Monthly Archives: June 2013

Whole Foods Flagship Store

Welcome to the first Whole Foods market in America.

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It is so amazing that I had to embarrass myself and be a weirdo, taking pictures of groceries not-so-surreptitiously. Honestly never thought I would reach this stage.

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Overwhelmed by all the choices of nuts and grains and spices.

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I thought the idea of grinding your own peanut butter was very cool so I took a picture of this too.

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You have to admit that a bar in a grocery store is pretty unique and worth taking a picture of…

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I have moved on to a whole new level by taking pictures of raw meat. Gotta admit that raw meat has never looked this good before.

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I went nuts in the bakery section of the supermarket. They had a wide selection of hearty looking bread with some samples in small containers too. I was able to sample their sweet potato bread, jalapeno bread and walnut raisin bread. Their sweet potato bread was good and is something I would consider buying. The jalapeno bread, not really, because I am not used to having my bread spicy.

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I am so ashamed for taking a picture of this but I think it is cool that they have oils and vinegar in metal dispensers.

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One of my favorite sections in the store is their cookie bar.

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I love pistachio in desserts and baked goods so I was tempted to get myself some pistachio shortbread and pistachio cannoli.

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Besides their awesome presentation of groceries in the marketplace, I absolutely love their food stands that serve a variety of food, from barbecue to sushi to gelato. Their two-meat combination with two sides ended up being my lunch and dinner for the day. My meat of choice were moist beef brisket and baby back ribs, with mac and cheese as a side. I also had their pistachio and stracciatella gelato at their gelato bar which was kind of ‘rough’ and heavy for gelato. I had a great dining experience at Whole Foods and my body must hate me right now so I think I am going to go vegetarian for the next week or two.

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Sandwiches and Tacos

The move from California to Texas has been an eye-opening experience so far. The Texan accent and the whole Texas gentleman deal is starting to grow on me but I still get slightly taken aback whenever someone calls me ma’am or when someone holds the door open for me even though I am ten seconds from the door. Taking pictures of food here is also considered very unusual and I should probably exercise some control…

With no homework or midterms to study for on weekends, I have been spending my new found free time foraging for food in this city.One of the first sandwich places I went to was Potbelly Sandwich Shop. I had ‘A Wreck’ sandwich with salami, ham, roast beef, ham and swiss cheese — with hot pepper as a topping of course.

A Wreck @ Potbelly Sandwich Shop

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I love it when my sandwiches are neatly packed so Potbelly gets a thumbs up from me for that. ‘A Wreck’ was a good sandwich but has a little more meat and oil than what I would usually have.

Up the street on Guadalupe is Which Wich, another sandwich store that I did not know existed until I came here. Which Wich has a really cool way of getting their orders from customers. Over here, customers tick off their preferred options on a paper bag and pass it to the cashier. These paper bags are then hung on pegs suspended on a metal wire and slid down the room as they prepare your sandwich.

Tomato and Avocado Sandwich @ Which Wich

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Thumbs up for another neat, non-sloppy sandwich. Love the generous amount of avocado in this sandwich. Between Potbelly and Which Wich, I gotta say that my loyalty lies with Which Wich although the comparison is not exactly fair since I ordered a ‘cleaner’ sandwich in Which Wich.

One of the cool places in Austin is South Congress Avenue, a colorful and eclectic looking street. I have yet to explore the retailers but I did walk past a lot of restaurants including Hopdoddy, a popular burger place where people would line up an hour for. I ended up at a place with a shorter wait but good food nonetheless — Guero’s Taco Bar.

Picadillo and Fish Tacos @ Guero’s Taco Bar

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I chose the picadillo (spicy beef, potatoes and carrots) taco and fish taco with homegrown corn, and they came with a side of rice and beans. I had a hard time holding the tacos because the tortillas got soggy and ripped but this was a hearty meal and the fillings were great nonetheless.

Another great taco place in town is Turf N Surf Po Boy in Downtown Austin. This place is a food stand with a bar adjacent to it where people can watch sports on TV, eat and drink to their hearts’ content. The stand has a ghetto-looking exterior with some items on the menu featured on reused cardboards hung on windowsills. Customers get the option of having their entrees in the form of tacos, po’ boys or salad, and then they can choose to have their seafood fillings either fried, blackened or grilled.

