Thursday, September 13, 2012

Eating out: Jin Sho

Three days in a row!  I can't believe it either.  While it's fun writing posts about new places to eat, the truth is...I don't really have access to my TV.  Since my kitchen is being worked on, all my furniture has been squished into my living room.  I could technically watch TV sitting at my dining table which is right up against my sofa, but it doesn't make for a very relaxing environment.  So instead, my current living space is limited to my bedroom, and at least I have access to the internet here.

Tonight I sort of cheated.  This is my second time to Jin Sho, a kind of upscale Japanese restaurant that serves things like ceviche and lamb chop (the lamb is cooked, thankfully).  In fact, their website specifies that they are "Executive Class", and the chefs hail from the famous Nobu in New York City.  I didn't know this until I looked at their website right now. 

There are no bento boxes here, but they offer two prix fixe menus (which they spell, "pris fix"), along with a good selection of entrees, rolls, and sushi.  The prix fixe meals are the way to go, which are around $20 or $25, and offers a nice mix of traditional sushi rolls with more unlikely Japanese inspired creations like duck breast served with a little scoop (and I mean really little) of mashed potatoes.  Kind of unusual, but somehow it works.  Oh, and when you see words like "avo" and "cu" on the menu, they mean "avocado" and "cucumber". 

Even though I recommend the prix fixe dinner (which I got the first time I came here), I went with the nabeyaki soba.  It's not officially on the menu--I had them substitute udon noodles with soba noodles.  I often order this when I go to a Japanese restaurant because I like how comforting a hot bowl of soup and noodles feels.  The broth was flavorful and had a certain delicateness to it, the egg was perfectly poached, and even the boiled chicken did not taste disgusting.  That may sound like a low bar, but I've never liked the boiled chicken in my nabeyaki soba (or boiled chicken period), and Jin Sho seems to know how to use the right pieces and balance this with the other ingredients in the soup.   

For dessert, my dinner companion and I split a mango panna cotta.  I think the Japanese have a fascination with Western desserts, but their take on it always comes out slightly different.  The panna cotta was definitely served without any frills--they just plopped it on a plate.  Nonetheless, theirs was on par with what I've had at Italian restaurants--smooth, creamy, rich but not too thick, and the mango flavoring did not taste artificial.   

Overall, the presentation is careful, the preparation is thoughtful and creative, but the portions are a little conservative, which is to be expected at a place like this.  The ambiance isn't particularly special, but it's unobtrusive.  For a Thursday night, it was not as bustling as I would have expected--there were a few empty tables, though there were a good number of patrons.  

I think after this meal, I am going back to low brow fare, though.  As much as I appreciate well-prepared and innovative food, something closer to a home cooked meal is what I really crave.  And besides, I already feel my waistline expanding, and my credit card could use a break.

Jin Sho is on California Avenue                

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Eating out: Joya

Tonight's foray was to a place I often pass by but have never gone to because it looks like one of those restaurants where the food isn't as good as how the restaurant looks.  I'm also convinced this is where cool "old money" hangs out.  It's a slightly different crowd from what I see on "The Row" (you know, Santana Row).  The patrons here seem to be a more serious sort--professional, established, refined, but still current.  Which, of course, leaves me a little out of place.  But since I'm on an "I'll try anything" stint, a friend and I decided we'd check it out anyway--and I think we can be pretty cool too.

I met my friend at Joya for an early dinner, and already, the outside dining area was filled with patrons, who look like they're genuinely enjoying themselves, having a leisurely dinner.  The restaurant is quite large.  We were seated in the inner sanctum, where we could neither see passersby nor be seen by them.  But that's okay, we were really there for the food anyway.  The ambiance is modern and chic, nicely lit (not too dark but not too bright either), and there was no music, just a constant low hum of people's conversations, which made talking to my friend across the table comfortable.  The wait staff was also friendly and attentive--less pretentious than I expected.  

