Category Archives: restaurant

Breakfast with a gentle giant

It's not often that you see any posts on my Vox about breakfast, considering that I go to work at about 10am each morning, which means that I wake up at 9:30 and basically roll out the door haha. But every now and then, I like to enjoy the pleasures of a hot breakfast or brunch. There's just something so sinfully joyful about waking up on a lazy Sunday morning to a plate of fluffy pancakes and eggs and a mug of hot coffee. I have woken up on weekends to make breakfast before, but it's a lot of work early in the morning, and I always seem to have the problem where by the time I finish one item, another item has already gotten cold, and microwaving breakfast is just wrong. So when I really want fresh, hot breakfast, I look to the small mom & pop diners around Boston that offer no-frills cheap breakfast options (I have always felt that breakfast at chain restaurants like IHOP lack something, that homemade touch and flavor that little diners have).

One of my favorite hole in the wall diners is Sunny's Diner in Cambridge, just a few blocks outside of MIT's campus. It's no glamorous cafe, and I used to walk past this place without paying much attention, until I heard from some friends who came here religiously. This tiny little diner is so popular among MIT students that it is almost always packed in the mornings, especially since it only stays open until 2pm each day. The food is your traditional diner breakfast and lunch fare, and the prices are very reasonable for the amount of food you get (most breakfast plates are about $5-6 each). Anyway, my friend Zheng came up to visit from NYC this weekend, and when he mentioned that he wanted to grab a good brunch, I told him that I simply had to show him this little gem. So today, a terribly cold and windy Sunday morning, we braved the elements and made our way to the cozy inside of Sunny's Diner.

 

After skimming over the menu, we both quickly and gluttonously decided to order the Gentle Giant breakfast plates, which comes with a whopping 3 eggs, 2 pancakes, choice of bacon, ham, or sausage, and a side of home fries… all for just $7.50. I was originally planning to just order pancakes with a side of sausage, but after seeing that the price would come out to $7.25, there was no reason not to throw in the extra 25 cents for the big upgrade and all that variety! The greedy food-lover in me called out and before I knew it, two heaping plates of food sat before me, beckoning to me with their sweet and greasy goodness. This was going to be a breakfast that I wouldn't forget.

Where to start?!? The eggs, I asked for over easy, and they were done perfectly, with the yolks still runny and both sides cooked to tenderness. The home fries, they were amazing. I usually am not a big fan of home fries, because other places tend to make them too greasy, too soft, too heavily seasoned, too potato-y. But these were great, because they had that satisfying crunch on the outside that yielded to the soft fluffy potato inside, just like a big delicious french fry. They didn't need any extra salt either, and was not overly herb-y, which I really liked. And the sausage, it was one big link sliced in half and seared with a light crust on the flat side, juicy and savory without being too fatty or too processed. Yummm. And finally, the pancakes. I was sitting at the bar, so I got to watch them make all my food right in front of me on a big griddle, and what I love about Sunny's Diner is how everything is done as if it was done at home. They make small batches of batter at a time, and the cooks and waitresses have time to chat about anything while you wait at the bar. My chocolate chip pancakes came to me piping hot and fluffy, dusted with powdered sugar and with the butter melting on top as I eagerly reached for my fork. They were delicious, fresh, and simple… IHOP has nothing on these pancakes!

Admittedly, by the time I was done with that gentle giant, I was pretty much unable to get up from my seat. But it was such a satisfying meal I really wouldn't have changed a thing. It was definitely worth the massive food coma that followed and the blast of cold air that greeted me as I regretfully left the diner. Besides, I really can't think of any better way to catch up with an old friend than casually chatting over a hot plate of breakfast. Mmmm….

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Dali – Spanish restaurant and tapas bar

Last night my boyfriend and I went to Dali, a tapas bar located near Boston, to celebrate four years together. I had been dying to try a real tapas meal for the first time (aside from the appetizer I had with Reid at Bocado), and after reading all the stellar reviews for Dali, I was sold. Everyone mentioned how wonderful of a date place it was and how amazing the food was, so it sounded like the perfect restaurant for celebrating a special occasion. So during the day yesterday, I was browsing through Dali's online menu, trying to think about which dishes I wanted to try, and by the end of the day I have to say my mouth was watering with anticipation. Since tapas tend to be pricey ($5-10 for a small portion), we decided to limit our meal to 6 dishes. After comparing notes, we decided on 6 dishes that we were both interested in trying, and off we went towards Dali!

