Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Grandma's Chiu Chow (Teochew) Deep Fried Shrimp Balls

Chiu Chow Deep Fried Shrimp Ball
Chiu Chow Deep Fried Shrimp Balls

This is a bittersweet post for me. It is also the reason I have reemerged from my blogging hiatus.

My 90-year-old paternal grandmother, whom we called Ah Ma, passed away three-and-a-half weeks ago. In addition to being sweet like grandmas can be, my memories of Ah Ma largely revolve around food. When I was younger, every time Ah Ma would cook a whole chicken for dinner she'd save me one of the legs because that was my favorite cut of the chicken. Even when she wasn't cooking, she would constantly ask if I was hungry and would practically force feed me regardless of what my answer was. Food was her way of showing love.

It makes sense though, of course, as Ah Ma was the chef in the family. Every time we visited her and Yeh Yeh (grandpa) for the holidays, she would cook up a feast of traditional dishes from their native Chiu Chow (Teochew) city in China. We're talking a specialty local cuisine that you can't order at typical Chinese restaurants! There was a variety of dishes she made, and embarrassingly I cannot remember most of them now, because as a kid there was only one dish that really mattered as far as I was concerned: Ah Ma's deep friend shrimp balls.

It wasn't just me though. Everybody else in the family loved those shrimp balls, too!

Back in 2009, perhaps sensing a need to preserve our family tradition, I asked Ah Ma to show me how to make her shrimp balls. I had posted the recipe on my old blog back then, but I have since made this myself a few times, and I can now present the improved version—a combination of Ah Ma's original recipe with my own tips and proportions added.

Since Ah Ma moved back to Hong Kong a few years ago (a place she had called home for several decades before moving to Canada in the 1990's), I have been the one who has taken on the responsibility of making Ah Ma's shrimp balls for my family's holiday gatherings. It is the one tradition that I really cherish, and hopefully I will get to pass it on to my own granddaughter someday.

  • 1 lb uncooked shrimp, peeled
  • 4 fresh water chestnuts, peeled and chopped, or about 6-8 chopped if using the canned variety (the larger the chopped pieces, the crunchier the shrimp balls will be)
  • ¼ lbs chuck ground pork (optional—I usually skip this as it is hard to find in my area)
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 egg
  • ¼-½ tsp salt (depending on desired level of saltiness)
  • ¼-½ tsp white pepper
  • ¼-½ tsp chicken powder (Knorr brand Chicken broth mix or Lee Kum Kee brand Chicken bouillon powder)
  • Corn oil or vegetable oil (a lot)
  • ½ cup flour (I use all-purpose)


Mash shrimp using the flat part of a cleaver. That’s what my grandma would do anyway, but I have since discovered that processing the shrimp in a food processor makes the job a whole lot easier!

In a large bowl, combine the mashed shrimp, water chestnuts, ground pork, shallot, eggs, salt, pepper, and chicken powder. Mix well. My grandma would say to stir only in one direction (i.e., if you started stirring counterclockwise, do not reverse and stir clockwise), but I really don’t think it matters.

Add flour and mix to combine. Do not overmix.

Heat oil on high in a wok or a deep skillet. The amount of oil used depends on the size of your wok/skillet and the size of the shrimp balls. In general, use enough oil to cover half the diameter of the shrimp balls – for example, if your shrimp balls are 1” in diameter, then fill wok ½” deep with oil. Once the oil is boiling, reduce heat to medium high.

Mold the shrimp batter into rounded tablespoons. Dip a spoon into a small bowl of water before scooping the shrimp balls and placing it into the oil-filled wok (this prevents the shrimp balls from sticking to the spoon).* Alternatively (and this is what I do), use a 1½-inch melon baller or cookie scoop to make evenly spherical balls. Roll the shrimp balls around in the wok so they fry evenly on all sides. Fry until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Drain shrimp balls before serving.

Shrimp balls are traditionally served with a tangerine sauce that is not available in North America. The closest store-bought sauce I have found is a golden plum sauce, though a sweet and sour sauce could possibly work as well. Nothing beats the real thing though! My dad got me a bottle of tangerine sauce from Hong Kong and it only has three ingredients so I'm going to see if I can make a homemade version. Will update if successful!

Yields about 24 shrimp balls.