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The tacos were pricey but they were also the largest tacos I have ever had. Each taco literally had a whole mahi-mahi fillet in it and was stuffed with a lot of salad greens, not just your usual coleslaw. They were also went a little crazy with the white sauce (sour cream?). No problem of soggy and fragile tortillas this time but eating these with my hands was still a problem because the tacos were too big. These are probably the most wholesome tacos I have ever had, and did I mention that these tacos were huge?! A great place to go to if you are looking for quantity and good seafood in your tacos.

I popped my Texas tex-mex cherry on my birthday at a place in South Austin called Maria’s Taco Xpress. This place has got to be the hippiest restaurant I have ever been to with its odd and psychedelic displays and live performances. The tacos here are cheap and well worth their price. I ordered the Al Pastor, a favorite raved by many, and while I thought it was good, I think it is confirmed that I am truly not much of a pork person. I do want to come back here and experience their hippy gospel sunday brunch though.

With the temperatures reaching a hundred degrees, there was no way I could get by without having some ice cream to cool myself down at some point. Amy’s ice cream is a local’s favorite (Sandra Bullock’s too) and is supposed to be a must-have in Austin. This place is similar to Cold Stone in the sense that you get to choose your toppings and have them mixed with your ice cream on a cold plate but Amy’s  has a wider range of toppings. Their Mexican Vanilla is their most popular flavor so I went for that as well as chocolate coconut rum.

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Perhaps my taste buds are not trained enough but I could not really distinguish between Mexican vanilla and regular vanilla. I still miss some of the great ice creams in the Bay Area such as those from Bi-Rite creamery and Ici’s, which have more interesting and pleasantly surprising flavors on some days, but Amy’s ice cream will do the job for now!

Austin Food Trucks!

Until two weeks ago, I had failed to realize what phenomenon food trucks are in some cities in the United States. Sure, the Bay Area has its fair share of mobile food trucks but it has got nothing on Austin. Austin has a crazy number of food trucks serving a lot of delectable treats (with quite a lot of fusion food such as Korean tacos). My first food truck experience in Austin was at West Campus — at The Mighty Cone specifically.

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This truck features tortilla  cones filled with a mango-jalapeno coleslaw and chicken / shrimp / avocado crusted in almonds, sesame seeds and chilli flakes, which lends it its crunchiness. The crunch and the mild spiciness and tanginess makes this cone a pretty mighty meal. This is definitely one of my favourite meals in Austin (not that I have had that many to date) and I will be back for sure.

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The Cow Tipping Creamery probably has the most elaborate soft serve in town. Customers get to customize their soft serve and choose from over 20 toppings, or they could go for their signature cones and stackers. They do have a lot of pleasant combinations in some of their signature cones but I simply went for 8 ounces of the good ol’ caramelized banana split, served with caramelized bananas, strawberries, pecans, caramel, whipped cream and Ghirardelli hot fudge. I am a bigger fan of regular ice cream or gelato so I did not go super crazy over this but it is still pretty good for what it is – a soft-serve. Probably the fanciest soft-serve I will ever have.

I had also set my mind to trying out The Halal Guys in Austin, and it is probably safe to say that it is inspired by the famous Halal Guys in New York City. The Halal Guys I went to on West Campus is technically not a food truck but my review is gonna go in this post anyway since it first started out as a food truck or stand.

Combination over Rice

Not wanting to choose between chicken and lamb, I went for both with the Combination over Rice. The meat is covered in an orange spicy sauce which I really like, and a lot of the white yogurt-like sauce. I personally liked the chicken a little more than the lamb although most would probably beg to differ, and I thought there was a little too much of the white sauce which muted — as opposed to accentuate  — the flavours of the meat. I would not mind coming back here for another meal but I would probably request for less generous servings of the white sauce and more of the spicy one. The portion size is quite satisfying but is supposedly pretty small for its price compared to what you get in the big city. Also, I seriously hope this was not 2000 calories as claimed by the internet for the Halal Guys in NYC…

I have started compiling a list of food trucks or stands to check out while in Austin and this is how the list is looking like so far:

  1. ChiLantro BBQ – A Korean-Mexican fusion food truck with food like kimchi fries and spicy pork bulgogi burger.
  2. Via 313 – Detroit-style pizza that has been lauded by many.
  3. Turf N’ Surf Po’ Boy – Mexican and Cajun food stand with po’ boys (which I loved at Brenda’s in San Francisco) and large grilled fish tacos.
  4. Kebabalicious – Pretty self explanatory.
  5. Gourdough’s – Super elaborate doughnuts.
  6. Julie’s Handmade Noodles – Zha jiang mian and beef noodle soup to satisfy my Asian food craving.