Joya considers itself a restaurant and lounge which serves "Modern Latin Cuisine".  I'm not an expert when it comes to Latin cuisine though I've been to Spanish places before, but nothing on the menu looked exotic and items were pronounceable.  We ordered an heirloom tomato salad, crab cakes, tuna tartare, ceviche with sea bass, Mexican empanadas, and seared scallops with grilled corn.  It sounds like a lot, these dishes were mostly tapas, which can sometimes mean teeny tiny portions.  So I don't bore you too much, here's my quick run down on everything we tried:

Tomato salad: hard to go wrong with fresh ingredients for this one; the buratta cheese was a nice complement (and is apparently made in-house).

Crab cakes: they didn't use a lot of filler, and had a nice crispy outside without being too greasy. Very nicely done.

Tuna tartare: also very fresh, and I typically love anything with avocado.  

Ceviche: this was our least favorite, I think; the texture of the fish seemed all wrong, didn't seem to taste or look like fish; maybe it was too sour, as well.

Empenadas: just okay to me; the flavor of the crust was overpowering, and the mushroom filling was good but not exceptional.

Seared scallops: the truffle oil definitely made this one special; very nice combination of flavors with the grilled corn.  

Total tab on this meal came out to around $50/person (tax and tip included, not including alcohol).  Yes, that was not cheap--more than we anticipated.  We did, at least, leave there feeling very full, which doesn't always happen to me when I have tapas.  It probably was not worth the $50 we each spent on the meal, but I might go there again for a special occasion.  While it may not have been truly authentic, I liked that Joya kept things familiar and didn't try to be too fancy.  There are far better Spanish or Latin restaurants, but if you like ambiance and are looking for a cool social factor, Joya is a fine choice.

Joya is on University Avenue

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Eating out: Asian Box

I've been thinking of a way to add more interesting (hopefully) content to this blog, and I've decided to start a new segment of mini-reviews of places I eat at.  I don't always bake (hence the 3 month intervals between new recipes) but I do eat out quite often, and the suggestion that I write up reviews came up in conversation with some friends.  These posts are just my (humble) opinion based on what limited experience I may have at these eateries.  I am also by no means a food critic, and while I like to try new things, I also tend to veer toward certain types of food--though maybe this new venture will force me to do something different.

Yesterday, I began my kitchen remodel--which means a new oven(!), but which also means I won't be able to cook or heat up (which is more often the case) food for the next week and a half or so.  As I was driving to Panera to pick up dinner last night, I had an epiphany.  Why not try a new place every night while my kitchen is out of commission?  If there was ever a reason for me to branch out, this would be it.  (I still ended up going to Panera last night though.)

Tonight I thought I would ease my way in.  Asian Box is one of the latest in the food truck or food truck-style food movement--portable meals served by a vendor that specializes in just one thing.  (BTW, I haven't quite placed my finger on why the food truck thing is so fascinating--maybe it's the idea that they're mobile and your food is prepared in an impossibly cramped space.)  Asian Box takes the food in a box you'd get from a food truck and puts it back in the brick and mortar establishment.  

My first thought stepping inside was how stark, hermetic and industrial the surroundings felt.  A single elongated table occupies the center of the dining area with metal stools.  The walls included signs touting the use of locally sourced ingredients, where possible, and that *almost* everything is prepared in-house.  The noodle cart logo is a little kitschy but also minimalist and kind of cute.  Also, their utensils and containers are environmentally friendly.  The menu requires the diner to choose from each of the categories: 1) starch, 2) protein, 3) vegetables (steamed or "wok tossed"), 4) toppings, and 5) sauces.  Come to think of it, I think Chipotle actually pioneered this ordering process.  I ordered brown rice, shrimp (lime basil topped), wok tossed vegetables, ALL the toppers (including the egg, which was an extra $0.95), and a combination of "Ms. Jones Sriracha" and "No Oil Fish Sauce".  Clearly, Asian Box is geared toward those who are not Asian.