(disclaimer: I was unable to take any pictures at Dali, but just to give a little flavor of the night I have included a couple of pictures that I did not take)

I was able to get to Dali via public transportation, as there was a bus line that had a stop literally right outside Dali's front door. How convenient! The exterior of the restaurant was not very lavish, and actually made the place look very small (albeit quaint). I thought it was interesting that the entrance to the place was located at one corner of the restaurant, which made it a tight squeeze for patrons to get in and out of the place.

Greg and I arrived at Dali at about 8:15pm, and waited another 10 minutes or so for a table to open up. The first thing you notice as you enter the restaurant is how dimly lit it is, and then you hear the loud and lively Spanish music, and the uproarious laughter of the patrons as they wined and dined. It was definitely a place with character. All the waiters and waitresses were dressed nicely in Spanish-influenced clothing, and they spoke Spanish to one another, which was also great. When we were ready to be seated, we were taken to the back of the restaurant, where it was cozy and full of other tables, but also romantic with its soft candlelight and tiled tables. Our waiter came to take our order, and I listened as Greg used his high school Spanish skills to order all of our dishes in Spanish (this is encouraged, apparently).

We started off with a glass of Sangria each, which was nice and fruity, although I'm not terribly fond of red wine, which is the dominant flavor in Sangria. I think I liked white wine Sangria better. Next time I might try the Cava Sangria that Dali offers (I believe it's champagne-based). A small bread basket came soon after, with a bit of garlic hummus for spreading. I'm not that big on hummus myself, but I thought it went well with the bread, which was crusty on the outside, but soft and chewy on the inside (it would have made for great fondue-dipping bread).

Next came our first tapas dish: tortilla espanola, which is a cold tapas described as an egg/potato/onion omelette. In actuality, it was much more like a slice of a crust-less quiche, but with an equal ratio of eggs to potato to onion, and without cheese. I was really fond of this dish, as it reminded me of a Chinese breakfast item that I've eaten before. In any case, it was not cold, but rather just mildly warmed, and came topped with some soft tomatoes and red peppers, which went perfectly with the omelette, whose flavor was lightly salty… quite savory for something that only has eggs, potatoes, and onions in it. I also really liked the thin skin surrounding the slice, which was nicely browned and slightly crispy egg.

The second dish that came was costillas de vaca, which is beef short ribs in a Rioja wine sauce. This hot tapas is normally on the late night tapas menu, but we were surprised to find it available for dinner, and so we were definitely excited to try it. We got two big meaty pieces attached to 2 segments of rib bone, sitting in a lovely brown sauce with stewed vegetables. The beef itself was completely tender and falling off the bone, and well-marinated with a mixture whose wine flavor I could taste quite prominently. It was a great balance of salty, sweet, and tart. We also dipped our bread pieces into the wine sauce, and concluded that the sauce plus the stewed vegetables tasted kind of like beef stew, but the beef itself had that different flavor from being marinated.

After the first two dishes, the next 4 came out together, and we were tempted to try a little bit of each thing. Our second and last cold tapas dish was a patatas ali-oli, which is cubed potatoes in a homemade garlic/caper mayonnaise. The potatoes were boiled and cubed, then tossed in the described mayo dressing, then sprinkled with a lot of a green herb, which may have been dill, but I couldn't tell. The flavor of garlic was very strong in this dish, as it was a raw garlic flavor. Greg really liked it, because he found the potatoes and garlic to be refreshing. I would say this was my least favorite dish of the night (though it was by no means bad), just that it reminded me exactly of the potato salads that my mom likes to make, so it wasn't that exciting or new of a flavor to me.

Next we had vieiras al azafran, which is scallops in saffron cream. This was a simply fabulous dish, where we got 7 large scallops smothered in a fragrant seafood cream sauce that was lightly charred by a torch prior to serving. The scallops were deliciously tender, and the sauce was what made the dish so amazing. It was infused with a rich flavor that reminded me of lobster (in fact, I felt like the sauce was a thicker version of lobster bisque), but at the end of each spoonful you could taste the lovely aromatic contribution from the saffron. Just absolutely wonderful. We ate the scallops slowly, and dipped our bread into the sauce until it was all gone. Mmmm….