*Ah Ma had this crazy cool technique of massaging and squeezing the shrimp mixture into perfect little round balls. I don't know how she did it because my attempts are never anywhere near the right shape (which is why I cheat by using a melon baller instead), but I'm glad I documented her kickass technique in a video:

Chiu Chow Deep Fried Shrimp Ball Batter
Shrimp batter (makes about 24)

Forming Chiu Chow Deep Fried Shrimp Balls with a Melon Baller
Using a melon baller to form the shrimp balls

Deep Frying Chiu Chow Shrimp Balls
Shrimp balls in the midst of deep frying

Chiu Chow Deep Fried Shrimp Balls
The finished product

Tangerine Sauce for Chiu Chow Deep Fried Shrimp Balls
Tangerine sauce served with shrimp balls

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Greenhouse Tavern (Cleveland)

First of all...sorry for the long hiatus. Last May I resumed blogging after another long break. I had fully intended to get back into it over the summer, but after only a couple of posts, I stopped.

But I have a great excuse! I was actually in the middle of working on my third post when R. and I decided, rather abruptly, to buy a house. So the ensuing few months were filled with inspections, packing, moving, unpacking, meeting with contractors, designing, remodeling, fighting with contractors...the whole shebang. It was pretty nuts, to say the least. But we looooove our new house, and after seven weeks of take-out, we have a spanking new and TOTALLY FABULOUS kitchen with a giant island, a super strong range hood that ducts outside, and two dishwashers. I absolutely love cooking in my new digs!

Anyway, I am back because I am working on a very special post. But in the meantime, I present the post that I was working on before being interrupted by life itself:

Back in May, I took my annual trip to Cleveland. On our first night there R. and I checked out The Greenhouse Tavern on East Fourth Street Downtown. The contemporary American gastropub—whose chef-owner Jonathon Sawyer is the reigning 2015 James Beard Award for Best Chef (Great Lakes)—is a place about which I had heard high raves and have wanted to try for a long time, so I was very excited to have finally had the opportunity.

The weather was nice on the day we visited so we opted for patio seating, but the restaurant interior, which is kept rather dim in the back corners, has an undeniably hipster vibe what with all the bicycles fixated on the walls. The creative menu, which focuses on organic, locally and sustainably sourced ingredients, aims to have something for everyone.

Although we were curious about the Roasted Pig Head and would have loved to try the Fred Flintstone Beef Short Rib, we were advised that these items were for 2-4 people to share (two if both have large appetites, so closer to four for us!) and would take 45 minutes to prepare (time we didn't have) so we will have to bring along some friends for that next time. Instead, I opted for the Seared Market Fish (walleye was the fish of the day, served with olives, potato confit, and brussels sprout), while R. ordered the Fried Brussels Sprout to share (maple aioli, lemon, fresh mint, raw red onion) and the Ohio Beef Burger (certified angus beef, raclette cheese, tomato, pickles). The staff also surprised us with two complimentary starters: Red Basket Farm Cabbage Salad (parsley root, fermented mustard, pumpkin confit, kale cirsp) and Chef's Garden Beet (poppyseed yogurt, radish). For full disclosure, R. had had a few drinks and blurted out that I am blogger. I suspect that is why we received the extra food, and as I don't like the idea of using my blogger status to get freebies, I made darn sure R. won't blow my cover again in the future! We didn't skip dessert, of course. Both the Ginger Coconut (with tapioca, fresh ginger sorbet, pudding, and sweet soy) and the Buttered Popcorn Pot de Creme (with caramel and sea salt) were exquisite. Definitely worth a repeat visit!

Seared Market Fish at Greenhouse Tavern (Cleveland)
Seared Market Fish

Fried Brussels Sprout at Greenhouse Tavern (Cleveland)
Fried Brussels Sprouts

Red Basket Farm Cabbage Salad at Greenhouse Tavern (Cleveland)
Red Basket Farm Cabbage Salad

Chef's Garden Beet at Greenhouse Tavern (Cleveland)
Chef's Garden Beet

Ginger Coconut at Greenhouse Tavern (Cleveland)
Ginger Coconut

Buttered Popcorn Pot de Creme at Greenhouse Tavern (Cleveland)
Buttered Popcorn Pot de Creme