As I waited for my food, a steady stream of patrons of different age groups came into the shop, most doing take-out.  I would also say 75% of them looked like they had just worked out.  Strange ethnic sounding music in languages I could not recognize was blaring, which also gave me the impression that they didn't want their customers to sit around inside for very long.  I had nowhere else to go, though, so I tried to block the music out of my mind.

I was actually surprised by the food when I got it--the ingredients did indeed look very fresh, and my shrimp were nice and plump.  This was not your average rice bowl.  Portion size was more than enough to fill me up (though I may not be the best measure for this), with a nice balance of the different elements (rice, vegetables, protein, toppings).  I really thought the crispy shallots and jalapeno made the meal.  I did, however, find that the sauce was a little overwhelming; but I think that can be remedied next time by requesting that they go a little lighter on the sauce.  Overall, I liked it enough to want to come back another time.  I should also probably mention the price.  My total came out to something like $10.50.  It is a little on the high side for what is essentially a rice bowl, but not prohibitively expensive if you're craving a Southeast Asian style healthy-ish quick lunch or dinner.

One side note.  They serve something they call "VC iced tea".  This is terrible branding, in my opinion.  I do not think of "venture capitalists" when I see "VC" in a Vietnamese/Asian eatery.  I automatically think of Viet Cong, the communist organization that eventually won the Vietnam War.  I won't take this personally but I think they should name their iced tea something else.

Asian Box is at the Palo Alto Town & Country Center   

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Edible nostalgia (redux).

There is nothing new under the sun, says the author of Ecclesiastes (Eccelesiastes 1:9).  That is certainly true as it seems that what was once considered dated or old-fashioned is rebooted as cool and fresh, possibly hipster.  Lately design aesthetics often favor a retro (sometimes '80s) look, whether it's electronics or the latest fall fashion; and while camera companies have invested heavily to improve digital photo image quality, apps like Instagram can make digital photos look like they were taken in the days of film.   

And of course I've pretty much bought into this whole vintage/retro trend.  I bought an old Olympus film camera from the '70s on eBay so I could authentically take real "vintage-looking" photos.  I'm also digging the resurgence of the shift dress (thanks to Mad Men) and the Peter Pan collar (for women's clothing)--though I think some '80s fashion should not be revisited.  

On another level, though, I think there is something to taking a step back and celebrating the past and what was once considered antiquated or outmoded.  It's a nice counterbalance to the constant drive of continual advancement and perfection.  I will never be able to fully keep up with the pace of change in thinking, styles and technology, but I can sometimes romanticize the way things used to be and embrace what was out-of-date for what it was, because those things will never change.

So for a recent birthday party potluck (for a hipster-ish friend), I reached into the past and made an updated version of the old-fashioned classic whoopie pie.  Though not as ubiquitous as the cupcake (at least where I live), they still made for a cute and yummy tribute to a time gone by.  


Raspberry-Lemon Whoopie Pies
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Makes approximately 15 three inch pies 

Preheat oven to 350F.

1.  Beat with a mixer until light and fluffy:
- 1/2 c. butter, at room temperature
- 1 c. brown sugar
- 1 T. lemon zest

2.  Mix in to #1 until combined:
- 1 t. vanilla
- 1 large egg

3.  In a separate bowl, mix together:
- 2-1/4 c. unbleached all purpose flour
- 3/4 t. baking powder
- 1/4 t. baking soda
- 1/4 t. salt

4.  Add the flour mixture in #3 to the butter mixture, alternating with:
- 1 c. milk (I used 2% lowfat)

5.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and spoon out 1-1/2" mounds of batter (about 2 T. each), spaced 2" apart.  Bake for about 15 minutes or until puffy and springy and light brown around the edges.  Cool cakes on a wire rack completely.