For our poultry dish, we ordered codorniz de castilla, which is broiled herb and garlic quail stuffed with bacon. The stuffed quail was rather small, about the size of my fist, with small legs and wings extending from it. It was de-boned except for the legs and wings, so it was easy to split up. There was bacon rolled up inside the cavity of the quail. Quail meat has a really nice smoky flavor that was definitely different from chicken but not gamey in any way. Its savory and smoky flavor made it a great pairing with the bacon, and the dish came the drippings from bird, which were great as well. And it was certainly interesting eating a tiny little quail drumstick haha.

Finally, and I saved the best for last, we got queso rebozado con miel, which was a dish of fried Spanish cheese with honey and sweet onions. This dish was amazing. You got three small round cheese nuggets about one inch in diameter each, and they were lightly breaded and fried so that the outside was crispy, yielding to a soft and smooth cheese interior. I'm not sure exactly what kind of cheese it was, but it had a flavor that was similar to goat's milk cheese, except not as strong, and it was quite creamy. But it was exactly this tart similarity to goat's milk cheese that made the cheese pair so perfectly with the sweetness of the honey and the delicate softness of the sweet caramelized onions. I was absolutely in heaven eating this dish, and I only wish I could have had a second plate of it haha. It was a great dish to finish off the meal with as well, since it serves so well as a dessert dish.

So all in all, we ordered 6 tapas, had 2 glasses of Sangria, and ate 1 and a half bread baskets. We were both satisfyingly full by the end (not stuffed, but full enough to feel quite good, with no room for dessert). The total came out to about $58 before tip, which is pricey but certainly not unreasonable for a special occasion dinner. I'd have to get rich before I could come here and happily try every single dish whenever I feel like it though lol. It was a fantastic dinner, and a really great restaurant. There was not a single thing that I disagreed with, and it only makes me excited to come back and try others. The atmosphere was fun, and although you have to shout to hear each other, once the food comes that's where the focus lies :)


Reunited with an old friend

Whenever I come home for breaks, I make it a point to meet up with old friends from high school, since most of us have traveled to various corners of the country for college and rarely get to see one another except for during breaks when we are all back in town. My friend Reid and I have kept up this tradition for five years now, getting together a few times a year, catching up, enjoying each other's company when there's nothing else to do in my hometown, and sharing some good times of course. As I look back fondly on our times in high school, we have certainly grown and changed a great deal since going to and finishing college. But there are aspects of ourselves that never change, and then there are those aspects of us that grow together. I'm glad to have the chance still to continue to nurture this friendship and watch us step out into the real world and fend for ourselves.

Last night, Reid and I went out for the night, stopping first at pretty much the only Thai restaurant in my hometown for dinner. The pad thai there was flavored just right, but the noodles were much too mushy for my preference. I enjoy a little chew to my noodles. I tried to order duck pad thai, but the waitress insisted that it wouldn't taste good (um… that must be why I love getting duck pad thai elsewhere…), so I stuck with chicken. After spending nearly 2 hours in the restaurant chatting away, we headed out for dessert at Friendly's. It's a pretty popular haunt in my hometown, because it's located everywhere, and has both food and dessert at a very reasonable price. Surprisingly, there are no Friendly's in Boston, which made me a little sad. Anyway, I was craving a brownie sundae, so I ordered their fudge brownie sundae, which came with chunks of dense brownies that were not heated up, layered between scoops of chocolate ice cream and hot fudge. I think that was a bit too much chocolate, as I was completely chocolated-out by the time I finished it haha.

Then we went to a movie theater to watch Charlie Wilson's War, which was actually pretty entertaining. I was little bit lost at first, as the film moves fast with brisk dialog and lots of history and politics spun in, but I found the movie to be quite witty and as always, I loved Tom Hanks. You almost start to forget that this was based on a true story, and it's not until the end of the movie that you realize how relevant the content of this movie is to the present state of the world, and then you feel a little sad that so much has resulted from one political mistake at the end of the Cold War.