Restaurant info:
2038 East Fourth Street, Cleveland, OH 44115
(216) 443-0511
Table reservation recommended

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Habitat (Downtown)

Last week my friend and I were treated to dinner at Habitat at the Fairmont Hotel, where Chef Francis Ward prepared eight courses for us to sample. My friend and I were both completely blown away by the phenomenal quality of the food and I thought I'd share a few photos here. Although every single course was fantastic, I must state for the record that the unbelievable melt-in-your-mouth tender duck breast was the best duck I have ever had in my life—bar none. In fact, my friend doesn't usually eat duck, and she gobbled this up. Two other standout courses that also deserve special mention are the salted caramel pumpkin soup and the sweet potato gnocchi. My understanding is that a new menu will be unveiled soon, and I'm confident that the new dishes will be just as fantastic!

Fresh Tandoor Baked Naan at Habitat
Fresh Tandoor Baked Naan with Cucumber Aioli, Hummus, and Tomatillo Salsa

Salted Caramel Pumpkin Soup at Habitat
Salted Caramel Pumpkin Soup with Spiced Cream

Amuse Bouche at Habitat
Amuse Bouche

Beet Salad at Habitat
Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Local Wild Flower Honey

Sweet Potato Gnocchi at Habitat
Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Bacon, Parmigianno, and Pesto

Lobster and Grit
Lobster and Grits, Lobster Bisque, Endive, and Watercress

Duck Breast at Habitat
Cold Smoked Duck Breast, Turnip and Sweet Potato Hash, Liver Mousse,
and Balsamic Reduction

Banana King at Habitat
Banana King with Peanut Butter and Banana Ice Cream Cake, Chocolate
Cheerios, and Banana Caramel

In addition to incredible food, the service was also top-notch. Our server was beyond attentive and we were visited by both managers and the chef to ensure our experience was nothing but perfect.

For full disclosure, the meal was complimentary for a reason entirely unrelated to my status as a semi-anonymous, sometime food blogger; in fact, my friend was the one who made this dinner happen and Habitat had zero idea that I write this blog when the invitation was extended to us. Also, because this was a chef's tasting, the photos may not reflect full portions from the menu.

Restaurant info:
Habitat Restaurant
510 Market Street, Pittsburgh, PA
(412) 773-8848
Web | Facebook | Twitter

Habitat on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Inaugural Dinner Lab in Pittsburgh: El Jefe de Malay

Well, hello. It's been a while since I even logged in here, let alone post something to this lonely, abandoned space. What I can say? I've been busy. As in barely-got-time-to-breathe busy. My various hobbies took a backseat...or more like a hideout in the trunk.

Hopefully I'll have a little time now to make a slow comeback. I have a year's worth of food adventures on the backlog, but rather than picking up where I left off, I thought I'd just start fresh and go back to the old stuff if I have time.

And what better way to hit "reboot" on my blog with a unique event that R. and I just attended last night: The launch of Dinner Lab in Pittsburgh. Dinner Lab is an experimental dining concept that began in New Orleans (*swoon*) in 2012 and now spans across 33 cities across the USA. Each event features an up-and-coming chef testing out his/her specialty dishes and he/she will have the opportunity get feedback from diners to help hone his/her craft. To attend, one must be a member of Dinner Lab ($125 annual fee for Pittsburgh) or be BFFs with one who may purchase up to four tickets to each event. Each dinner ranges from $50-$95 per ticket, and so far, the Pittsburgh events have sold out LIGHTNING FAST. The ticket price includes tax, gratuities, and alcohol, so no money is exchanged at the dinner itself—just show up with your ID and enjoy! The events are always set up with 60 seats at communal tables per seating, two seatings per evening. The venue varies each time and is only revealed one day prior to the event. About half the events will feature local chefs while the other half will be from all over the country. Members also have access to Dinner Lab events in other cities.

When a friend learned about Dinner Lab and asked if I wanted to join, I was admittedly hesitant at first. My main concern was that our crazy schedules wouldn't allow for many opportunities to take advantage of the membership, which makes the membership fee difficult to justify. After stalling for a few days, we both decided to take the plunge for a year and see how it goes.

