

Here we have roast pork buns at the top, flanked with dishes of shrimp-filled and ground beef-filled chang fun (which are steamed rice noodle rolls), in a soy ginger sauce. I love the shrimp chang fun, because they are tender and mild, and when they are made fresh the rice noodle wrap slides down your throat without feeling sticky. It's a real pleasure to eat.

These are called dragon puffs (or something like that, I can't remember anymore), but they are a ball of ground shrimp with a fried outer coating of shredded wonton wrapper. It's a delicately crispy (albeit messy) puff and the flavor of the shrimp inside is enough to ensure that the puff isn't too bland. I just though they were quite pretty, but I'm not too big on the fried coating.

This past weekend I went with my lab and the other labs in my research institute for a scientific retreat in New Hampshire. It was cold and rained quite a bit, but I had a lot of fun getting to know my lab members better, listening to presentations of the research being done, doing fun activities like mountain biking, and of course taking advantage of the free food :)

Our first meal was dinner on Friday night (after a cocktail hour with calamari and chicken peanut satay skewers), and I got the filet mignon entree which came with garlic mashed potatoes and steamed baby carrots. The filet was delicious, it was tender without being overly mushy, and the mashed potatoes were creamy. My only complaint was that the filet mignon needed more of the sauce, as it clearly was not cooked with any sauce of its own. In fact, judging by its pale color I think that it was boiled prior to being quickly seared for grill marks. I have never seen such pale steak before. The mushroom based gravy went well with it but just wasn't enough for all the meat. I never actually finished the filet mignon (*gasp*) because I had gotten too full on food from the cocktail hour and the clam chowder and salad that came prior to the entree. So I actually only ate 3/4 of the filet. Oh well, at least it didn't cost me any money :P

Dessert was a fudgey molten chocolate cake (that I really wish I had more room for). It was different from the molten chocolate cake from places like Finale, because the outer cake layer was very fudgey as opposed to cakey. The center was of course still melted chocolate. It was warm and sweet, pairing quite well with the tartness of the raspberry sauce. Just thinking about it now is making me a little weak in the knees haha. Seriously, if there was any simple comfort dessert that could always hit the spot, it would be something like this. Mmmmm….

Um yes this should be self-explanatory. Don't make me go back in the detail about how sinfully good the desserts were :P I tried to control myself and only ate about half of each baby cheesecake. Yay.

And of course, the highlight of the weekend was all-you-can-eat steamed lobster! It was funny watching everyone else trying to eat lobster like an amateur, they don't even eat the meat from the head! They only know to eat the tail and the claws. What a waste of great lobster meat. It was funny, because we had the dinner in an outdoor tent area, and it was so chilly at night that my drawn butter re-solidified before I even tried to use it for dipping. Haha kind of defeats the purpose, but maybe that was for the best. I had 2 lobsters before I started to feel kind of sick of the texture and flavor, and finished off with a few slices of refreshing watermelon. What a luxury!

Back to the food…

Sorry that I didn't get to update much this summer! Thanks for the support, I'm back and hope to catch up on some of the things from the summer. I'm currently applying for medical school while doing a masters program, so things will be super hectic this year, but I'll try my best to stay on top of my Vox :)

Anyway, to get started, here are some of the meals I made over the summer:

Sometime last year my boyfriend and I discovered the joys of making dinner with those skillet meal-in-a-box type things like Tuna Helper. We particularly like the tuna helper because it only requires canned tuna, whereas we never have any ground beef sitting around for the hamburger helpers. The tuna helpers come with dried pasta in the box, along with a packet of flavor powder, which usually reminds me of the smell of sour cream and onion chips. Sometimes there are little bits of dehydrated broccoli in the powder. When we cook the tuna helpers, we like to add to it by cutting in fresh veggies that we have on hand and adding extra pasta and tuna to make the food last a few meals. In the photo above we added red peppers, broccoli, and onions as vegetables. I actually enjoy the flavor of the meal even though we've added so much stuff that the original flavor of the flavor powder is diluted, I guess the intended flavor must be stronger than I would like.  Lately we've experimented by adding some canned salmon in place of the canned tuna, and though it sounds good, I actually prefer the tuna, which has a much stronger flavor than the salmon.

I signed up for a free promotion from Larabars (a brand of organic energy/snack bars made with natural raw ingredients) where they sent me 4 different full-sized Larabars as a sampler. The Larabars are mostly made of dates and nuts. They're moist, filling, and surprisingly delicious! I encourage you to try out a Larabar next time you are at the market. They have tons of different flavors. Larabars also makes a different bar called Jocolat, which uses organic cocoa powder to make a chocolate-flavored bar that still uses dates and nuts to provide the body. I really like the Jocolat bars, which you can see above looks pretty yummy. The cocoa flavor was nice, but it isn't for you if you are craving creamy sugary chocolate. The chocolate is all in the flavoring, it's somewhat subtle but I think it's nice for mature palettes. Plus, it doesn't get sickeningly sweet after a while, which I thought was good since I was eating it for breakfast. Yum.