We didn't quite want to call it a night, so Reid took me to a tapas bar in town that he really liked, called Bocado. It was a trendy, semi-upscale lounge type of bar, and I really liked the atmosphere inside: ambient, busy but not too noisy, roomy, with an air of sophistication but not snootiness. I had never had tapas before, since they tend to run on the expensive side, but we just got an appetizer, which was a roasted garlic, spinach, and feta dip served with warmed pita wedges. I got a sparkling mojito and he got a mango flavored Sangria, both of which were delicious.

The appetizer was also great, although I wish they had given us more pita wedges to go with all the dip we got. It was definitely a nice place to go and relax, and probably also a great first date place as well, which is surprisingly difficult to come upon in my hometown.

Finally, in noting that my glass is empty in the picture below, I would just like to add that I have the rare but coveted resistance to Asian glow :) I have no idea how, as both my parents tend to turn red, but I'm certainly not complaining haha.


Tao NYC

I just returned from a chilly but fun trip in NYC! I visited for a little over two days, to attend two interviews and to see my college friend Zheng. I wish I had more time to spend in nyc, taking in all the beautiful sights and sounds and cuisine, but that simply means that I will be back again sometime :) The only bummer on this trip was that I was just at the start of a bad cold, so I was feeling fuzzy and stuffy the whole time, with not much of an appetite and a diminished sense of taste.  Thus, I vow to return one day when I am feeling well!

Nevertheless, the highlight of my trip was a fabulous dinner at the trendy pan-Asian fusion restaurant Tao (pronounced "dao"). We made reservations a month in advance, because it gets very packed even on weeknights. It's one of those places that even celebrities like to go to, although I unfortunately didn't spot any the night we went. This restaurant is probably best known for its towering Buddha statue in the center of the dining room, and don't worry, I didn't forget to take a picture or two. I liked the dim ambiance of the place, although it was terribly non-conducive to my photo-taking tendencies. I must say, I was blinded more than a handful of times, by patrons who thought it would be a good idea to take pictures of the Buddha statue from far away using their camera flash. I'm pretty sure that was a waste of time. Here's my slightly blurry non-flash photo of the Buddha, bathed in multicolored lights (trendy Buddha, I suppose haha). It doesn't look so big in the picture, but it spanned the height of nearly two floors! (see lady on the lower left in comparison)

Anyway, onto the food! Unfortunately, out of dining etiquette, I did not photograph most of the food, because it was very dim and I really didn't want my flash going off left and right. We got drinks to start off, a beer for Zheng and a "Taotini" for me, which is Absolut Mandarin, Stolichnaya Raspberry, Malibu Rum, and cranberry and lime juices, all shaken up and decorated with a spear of fresh raspberries. Mmm refreshing! The Taotini is the most popular mixed drink at the restaurant, so of course I had to try that. I figured, this is probably the only time in my life I'll be able to have dinner at this place, so I'd better get the things its best known for.

Appetizers were peking duck spring rolls and squab lettuce wraps, both of which were great. The duck rolls had some sort of paste inside that I was unfamiliar with (not the usual vegetable scraps), and I can only guess that it was a mushroom or bean paste. I made a real mess with the squab lettuce wraps, but they were delicious. It came as a dish of ground squab, cooked with scallions in a soy-based sauce, for us to scoop into bowl-shaped iceberg lettuce pieces. I have never found lettuce wraps to be a food that can be eaten without making a mess, and Tao was no exception haha. But you know, the more hands-on the food is, the more tasty it can be!

Next came entrees – Zheng got the 12 oz. kobe beef ribeye (probably the single most expensive item on the menu, at $88, only topped by the special of the night, which was a kobe beef filet mignon at $200), which came with fried onion strings. Tao is probably best known for its kobe beef, but I would decide to get another one of their highlights, the Chilean sea bass, which came grilled on top of a bed of stir-fried vegetables, and topped with a miso glaze and powder. I can't even begin to describe how wonderful the dish was, I only wish I had a bigger appetite so I could have finished the huge filet. The fish was tender on the inside, and crispy on the surface from the sear. I adored the miso powder and glaze, which was a perfect dichotomy of salty and sweet. The wok-cooked vegetables at the bottom of the dish were lacking in taste and texture, as they were wilted and much too salty, which did not enhance the fish at all, so I left most of it and focused on my sea bass instead, so delicious! I'm so glad I chose this dish, it suited my mood perfectly, because it was not greasy at all and had a delicately sweet flavor and tender texture, all of which suited me in my state of sickness. At a price of $34, it actually is not bad, considering how big of a piece of fish you get.