The inaugural Pittsburgh Dinner Lab kicked off May 1-2 with Chef Mario Rodriguez, a.k.a. "El Jefe de Malay" and was held at the vacant Produce Terminal Building in the Strip District—the former home of the Pittsburgh Public Market. R. thought the venue was a bit too informal but I appreciated the opportunity to be back in my old stomping grounds one last time before the building with so much history is torn down forever.

Pittsburgh Inaugural Dinner Lab

Dinner Lab in Pittsburgh-El Jefe de Malay

El Jefe de Malay-Feedback Card

Since I love South Asian food, a meal featuring Malay cuisine was just perfect for me. We arrived promptly at 7:00 pm for drinks, and after a brief introduction of Dinner Lab by Event Manager Kevin Zener, dinner began at 7:30 pm. The 8:00 pm seating arrived at some point during our meal and filled out the other half of the space, but was no interruption to our meal at all.

The first course was Green Mango and Lychee Salad served with fried peanuts and cilantro crema. Unfortunately, I was getting over a cold and my sense of smell (and thus taste) was far from 100%, but I still found the salad to be flavorful, refreshing, and interesting. I particularly loved the inclusion of lychee and the contrast with the cilantro crema. I gave this a 4.5 out of 5 rating on taste and 5 on creativity. My only comment was that the mango seemed a little on the bland side to me. I thought perhaps my perception was due to my dampened sense of taste, but R. confirmed he thought the same.

El Jefe de Malay-Green Mango & Lychee Salad
Green Mango and Lychee Salad

The second course was Red Chili Littleneck Clams served with Chinese sausage, green onion, and a spicy broth. This was a slight change from the originally planned mussels instead of clams, but this worked out nicely for us because R. is not a great fan of mussels and he loved the clams. The broth was chock full of flavor—a bit on the salty side which knocked my rating down to 4.5—but the spices were fantastic. The Chinese sausage ("lap cheong") was a nice touch; I've had it all my life but have certainly never had it with clams. Five out of 5 for creativity! This course was also paired with an Italian sparkling wine (Elmo Pio Asti), though due to my cold, I did not partake.

El Jefe de Malay-Red Chili Littleneck Clams
Red Chili Littleneck Clams

The third course was a surprise change from what was fish stew listed on the original menu to Crispy Fried Duck with turnips, ramps, fresh sriracha, and palm sugar glaze. Interesting combo, for sure, and not bad. The duck meat was cooked to the perfect tenderness, which for me, compensated for some overcooked and dry duck confit I had elsewhere earlier in the week (I won't name the offending restaurant). That said, I felt the duck was too high on saltiness and too low on crispiness. Based on what I remember from a really cool Science of Gastronomy class I took last year, I thought the duck may be better paired with something sweeter to take the edge off the saltiness. Three-and-a-half for taste and 4 for creativity.

El Jefe de Malay-Crispy Fried Duck
Crispy Fried Duck

Course number 4, paired with Tsingtao beer from China, was one I initially wasn't sure I'd like: Goat Rendang served with coconut rice, pickled pineapple, and kaffir lime. Surprisingly, it turned out to be the best course yet! You see, I don't like goat, so this isn't something I'd order for myself for sure. But all I could taste was heavily yet perfectly spiced, melt-in-your-mouth savoriness that paired especially well with the slightly sweet coconut rice. It didn't taste..."goaty" to me at all. Granted, maybe it was my half-plugged nose because R. thought there was too much meat flavor, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved this dish. I gave this one a 4.8 for taste and 5 for creativity.

El Jefe de Malay-Goat Rendang
Goat Rendang

Lastly, but certainly not least: Coconut Panna Cotta with rice cake, ginger granita, and cashew crumble. This, I thought, was the bomb. I know I'm biased—I LOVE coconut, and I LOVE ginger, so put those two together and you pretty much have a winning formula for me. But it was more than just the flavor but also the texture of having the crunchy ginger granita sitting atop the creamy coconut panna cotta. Combining the spicy versus sweet and the crystalline versus rich and the icy versus cool created a sort of heavenly gestalt. This was a slam dunk 5 out of 5 on both taste and creativity.