Boy, I am going to get fat this summer eating at food trucks, on top of eating stuff like briskets at Rudy’s and tacos and burgers.

Goes to Texas…

EATS VEGAN FOOD

Protein 2000 @ Veggie Heaven, Austin

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Trying out vegan food is always fun because I find it interesting to learn how good (if I am lucky) vegan food can be. Some vegetable proteins imitate the texture of meat pretty well. Protein 2000, which is made of soybeans and drenched in sweet garlicky sauce, is decent for fake meat. It is catered for American taste palates though. I was also intrigued by their brown rice because it came mixed with green peas I presume. Initially I thought it was strange but it started growing on me.

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GOES TO TEXAS … EATS CHINESE BBQ

Roast Duck and Pork BBQ with Rice @ Din Ho Restaurant, Austin
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I have not had cravings for baby back ribs or briskets but I was really in the mood for some Chinese food. Yelp led me to Din Ho restaurant, supposedly one of the most authentic and best Chinese restaurants in Austin. My excitement was built up when I could smell the barbecued meat from across the parking lot after getting of the bus and walking towards the restaurant.  The items on the menu were more affordable than I expected since this restaurant was given a two dollar sign on Yelp (the Roast Duck and BBQ Pork with rice cost me less than $9). I thought the roast duck was okay but the BBQ Pork was good. I do not usually like eating Chinese BBQ Pork because I am quite particular with the odor of Chinese pork but I actually liked this one. The meat was juicy and the texture good. However, I do think that both the pork and the duck could be a little more savory. All in all, the barbecued meat was good and this meal beats a lot of Chinese meals I have had in Berkeley for its price.

Eat Clean

Last semester has seen me attempting to eat clean. I have been itching to try quinoa, which is a superfood packed with protein.  I finally got round to making lemony quinoa salads as my post-workout meal and I really enjoyed them!

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Also attempted to recreate Smart Alec’s Garden Delight Salad but ended up with something else. I decided to roast my mushrooms because after doing some online research, I discovered that it is not recommended to eat raw mushrooms as the digestive system is not really capable of digesting raw mushrooms and the nutrients are only released when cooked anyway.

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Dressing-lonely meals:

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Stuffed with Salad

A few years ago, it used to be incomprehensible why people would ever order salad and consider it an actual meal. I used to be adamant about eating only cooked vegetables, such as stir fried bak choys or green beans. Fast forward to 2013 and here I am, ordering salads and even preparing my own for lunch. Never would I have thought that I would grow to appreciate salads.

Now I will write a review of the few salads I have tried in Berkeley so far. Currently, my to-go place for salad is Smart Alec’s Intelligent Food. I really like their Garden Chef Salad, which is packed with a lot of ingredients including edamemes, wheat berries, garbanzo beans and alfafa sprouts. Their balsamic vinaigrette is also great! This salad portion is large too but it is more expensive than salads elsewhere.

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When I am on the north side of campus around lunchtime, I would occasionally hit Northside Cafe. I have tried two of their salads to date — the NorthSide Salad and The Corner. The Northside Cafe as shown below consists of greens with citrusy chicken, almonds, cranberries and raisins. This sweet salad was bathed in balsamic vinaigrette, which I thought was too much, so I would recommend ordering this with the dressing on the side. Great salad to eat if you have a sweet tooth!

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The Corner, which I ordered because this was the only salad on the menu with boiled egg which I happened to be craving at the time, is pretty good too but had too much meat in my opinion but I obviously did not have to eat all the turkey and black forest ham they served.

The best salad deal in town that I have found has got to be at Cafe Mediterraneum down Telegraph Ave. Their simple green salad which comes with your typical mixed greens, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms and toast, costs only $2.75! The salad is very simple but this is my go to place when I am feeling a little parsimonious.