My boyfriend first introduced me to the delicious lazy person's meal option called Shake 'n Bake. It's a pre-prepared mixture of seasonings and bread crumbs that you coat chicken or pork with before baking. After it's done baking the chicken becomes wonderfully delicious, with a savory, crunchy coating of bread crumbs. We like to make it with bone-in chicken thighs which are more moist than breast meat and stand up well to baking. We paired the chicken with chicken flavored Rice-a-roni and some stir fried mixed veggies. It's a quick and easy dinner that tastes amazingly good! (Oh and sorry for using the same bowl over and over, but I'm a poor college student… I just don't have that many options.)

Remember the last time I went out for Japanese curry? Well I decided to try and make my own Japanese curry at home! It's actually not too hard, especially since you don't make the curry from scratch. There are various brands (S&B is a big one) that sell Japanese curry roux cubes that you dilute to make instance curry sauce. It's super easy, and even Japanese people use the same kind of roux cubes, so you know it's authentic. All I had to do was cook together the meat and vegetables before adding water with the curry cubes to make the curry. I usually add carrots, onions, and potatoes for the vegetables, and I like using pork and beef for the meat. It's different from the curry cutlet because I cook the meat in the curry sauce and there are no crunchy coatings, but it tastes great all the same and is probably much better for you :) In the curry above I also added Chinese eggplant because I had some extra lying around that I need to get rid of, but I would recommend not adding it as eggplant tends to have a pretty strong flavor. My curry sauce tends to be a bit thicker and starchier than the restaurant curry, since they don't use potatoes, but I think the fried egg on top completes the look!

MIT Senior Week (Part 3)

(6/06) Lunch cruise in Boston harbor! Our class rented out half of the well known Spirit of Boston cruise ship for a lunch cruise in Boston Harbor today. It was to be casual dress, and parents were invited to come along with the seniors if they so choose. I was excited to finally be on that cruise ship again during the daytime, so I could actually SEE the harbor (the last time I was on this same cruise ship for a nighttime cruise on Halloween, called Boo's Cruise). This lunch cruise was to last 2 hours, and would be serving a buffet style lunch with various entrees, as well as dessert afterwards.

Being the food lovers that we are, Greg and I made a beeline for one of the tables closest to the buffet area to be seated as we entered the ship (I'm not even kidding, we passed up tables next to the windows with great views just to sit near the food in the center of the room). Hahaha. The big shiny lids of the food trays were tempting us with their secrets beneath, we could barely wait to see what was inside.

The waiters came around to tell us that since we rented the deck as a group event, there was a complimentary soda and juice bar for the lunch. I didn't feel like getting soda for a lunch cruise (seemed less than classy, and I was feeling more brunch-y), so I asked for juice instead. It did come in a nice glass, with a straw no less. Weird, trying to drink orange juice with a straw.

So then it turns out that they send people up to the buffet area table by table, so as to prevent long lines from forming. They started sending up the people sitting on the opposite side of the room near the windows first, and we were pretty much doomed to be in the second half of the room to be called up. We were both super disappointed that we'd have to wait a long time to get food. The whole point of getting a seat nearby the area was to be able to get up there first, right? So here is my dearest boyfriend looking dejected while everyone in the background is getting the food we aren't allowed to touch yet haha. (Do you see how close we were to the table!!)

But guess what? By the the time we got to go up for food, we had realized that most of the dishes weren't all that interesting. They had pasta primavera with marinara sauce, Asian pepper steak beef, pan seared chicken strips with julienned onions and peppers, baked coated chicken pieces, and crabmeat stuffed sole. Sides were green beans and boiled red bliss potatoes. They also had a small salad bar. I of course got a little bit of everything just to try. But as to be expected with a lunch cruise, they tried to cater to as many different types of people as possible, and did a poor job of it. The Asian pepper steak beef was predictably bad and didn't taste Asian at all. The pan seared chicken strips with veggies tasted like chicken fajitas, only with less flavor and more dried up meat. And the baked chicken, which looked beautiful, just like KFC or southern fried chicken, tasted boring and dry. It lacked the punch of spices that makes other fried chickens delicious. The things I did like were the pasta primavera, which had gemelli pasta. It wasn't anything extraordinary, but compared to much of the other items it was pretty palatable. I also enjoyed the green beans a great deal as they were tender and crunchy, with a good cooked flavor. My two favorites of the lunch were the potato salad (white blob of stuff on the right side in the picture) and the crabmeat stuffed sole. The fish itself was overcooked, but I really liked the crabmeat stuffing, which is supposedly Chesapeake Bay style crabmeat stuffing. It had some real crab in it, but also some imitation crab and bread-based filler, which made it nice and savory. It was probably the most worthy item on the menu. They were very small though, smaller than the size of my palm, so most people took multiple servings. The stuffed sole is hump featured in the center front of the picture below. Clearly I got two of these on my plate. The baked chicken is behind the soul, and topped with the green beans.