El Jefe de Malay-Coconut Panna Cotta
Coconut Panna Cotta

I would be remiss to not mention that the evening was filled with free-flowing alcohol which I sadly had to miss. From what I gather, there were some solid beer options, a number of wine selections, and a specialty cocktail which I did take a sip of and know I would have enjoyed tremendously if I could have imbibed without abandon. They called it a Japanese Sangria, and according to R. the ingredients included mostly sake, some brandy, pomegranate juice, honey, ginger, and lime. R. also thought the alcohol pairings for Courses 2 and 4 were excellent.

El Jefe de Malay-Japanese Sangria
Japanese Sangria

I would also be remiss to not commend the waitstaff for their cordiality, expert service, and attentiveness to our needs (especially in the drinks department). The whole night seemed to have run smoothly and flawlessly and I think the fact that the waitstaff made it look so easy was a big part of the success.

Despite my initial skepticism, I have to say we had a ton of fun at our first Dinner Lab event—hey, so much so that it inspired a first (and lengthy!) blog post in nearly nine months—and we hope we will be able to attend another Dinner Lab soon. At this point I don't know yet if I will extend my membership beyond this first year, but here are the pros and cons I see based on this initial experience:


The communal tables made for a fun, lively atmosphere, and provided a chance to meet some new people. In fact, we discovered that the gentleman sitting next to us did the woodworking at my house when it was being built nearly five years ago, and I had even hired him to help install my kitchen cabinet hardware when I first moved in! Crazy small world, huh?

The dishes at these events are unique and likely not to be found at any other place, at least not yet. I am always up for trying things I can't get anywhere else so I love this aspect of the events.

Annual membership fee notwithstanding, the per-event price is an incredibly good value when you factor in the food, drinks, tax, gratuities, impeccable service, and pleasant overall experience.

Because the chefs get instant feedback from the diners, this is a great opportunity to contribute to the local culinary scene in a positive way, and I love this aspect of being connected to my community. It is also empowering to be able to help shape a budding chef's offerings.


As of this writing, there is only one more weekend event scheduled, at the end of May, which I will not be able to attend. The annual membership only makes sense if there are enough opportunities for members to participate. Personally, as I'm sure is the case for many, I have already lost two months because my membership began in March and the first event did not take place until May, and top that off with my busy schedule, there is certainly a part of me that is still wondering if I will be able to take full advantage of my membership.

Not only is there only one other weekend with an event scheduled at this point, but it was also sold out within, oh, probably a day would be my guess. I'm thinking there must be members out there who are eager but unable to participate due to the limited opportunity and immense popularity of Dinner Lab. Don't get me wrong—I absolutely love that Pittsburgh has responded so enthusiastically to this new concept. We are certainly upholding our reputation as the "next big thing" food-wise! But, supply must meet demand.

Dinner Lab also has a fairly strict cancellation policy in my opinion: You may cancel up to five days before the event, with credit towards a future dinner. I can see the argument that this is more lenient than concerts and sports games, but should one not be able to make an event, the ticket holder to a concert or a sports game can sell or give away the ticket. For Dinner Lab, the member must be the one attending the dinner. In the case of an emergency then, there would be no way out except to forfeit the ticket (along with additional tickets purchased for guests) altogether.

Overall, would I recommend Dinner Lab? Right now I lean towards yes, but of course I think it depends. If you're an adventurous eater with few dietary restrictions (some can be accommodated, but it depends on the event) and a flexible schedule, I believe this is a really worthwhile endeavor. I cannot stress how thoroughly I enjoyed my experience last night, and if events are scheduled more frequency, there is a very good chance it will become my next favorite Pittsburgh experience.

To sign up or to find out more, go to

Update (5/9/2015):

One more cool thing I want to add about Dinner Lab: Yesterday I received an email with the aggregated ratings of the meal from all diners. DATA!

In general, diners overwhelmingly enjoyed each course; almost every course had average ratings well above 4 out of 5. In addition, the overall experience was also highly rated, at approximately 4.8. I really love that Dinner Lab kept us informed of the results of the meal, because even if I weren't a data nerd, it made me feel more involved with the experience and that my opinion truly mattered.

Finally, it turns out I have this invite link that you can use to join and it will get both you and I $20 credit towards a future event. Check it out if you'd like.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Slanted Door (San Francisco)

Sorry for the break in my San Francisco posts—but I went out of town (again!), and didn't manage to get all caught up on my blog before leaving...and since coming back I've been super, duper busy. Like working ~60 hours a week busy!