6.  To make the filling, whip together:
- 3/4 c. heavy whipping cream
- 3 T. brown sugar

7.  Gently fold into the whipped cream:
- 1 cup fresh raspberries which have been mashed with a fork

8.  Assemble the pies by spreading whipped cream on the bottom of half the cakes and sandwiching with the remaining cakes.  Dust the tops with powdered sugar for a finished look.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


One of my favorite things about summer is all the seasonal fruit--cherries, watermelon, varieties of berries.  The local weekend farmers market has stands with crates full of strawberries, and I love seeing the rows of baskets filled with those plump red, juicy, pointy berries with crowns of green leaves.  They look so inviting and striking, calling out to be bought and consumed.  On my last trip to the farmer's market, I decided to make a dessert out of them, so I got three baskets and was happily on my home to make something fabulous out of them.

Flipping through some cookbooks at home, the strawberry tart with custard caught my attention.  After all, nothing says summer like a strawberry tart.  I used the pastry dough (pate brisee) recipe from the Joy of Baking, which I've tried before, and decided on the custard recipe from the Bouchon cookbook.  After preparing the pastry dough, and during the chill time, I went to work on the custard.  

I noticed that the custard recipe called for what seemed like an excessive amount of corn starch (1/4 cup for a recipe that yields 2 cups of custard), but entirely trusting Thomas Keller, I followed the directions anyway.  The last time I tried a Bouchon recipe, it turned out pretty splendid, so there was no other reason to doubt this one.  I think I should have trusted my instincts--or maybe it was my own error, I'm not sure.  The custard thickened quickly and became gelatinous.  I think a custard should be smooth and creamy, but it could also be a matter of personal preference.

Though my friends thought it was good (maybe they were being nice), I personally could not get over the texture and was disappointed with the results.  Once assembled, the strawberry tart came together just fine--the strawberries and crust covering up the slightly odd texture for custard, but I still felt something creamier would complement the strawberries better than the kind of milky jello custard.  For that reason, I'm only providing the recipe for the pate brisee.  Once I figure out the custard, I'll post the recipe.

Pate Brisee
Makes enough for two 9" inch tarts

1.  In a bowl, sift together:
- 2-1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
- 1 t. salt
- 1 T. sugar

2.  Using a pastry blender, blend in the following until the mixture has a coarse meal texture:
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, cut in 1" pieces

3.  Add about 1/4 cup ice water, and turn the dough using your hands to incorporate the water.  Form the pastry dough into a ball.  

4.  Divide the ball of dough in half and shape into 5" disks.  Wrap each of them in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least an hour, until ready for use.  The dough can also be frozen for about a month.

5.  When ready to bake, use a rolling pin to roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface.  Continually lift and rotate the dough to prevent it from sticking to the surface.  When it reaches a size large enough to cover a 9" tart pan, gently roll the pastry around the rolling pin, then unroll the pastry over the tart pan.  Gently press the dough into the bottom and sides of the pan.

6.  Place the tart pan in the freezer for about 15 minutes.  During this time, preheat the oven to  350F degrees.  Bake the pastry shell for about 20 minutes or until light golden brown.

7.  For the strawberry tart, allow the pastry shell to cool.  Fill the shell with a layer of custard, then assemble the strawberries (which have been hulled) in a circular pattern, starting in the center of the tart.  Use strawberries cut in half to fill in gaps.  Chill before serving. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Mad for madeleines.

I often see madeleines sold in bakeries or at cafes, wrapped, usually in twos, in clear cellophane bags.  They look so delicate and special, almost precious, which always made me curious about them.  They aren't shaped like the average cookie, but are like sea shells on one side with a dimple (or zit) on the other.  I have to admit there is an appeal to the idea of sipping tea while taking bites out of these dainty cookies, and honestly, my weakness is anything cute (which these cookies are).

Deciding to do a little baking today, when it comes to pastries, my heart is still in Paris.  I bought a mini-madeleine pan some months ago and have been itching to try a madeleine recipe out. 