Can't forget about the scenery! It was really tough to get nice shots of the outside when we weren't sitting next to any windows. Here is a neat ship parked in the harbor. It looks antique, and is so beautiful in black.

Next it was time for dessert. I got the creme brulee cheesecake, which is a slice of vanilla cheesecake that has a layer of vanilla bean custard on the bottom right above the graham cracker crust, and the top ot the cheesecake was caramelized with sugar. Honestly this cheesecake wasn't as great as I thought it would be. There was no creme brulee flavor. They basically just took vanilla cheesecake (this is the same kind, even down to the custard layer, that is sold in the Simmons dorm night cafe) and topped it with sugar to caramelize. That doesn't make creme brulee cheesecake, I'm sorry to say. It was just vanilla cheesecake with a crusty top. And the caramel that they drizzled looked nice, but didn't go well with the flavor of the cheesecake. It also made the caramelized top taste fake, because the fake flavoring of the caramel sauce was too strong. All in all, the dessert satisfied a sweet tooth, but it really wasn't very innovative in taste. I had some coffee on the side to go with it also, but the sweetness of the cheesecake made the coffee taste terribly bitter.

After dessert Greg and I went onto the observation deck to enjoy the view and the beautiful weather for the rest of the cruise ride. I've never really seen this side of Boston, since I'm always looking at the ocean from the city. But this port city is really quite lovely from the ocean, and considering that it is one of the oldest cities in the US, it sure stands up to its fame! Enjoy the following photos:

(6/07) It's the day before graduation, but I wasn't interested in going on the senior week events for today, which were Boston's famous duck tours (really just a tourist gimmick) and a Boston Pops concert. Well, I would have loved to see the Pops concert, but the tickets were extravagant despite being a class event. So I spent the day relaxing, mentally preparing for the long graduation day ahead and just enjoying my last day as a carefree undergraduate.

For dinner I went out with Greg to one of our favorite cheap eats place, Pho Pasteur in Harvard Square. It's a semi-trendy Vietnamese restaurant that caters to the American crowd while maintaining the authentic flavor of good Vietnamese food. Recently Pho Pasteur changed its name to Le's, which I find to be an annoying and unattractive name for a place that I am so fond of. So don't be alarmed that I continue to refer to it by its former name. Pho Pasteur is a quick bus ride down the street from MIT, and is located in the heart of Harvard Square in a cluster of stores called the Garage. The food is amazingly cheap for the quality and quantity, as long as you enjoy Vietnamese cuisine. A bowl of pho that is enough for me to eat costs only $5.25. Last time I went with Zheng I showed you the pho and summer rolls that I got. This time I decided to get something different for the sake of variety. Greg and I started off with an appetizer of Vietnamese spring rolls, which have a ground pork mixture inside, served with a side of fish sauce. These are delectable to start with, because they are fresh and crispy, and their small size (similar to a cigar) makes them easy to eat. Unfortunately the waitress misheard our order and brought us both the spring rolls as well as an order of summer rolls. Oops. At least they were both appetizers we liked haha.

For entrees, Greg got a big face bowl of pho (the bowl being bigger than his whole head), and I got a traditional Vietnamese rice dish whose name is "Com Suon, Bi, Cha" (I'm sure that is just a description of the dish rather than a real name). It is a plate with steamed white rice, a honey-grilled pork chop, julienned pork skin, and tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce. The plate comes with a side of fish sauce as well, which goes really well with everything on the plate. I know julienned pork skin sounds pretty weird, but it's a Vietnamese thing and it's really good. It's not strips of fat, it's the actual skin, which has a lot of collagen, so it's a little bit like eating small strips of tendon dusted with some sort of powdery seasoning. The pork chops are delicious too. They are thin and juicy, with lots of sweetness from the honey. I generally dislike American steak-house style pork chops, but these are so fantastic I pick up the bone and try to get off all the meat at the end haha. This dish usually also comes with a steamed ground pork, egg, and vermicelli meatloaf square, but sometimes it doesn't get served, and no explanation is given. Why???

After dinner, Greg and I wandered around Harvard Square for a while, and went into CVS where I bought myself a bottle of Olay Regenerist daily serum (I heard it works wonders… and it cost me $17 for 1.7 oz or so… so let's see if it really does make my skin look beautiful). Then it was time for dessert! :) We had a coupon for a buy any sized ice cream cone or cup and get one of the same size for free. So we got 2 medium cones, one in strawberry cheesecake flavor, and one in vanilla heath bar flavor. The strawberry cheesecake (in the picture below) was pretty good, and not too rich. It tasted more like vanilla and strawberry ice cream mixed together, with some chunks of graham cracker crust. The heath bar flavor was much sweeter, with indulgent pieces of crunchy heath bar in vanilla ice cream. Yum! Greg and I shared the two cones, but I'm pretty sure he ate more of the heath bar one before giving it to me to finish off. Grrr!!

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