Finally, dessert. We were both super stuffed after our entrees, but somehow the dessert menu ended up in front of us, and well, I guess if we were going to go all out then we weren't going to skimp on dessert. We ordered a mochi sampling plate, which had six mochi ice cream balls sitting in a triangle shaped plate. The variety included: pistachio, pumpkin, raspberry with white chocolate, and chocolate with peanut butter. They were all so divine, and I really enjoyed the assortment of flavors (I think my favorite was the raspberry white chocolate one, followed closely by the pistachio offering). The pumpkin mochi ice cream was actually quite good also, with its warm spiciness it tasted just like a pumpkin pie, but more refreshing. Mmmm. After dessert was done, we were presented with two chocolate fortune cookies (I can't handle any more more food!!), with funny fortunes inside.

Tao was simply an amazing adventure, something so defining of trendy culture in NYC and yet satisfying all the same. Unfortunately I can't tell you what the final tally of the bill was, since Zheng refused to let me see it, but from my estimates, the total after tax and tip must have been just over $200 (!!!) Many thanks to him for treating me to such an extravagant meal, he's much too generous, I will probably never stop feeling indebted lol. So now in closing, an obligatory picture of me on the second floor balcony, trying to get the Buddha in the background. (Zheng refuses to take pictures with me, god only knows why. He claims it will be incentive for me to visit again, but that makes no sense to me whatsoever haha). Anyway, unfortunately, the flash meant that I was too bright and the Buddha was too dark. If anyone is good with photoshop and can help me fix this picture, I would be so grateful!!!


Sushi at Fugakyu

A few days ago one of my friends from undergrad came back to campus to visit. He was recruiting for his current company, and took out my boyfriend and I (the three of us were best buds in college) for some upscale sushi on his company's tab. I had heard some great things about Fugakyu from friends, and it was accessible from the T, so off we went.

I have to say that my only prior experience with store-made sushi is Shino Express Sushi on Newbury St. in Boston, which is known for having the best bang for your buck authentic sushi. It is delicious and cheap, the only drawback being that it is a hole in the wall and lacks the variety that bigger sushi restaurants have. Fugakyu on the other hand, had an incredible extensive menu that had my head spinning, and each roll cost two to three times what it would have cost at Shino's. But I did discover that at Fugakyu, you get what you pay for (which is a lot), and you pay for what you get (which is very good sushi).

We arrived at Fugakyu on a Thursday night at around 8pm, and the wait for a table was 30 minutes, which I have since learned is the norm. I eyed a sushi bar in the main room, with a kaiten sushi setup (the sushi phenomenon of having various plates of sushi move by on a conveyor belt and you can just take whatever you want), and so we asked to be seated there which was without any wait. Awesome idea! We sat down and floating past us on a little moat were boats with plates of sushi on them, pushed along by a current of water underneath. It was really quite exciting for us.

I have to apologize for not getting better pictures of such a neat looking setup, but these boats they just keep moving along so there is no way I could have gotten a picture that wasn't blurry. But you get the general idea from this picture. So the funny thing is, the three of us kept staring at the sushi, thinking about which plates we might want to pick up and eat, when we started to notice that some of them looked really plastic. But we kept arguing amongst one another about whether some of the sushi were fake placeholders or not, because other pieces looked quite real. In the end, we figured out that the entire setup was fake, because Fugakyu only serves Kaiten sushi on Mondays and Tuesday nights! Haha oops! I'm glad we didn't reach out to take any of the plates. I'd really like to go back sometime and try the Kaiten sushi though, it's only $4 a plate regardless of what's on it, so it really takes the guesswork out of choosing.