After making financiers, I thought these would be similarly easy to make.  I soon found out that getting the batter to perfectly bake into the mold and achieving the dimple on each cookie were trickier than it looked.  Estimating the right amount of batter for each mold took several tries, and I was only able to get the slightest dimple by baking them on the top third rack of the oven.  But I also missed the instruction to freeze the pan after brushing each mold with butter and dusting them with flour, which could have helped produce the elusive dimple.  My madeleines may not look as perfect as the ones from the bakeries and cafes, but the taste and texture were pretty close.

Orange Madeleines
makes about 54 mini madeleines
adapted from David Lebovitz's The Sweet Life in Paris

Butter and flour the molds of the madeleine pan (and put in freezer until ready to bake).

1.  Melt 8 T. of unsalted butter, and cool to room temperature.

2.  Grate the zest of one orange.

3.  In a mixing bowl, whip the following until frothy and thick, approximately 5 minutes:
- 3 large eggs at room temperature
- 2/3 cup sugar

4.  Sift and fold by hand into the batter in #2:
- 1-1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
- 1 t. baking powder

5.  Add orange zest to the melted butter, then spoon the butter into the batter, folding the batter to just incorporate the butter after each few spoonfuls.  

6.  Cover the mixing bowl and refrigerate the batter for at least one hour (and up to 12 hours).

7.  When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 425F degrees.  Scoop out batter into each mold--this should be enough to fill into the mold when baking, but do not spread the batter.  

8.  For mini-madeleines, bake on the upper third rack of the oven for approximately 6 minutes until light brown and slightly firm.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Stay sweet.

According to the Webster dictionary, a financier is someone who deals with money and investments on a large scale.  In French pastry terms, financiers are spongy tea cakes often made with almond flour.  Legend has it that financiers (the pastry) got their name because busy workers in the financial district wanted an afternoon snack they could easily eat on the go without a mess.  I've also heard that the name came from the molds they were originally made in, which resembled miniature bars of gold.  I sort of prefer the first story--it's a little funny to picture businessmen eating dainty little cakes for a snack.

I had hazelnut financiers when I was in Paris last year; they were brought out as the finishing touch to a wonderful (and satisfying) lunch.  But I was too stuffed to eat them, and my mom wrapped a few up and tucked them in her bag so we could eat them later while sight seeing.  Perhaps the snack story had some truth to it after all.

Regardless of how they got their name, these pastries seem to keep on giving.  I first made these for Thanksgiving last year, and since then, I've brought them to a few other dinners, because they presented well, sounded fancy, and were delicious.  I didn't have the mold traditionally used, but I baked them in a mini-cupcake tin and they looked cute anyway.  The recipe is from David Lebovitz's The Sweet Life in Paris (another successful recipe from the book!), but this last time making them, I gave it a little bit of a twist.  Chocolate and almond are perfect complements, and chocolate and orange is one of my favorite flavor combinations.  I decided to try adding the orange flavor to the mix, and I think I like them better this way.  To be a little festive, I put them in Valentine's Day cupcake boxes I found at Michael's.

Chocolate Orange Financiers
Makes approximately 18 mini cupcake financiers
Adapted from The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz  

Preheat the oven to 425F degrees.  Lightly butter the mini cupcake tin.

1.  Melt 6 T. of unsalted butter and set aside to reach room temperature.

2.  In a bowl, mix together with a wire whisk by hand:
- 3/4 cup almond meal
- 3 T. unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
- 1 T. unbleached all purpose flour
- 1/8 t. salt
- 3/4 cup powdered sugar

3.  Add the following to the mixture from #2, and mix until combined:
- 3 egg whites
- 1/4 t. almond extract
- 1/4 t. orange extract

4.  Stir melted butter into the batter.

5.  Evenly distribute the batter into the mini cupcake tin, filling each about 3/4 full.

6.  Bake for approximately 11 minutes, until they are firm to the touch.  Remove from the oven and allow them to cool.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


I've been thinking long and hard about what to write for this post.  With the new year should come reflections on what has gone by, resolutions or goals for what's ahead, or maybe some deep thoughts on life in general.  The truth is, when I think about the passing of yet another year, my mind comes up blank.  Time keeps going, whether we're prepared for it or not, and as much wisdom as there is to be gained through experiences and relationships, it doesn't always come in a nice neat package marked by each year that passes.  So with that said, I decided instead to simply focus on food, which has its way of helping to move life along pleasantly.