Let's time travel back to May. It was our last day in the San Francisco Bay Area and I had managed to secure a reservation at the James Beard-anointed 2014 Outstanding Restaurant, The Slanted Door, located in the same Ferry Building where just a few days prior I had enjoyed a feast of oysters at the Hog Island Oyster Company. (Once again, advanced reservation highly recommended!) After a long, four-hour journey from Napa Valley where we had spent the day (a trip that should have taken one hour—Bay Area Traffic Monster strikes again!), we were glad to have made it there on time.

Green Papaya Salad at The Slanted Door (San Francisco)
Green Papaya Salad

Crispy Vegetarian Imperial Rolls at The Slanted Door (San Francisco)
Crispy Vegetarian Imperial Rolls

Crispy Vegetarian Imperial Rolls at The Slanted Door (San Francisco)
Crispy Vegetarian Imperial Rolls

The Slanted Door serves upscale Vietnamese cuisine—no $6.95 pho here! The atmosphere is lively and space boasts a beautiful view of the bay, and the service was excellent. The food, of course, was top-notch. We ordered two appetizers for the table: the Green Papaya Salad (with pickled carrot, rau ram, crispy shallot, and roasted peanut) and some Crispy Vegetarian Imperial Rolls (with taro root, cabbage, vermicelli noodles, and roasted peanut), which we were quite happy with. For entrees, R. got the Pan-Seared Day Boat Scallops (with tat soi and pineapple-coconut sauce) and I had to try the famous Grass-fed Estancia Shaking Beef (8-ounce cubed filet mignon, Sausalito watercress, red onion, and lime sauce). And what can I say? The food was delicious and much deserving of the "Outstanding Restaurant" honor. There was no better way to cap off our weeklong trip to the Bay Area!

Pan Seared Day Boat Scallops at The Slanted Door (San Francisco)
Pan Seared Day Boat Scallops

Grass Fed Estancia Shaking Beef at The Slanter Door (San Francisco)
Grass-fed Estancia Shaking Beef

P.S. The door is not slanted!

Restaurant info:
The Slanted Door
1 Ferry Building San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 861-8032
Web | Facebook

The Slanted Door on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Okayama (San Jose, CA)

After spending the afternoon in Monterey Bay and Carmel, our plan was to drive the two hours back to my godparents' neighborhood for some sushi. Well, two hours into the trip, and we were still stuck in stop-and-stop traffic on 101 and not even remotely near where we needed to be... (Pro tip: Do not—I repeat— D O  N O T drive from Monterey Bay back to the San Francisco area at the end of a holiday weekend!) Knowing that we wouldn't be able to make it back to our 'hood until 10 pm, we needed a Plan B for dinner somewhere enroute.

I really don't know how we ever survived in the stone ages before smartphones, but since we're in 2014, R. did an Urbanspoon search and found Okayama in San Jose, which was open 'til 10 pm and along the way. By the time we arrived at 9:15 pm, we had been sitting in the car for 3.5 hours in what should have been a one hour drive between Monterey and San Jose! We were exhausted and ready to stuff ourselves.

Nigiri at Okayama (San Jose)

Nigiri (another view) at Okayama (San Jose)
Nigiri (another view)

Mango Tango Roll at Okayama (San Jose)
Mango Tango Roll

Mango Mochi Ice Cream at Okayama (San Jose)
Mango Mochi Ice Cream

Located in Japantown (a fact we discovered only once we got there), which seemed to be a very heavily residential neighborhood, Okayama was not so much small as it was unassuming. Given the hour, we got down to "business" right away. I ordered nigiri sushi a la carte: Toro (fatty tuna; $8), Hamachi (yellow tail; $4.75), Sake (salmon; $4.50), Unagi (fresh water eel; $5.25), and Hotate (scallop; $4.25). Each order came with two pieces, so the prices were quite good. Everything was amazing, but I was particularly impressed by the melt-in-your-mouth fatty tuna that was just phenomenal. R. got the Mango Tango Roll ($10.50) with salmon, cream cheese, and avocado, topped with mango and thin lemon slices, which we also loved. Since we are big fans of mochi ice cream, we ended our delightful meal with some Mango Mochi Ice Cream (may have been two orders as pictured).