Anyway, we started to go through our menus, which were seriously huge. There must have been at least 50 types of maki rolls alone! Since we were on my friend's tab, we were free to choose the expensive rolls without hesitation, and that's really what the point of eating at such an upscale sushi joint is, right? We had quite a bit of trouble choosing, but we ended up getting all different sushi to see the most variety. While we deliberated, my friend Tony and I got a couple of beers. I'm starting to enjoy light beers nowadays, I find that if the brand is high quality and the beer is light, the flavor is more sweet and subdued. Anyway, they gave us pretty beer glasses, so I took a picture :)

We each ordered 3 kinds of sushi. I ordered a lobster maki (which had lobster, asparagus, avocado, cucumber, lettuce, tobikko, and spicy mayo), a Fugakyu maki (tuna, eel, fried sweet potato, scallion, and bonito flakes), and a negi chu-toro maki (fatty tuna with scallions). My boyfriend and Tony ordered spider maki, negi toro maki, spicy snow crab maki, toro nigiri, fried snow crab maki, and salmon roll. The sushi came all together on a huge boat, it was such a beautiful and mouth-watering sight!

Aside from the absolutely stunning presentation, the taste was just as wonderful. The fish was fresh and we were given big portions in our rolls, the rice was soft, and the creative combinations of the rolls really worked. Everyone was more or less blown away by their sushi choices. Here's a closeup of my sushi:

At the upper right is my lobster maki with its bright orange tobikko (flying fish roe). The lower right is my negi chu-toro maki. And at the left is my Fugakyu maki with the tuna and fried sweet potato most visible. They were all incredibly delicious and melted in my mouth.

The lobster roll was fresh and had a lot of crunch from the medley of vegetables. The lobster meat was cooked just right, it was tender and amazingly sweet as good seafood should taste like. Just absolutely fantastic, aside from the fact that the pieces were so big that they always fell apart after I bit into them.

The negi chu-toro maki was a luxurious roll to eat. Chu-toro is a type of fatty tuna that is on the low end of the fatty tuna spectrum. I chose it because it was cheaper than the higher grade "toro" offering, but I honestly thought it tasted incredible. It was smooth and creamy, and paired well with the scallions in the roll. I have had a negi toro roll from Shino's, but I definitely thought that the one at Fugakyu was better. It was not ground up fatty tuna but rather in one piece. So delicious.

Finally my Fugakyu maki with its tuna, eel, fried sweet potato, scallions, and bonito shavings. The fried sweet potato is an ingenious idea for a sushi filling. It had crunch, it had sweetness, and it went perfectly with the mildness of the tuna and the sweetness of the eel. My only complaint was the bonito shavings, which I wasn't that fond of. They were a little bit fishy, as they should be, which I thought did not add to the roll. Still, the flavor from the other fillings was so bright that the bonito wasn't a problem at all. There was so much stuffed into this roll that it was a flavor explosion in my mouth with eat bite. I loved it.

This shot has some of my boyfriend's rolls in it: the spider maki (fried soft-shelled crab tempura, cucumber, avocado, spicy mayo, tobikko, scallions, spicy eel sauce) which was the envy of all of us because the pieces were huge and looked absolutely delectable. He said it was the best out of all his rolls. You can also see his negi toro maki, which is the higher grade fatty tuna roll that I didn't get, though it looks pretty similar. His snow crab maki is in the previous picture at the very top left next to my lobster roll.

Tony's sushi is in the picture above, with the exception that my Fugakyu roll is in the middle. His fried snow crab roll (kani katsu maki) is at the top, with fried snow crab, cucumbers, spicy katsu sauce, and scallions. His toro nigiri (which cost $15 for 2 pieces) is at the very bottom. He said they were really good, though not as good as the even more upscale Oishii restaurant which most people agree has even fresher and better fish than Fugakyu. Still, it was pretty deluxe I imagine. His salmon roll wasn't too exciting to look at so there's no picture of that except in the first sushi boat picture.

All in all the meal cost us a total of about $150 including tax and tip. Each roll cost us about $10-$15, so it was about $40 per person. Not terribly expensive but certainly not cheap. Still, we were all wowed by the fresh delicious sushi and we are definitely planning to go back sometime, though maybe not in the near future haha. I highly recommend this place for a date or a special occasion, there's a little something for everyone and the decor is extensive. They have these cute private tatami rooms with low tables and spaces in the floor that you can put your legs in, and doors that close to give you privacy for parties and such. And of course, it's the only kaiten sushi locale in the Boston area, so it's definitely worth checking out for that. I'm planning to go there for the kaiten sometime, you'll hear back from me when I do :)


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