One of my favorite bakeries is Bouchon Bakery.  I must have mentioned this before.  Some months ago, though, the Yountville Bouchon Bakery was damaged by a fire, and it was a very very sad day.  It isn't exactly close to me, so I don't know if it's reopened yet, but going there was always a treat.  To my surprise, I received the Bouchon cookbook for Christmas--a gorgeous and completely impractical (not only because of the complexity of the recipes, but because of the book's sheer size and weight) compendium of photos, stories and recipes from the Bouchon bistro and bakery.  Flipping through the book, even though it was all about bistro cooking (more "basic" French food), I thought I would never be able to make anything from it, though the pictures looked enticing.  It would be the perfect coffee table book, something fun to peruse and dream about but not really to cook from.

I have, however, found one recipe I dared to try.  The ingredients were so few, I thought there must be something missing, or it needed cinnamon or some other spice.  But this is Thomas Keller--he must know what he's doing, and I decided to trust the recipe.  The most complicated thing about it was the caramelization process, which took over an hour on the stove top, but when all was said and done, it was well worth the wait.  Baking alone won't achieve the same color and flavor that the slow cooking process can.  And there are few things I dislike more when it comes to baking than peeling and coring apples, because I go about it so slowly.  But even that won't deter me from making this again.   

Tarte Tatin
Adapted from Bouchon, by Thomas Keller (with John Cerciello)

For the pate brisee:

1.  In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, mix together on low:
- 1 cup flour
- 1 t. salt
- 2 sticks of butter (1 cup), cut into cubes
Add the cubes of butter into mixer a few at a time

2.  Turn the mixer up to medium to completely blend the butter and flour. 

3.  Add the following, adding the water after the flour has been combined completely:
- 1 cup flour
- 1/4 cup ice water
Don't over mix, though the flour and water should be completely incorporated.

4.  Divide the dough in half and form into round discs.  Refrigerate at least an hour.  This recipe will only require one half.

For the tart:

1.  Peel, core, and cut into quarters:
- 3 pounds of apples--apples that will hold their shape when cooked (e.g. Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Fuji)
(Thomas Keller provides slightly different instructions on how many apples to use and how to cut and arrange them, but I found that it was easier to do them as I describe it here--though I might try his way next time.)

2.  Heat in a 10" cast iron skillet on medium heat:
- 2 T. unsalted butter, cut in small pieces and distributed on the pan
- 3/4 cup sugar, also evenly spread on the pan
- as many apple wedges as can fit in concentric circles in the pan, with the wedges resting on the rounded side

3.  As the butter and sugar melt and juices from the apples come out, the amount of liquid will increase and begin to bubble.  Periodically rotate the apples together (to maintain the formation) to prevent the apples from sticking to the bottom of the pan.  As the apple wedges shrink, add remaining pieces to fill in the empty spaces.  Be careful that the sugar does not burn.  The liquid should become thick and turn into a deep amber color.  This process will take approximately one hour.

4.  In between tending to the apples, roll out one of the discs of dough into a round piece large enough to cover the apples in the pan, about 1/4" thick.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

5.  Preheat the oven to 375F degrees.

6.  Once step #3 is done, remove the pan from heat.  Cover the apples in the pan with dough and tuck any excess along the edge around the apples.

7.  Bake on the middle rack for about 40 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.

8.  Remove the pan and allow to cool for no longer than 30 minutes.  If it cools too much, the apples will stick to the pan.

9.  Place a platter that's larger than 10" in diameter over the pan, and invert the tart on to the platter.  The tart can rest for a few hours and be reheated in the oven. 

10.  Serve each slice with a dollop of creme fraiche.