I really can't begin to express what a great find this was. My godparents kept commenting that Okayama was better than the Japanese restaurant that they had originally planned to take us that evening, and I'd have to say this was easily a Top 3 meal for me during my weeklong stay in the Bay Area. And to think, we owe this all to some nasty Californian traffic!

Restaurant info:
565 N 6th St, San Jose, CA 95112
(408) 289-9508

Okayama Japanese on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Fish Hopper (Monterey Bay, CA)

On Memorial Day, we drove two hours down to Monterey Bay to check out the aquarium. After a few hours of octopuses, bat rays, and jellyfishes, we were hungry for a late lunch. We wandered down the street and into The Fish Hopper, a restaurant with nice views of Monterey Bay (dining by the water seems to be the theme around these parts!). I ordered the Sand Dabs ($17.95) as I had been wanting to try this Pacific white fish, and Monterey is supposed to be the place to get them! At The Fish Hopper, the sand dabs are breaded and grilled, topped with diced tomatoes (on the other side of the plate) and a light basil sauce. The fish was very fresh and the melt-in-your-mouth meat was cooked just perfectly. It was just a quick stop at The Fish Hopper as we had other places to be so I didn't try any other dishes, but this certainly seems like a great option amidst the many touristy options.

Sand Dabs at The Fish Hopper (Monterey Bay, CA)
Sand Dabs

Restaurant info:
Fish Hopper
700 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA
(831) 372-8543
Web | Facebook | Twitter

Fish Hopper on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Skates on the Bay (Berkeley, CA)

After four days in San Francisco proper, we trekked over to the suburbs of the Bay Area to spend some time with my godparents. On the first night, we visited Skates on the Bay, a waterfront restaurant at the end of the Berkeley Marina with breathtaking panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay. If you're lucky enough to score a window seat, I'd imagine it would feel a bit like sitting right on the water because of the way the building juts out into the bay. Although our table was farther in, we still had a stunning view of both the Golden Gate Bridge and the new and very modern eastern span of the Oakland-Bay Bridge. In fact, with bay views gracing three sides of the restaurant, I don't think there is a bad seat in the house at all!

Of course, seafood was the only natural choice for us in a setting like this! R. and I shared a scrumptious Pan Seared Crab Cake to start ($18.95), with succotash, sweet corn puree, and fresh herbs.

Pan Seared Crab Cake at Skates on the Bay (Berkeley CA)
Pan Seared Crab Cake

Pan Seared Crab Cake at Skates on the Bay (Berkeley CA)
Pan Seared Crab Cake

My entree was the fresh and delicious Limoncello Scallops and Prawns ($33.95), with polenta, snow pea sprouts, asparagus, and limoncello sauce.

Limoncello Scallops and Prawns at Skates on the Bay (Berkeley CA)
Limoncello Scallops and Prawns

R. had the Almond Milk Poached Alaskan Halibut ($34.95), with toasted pasta pearls, almonds, asparagus, and charred cucumber vinaigrette. He thought it was just to die for!

Almond Milk Poached Halibut at Skates on the Bay (Berkeley CA)
Almond Milk Poached Alaskan Halibut

I was far too full for dessert, but R. couldn't resist the Hot Fudge Waffle Sundae ($8.95), with vanilla bean ice cream, fresh strawberries, candied pecans, housemade hot fudge and butterscotch sauces, and whipped cream. In fact, I was the only one at the table who didn't order dessert...and so the waitstaff brought out a Creme Brulee for me, on the house! What a lovely surprise!

Hot Fudge Waffle Sundae at Skates on the Bay (Berkeley CA)
Hot Fudge Waffle Sundae

Creme Brulee at Skates on the Bay (Berkeley CA)
Creme Brulee

To be honest, due to its location, I had been worried that Skates on the Bay would just be the kind of tourist trap that wouldn't live up to its hype. Luckily, the amazing food and service proved those fears wrong. Add to that the gorgeous view, and Skates on the Bay really has it all.

Restaurant info:
Skates on the Bay
100 Seawall Dr, Berkeley, CA 94710
(510) 549-1900
Web | Facebook | Twitter
Check out the virtual tour

Skates on the Bay on Urbanspoon