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Cafe Tibet

The first time I was introduced to momos was in Mount Everest restaurant in Berkeley and I liked them from the get-go. Momos are a cross between xiao long bao (soup dumplings) and gyozas. Generally larger than xiao long baos, they are less soupy but are stuffed with more juicy meat. After having a good first experience with momos, I was down to try them out in different restaurants, and to try a different cuisine too. That was how I ended up in Cafe Tibet on University Ave, Berkeley.

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Cafe Tibet has quite a large selection of momos and I thought it was interesting that they even had salmon momos. My friends and I stuck with the more conventional ones and opted for the chicken momos. They were pretty good, but I cannot remember how the first momos I had and these measured up to each other.

Trying out a new restaurant is always a gamble as you will not know if their food will be a hit or miss. At Cafe Tibet, the momos were a hit. The Tibetan chicken curry, however, was a miss. It was quite bland for curry (more like katsu than spicy Indian curry) and the meat was dry. Some of my friends ordered noodle soups and those seemed like better choices.

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A Meal to Remember

After eating theme park food and food from chains like Panda Express days on end (gotta give props to Sushiology though which has good cheap sushi), my friends and I decided to spoil ourselves on final night in Orlando and went to Bonefish Grill. Since this grillhouse is non-existent in California and we had never heard of it before, we did not have much of an inkling on what to expect. I was impressed by the decor and the ambience in the restaurant — it was definitely a place suitable for dates or a nice night out with your friends or family. The service was also excellent. Needless to say, this establishment has left an indelible mark on us.

Bang Bang Shrimp @ Bonefish Grill, Orlando

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The Bang Bang Shrimp totally rocked my socks off and is a must-have. The shrimps were so crispy and the spicy sauce gave them an extra oomph!

I opted for a dinner special that came with a choice of either soup or salad, and an entree. Going for the crab chowder was a no-brainer for me and was definitely the right choice — my friends could not stop dipping their bread into my chowder because it was so good!

Crab Chowder

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For the entree, I had a dish with an assortment (well, four kinds) of seafood — Ahi tuna, tilapia, Norwegian salmon, and scallops and shrimps. I have yet to truly appreciate Ahi tuna but everything else was awesome. The fish had the good texture and flakiness, and the seasoning and sauces made them even more delicious.

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My friends and I would have made our meals complete with desserts and I had my eye on the Jamaican coconut pie with rum sauce…but we had to return our car to the rental company. Was this meal worth the splurge? Hell yeah. One of the best meals — if not the best — I have had the past year.

When in Diagon Alley

Last spring break, I was able to fulfill one of my lifelong dreams — to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Orlando. As fatuous as this may sound, Harry Potter was essentially weaved into the fabric of my teenage life, analagous to Disney’s profundity on the lives of millions. The joy I felt as I realized my teenage dreams was simply ineffable.

I had the opportunity to try Butterbeer, a beverage sometimes consumed by Harry Potter and his friends whenever they get out of Hogwarts and hit the village Hogsmeade. At Universal, they serve this frozen or regular, and if memory serves me right I had the frozen. Right off the bat, I could tell that this delicious beverage had tons of cream and sugar, and root beer I presume. This drink is a little saccharine for me to quaff but it was definitely a good beverage to have in hand while waiting in long lines. I sipped this throughout the two-hour wait for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which I can confidently declare is the BEST ride I have ever been on.

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I was excited to see Three Broomsticks too, a pub from Harry Potter world. The Three Broomsticks in this park is a real eatery and serves — no surprises — British food. While British food is not my favourite food in the planet, I was still tempted to eat here because it had been a while since I last had fish and chips, or cornish pasties. My friends and I eventually opted for non-theme park food though because we had our fair share in Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Speaking of food and Disney World, I am in love with the Iced French Vanilla Float at the Sunshine Tree Terrace! The coffee and rich vanilla ice cream blended very harmoniously, and I actually preferred this float to Butterbeer, much to my friends’ surprise.

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Visited the candy store in Diagon Alley and came across stuffs like Chocolate Frogs and Bertie Botts’ Every Flavour Beans.

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