Quince: Ending 2013 on a High Note

I thought I would end my last blog post of the year with a fine dining experience. Earlier this month, I attended a holiday luncheon at Quince in San Francisco. I was super excited because it is fancy and my first time dining there. I took the San Francisco Bay Ferry on this beautiful day.
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As soon as we arrived, there was someone to check in our coats and someone else to offer us champagne. Hor d’oeuvres were being passed to the guests. Some might think service is pretentious, but I could get used to this.

I captured photos of most of the hor d’oeuvres that were offered. They were elegant, delicate, and looked like food out of the tv show “Top Chef.”

This appetizer was designed to look like a chocolate truffle. It was surprising to bite into something expecting a certain flavor and getting something very unusual instead.
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What I recall about this appetizer was that it was presented as a “gelée.” This was as fancy looking and tasting as the French word it is described as.
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Bite sized cheese puffs were amazeballs! I could keep popping them in my mouth.
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Spoon filled deep fried crab cake balls with a crisp coating on the outside and soft goodness on the inside.
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After some time for socialization, we were seated for our lunch. The appetizer was a gnoccchetti pasta with mushrooms and rosemary.
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We had a choice between beef, fish, or vegetarian. No one at our table had the vegetarian option which was a root vegetable torte. I heard afterwards that it was excellent. I ordered the fish which was black cod. It was complimented with cauliflower, black trumpet mushrooms, and Meyer lemon. I enjoyed this delicate fish and only wished for a larger portion.
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I was able to taste the beef which was a Dry Aged Côte de Boeuf. This was served with mushrooms, turnips, and onion. The beef was extremely tender and perfect.
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For dessert, I ordered the chocolate tartufo with chocolate mousse and salted caramel. It was dense and actually too sweet for me.
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My friend ordered the poached pear that came with vanilla ice cream and violet. I wish I ordered this as it was excellent.
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This was not the end of the meal. The waiter brought out stands carrying a variety of candies. We did our best to cut them and have tastings. It was quite fun.
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Overall, I enjoyed my experience at Quince mainly because it was a party. It was filled with sophisticated food and service if that is what you are looking for.

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Winter Dough Balls: A Chinese Thing

Today is officially the first full day of Winter. In Chinese culture, this is a day that is celebrated by eating glutinous rice ball soup, called “tong yuen.” I have consumed many bowls of “tong yuen” at my family’s house. I enjoy the homemade broth, the different meats and vegetables in it, and the round shaped dough balls. A few years ago I noticed that my friend’s mom prepared the dough balls differently. To tell the truth, I thought they tasted better. They were smaller in size and the dough was not very sticky.
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After reviewing a few recipes online, I told my mom that I would help out this year and make the dough balls while she prepared everything else. I mixed a bag of glutinous rice flour with warm water and started kneading the dough.
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I changed a couple of techniques from my mom. (Usually she would have placed the dough balls directly into the soup while she shaped them.) I shaped all the dough balls onto a tray. When I was done, I cooked them in a separate pot of boiling water.
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When the water reboils and the dough balls float, they are ready and can be removed. I pulled them out of the water and put them individually in each person’s bowl.

I was ready to enjoy my “tong yuen” so I took my bowl of dough balls and scooped a few ladles of my mom’s soup which had dried shrimp, pork, Chinese sausage, ham, shiitake mushrooms, Napa cabbage, and sliced turnip. I topped the soup off with cilantro and green onion. It was delicious and comforting. The texture of my dough balls were smooth and a good amount of gooey. I believe my technique worked. I think the dough balls needed to sit for awhile and cooking the dough in the water didn’t leave time for the dough to expand too much. My mom told me that from now on I could make the dough balls. I guess I can take that as a compliment.
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My family had the “tong yuen” for lunch. I ended up at my friend’s moms who was making “tong yuen” for dinner. I enjoyed some more there. Hers was still a little bit smaller and a little less sticky. So what is her secret? She adds some Farina hot wheat cereal to her mixture of glutinous rice flour and water.
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I’ve had my fill of “tong yuen” this year. I guess next year I will try again with another new technique.

Pass the Chicken, Hold the Service

Last month, a group of us went to Miss Ollie’s for lunch to celebrate our coworker’s birthday. Miss Ollie’s has been open for about a year and is part of the old Housewives Market in Old Oakland. The restaurant serves Caribbean food and it was the first visit for all five of us. We all looked at the sample menu on the website beforehand and was looking forward to the Tuesday protein, fried chicken.
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At Ollie’s, you place your order at the counter and a server brings out your food. There were quite a few patrons already at the restaurant when we arrived before noon. One of my colleagues ordered the Tuesday special which came with three pieces of fried chicken, macaroni & cheese, greens, and a salad with persimmon. I got to sample her macaroni and cheese and thought it was really good.
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The rest of us ordered our fried chicken a la carte and shared some sides. Things started coming out piece meal. First our plantains came out. Although it was meant to be a side, it served more like an appetizer because we finished it before anything else came out. Nonetheless, the plantains were tasty.
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We also ordered a side of rice and beans as well as greens. The sides came out with about a third of the fried chicken we ordered. Those that ordered only drumsticks were screwed for the time being. I ordered one thigh so I was able to eat. The chicken was crispy all around. The flavors were not just on the outside, but the seasoning was in the meat. The sides were okay, but complimented the fried chicken well.
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A beautiful platter of fried chicken drumsticks finally appeared after an inexcusably long time. I was still hungry for chicken and had my second piece. Although the wait was extremely long, I got hot, juicy, and amazing fried chicken.
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I mentioned the great flavors in the chicken, but not how it gets that way. The kitchen injects herbs in the chicken as you can see in this photo.
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Miss Ollie’s may have the best fried chicken in Oakland, but service was so bad that it’s debatable whether it’s worth the wait. I love fried chicken, so I may give Miss Ollie’s a second chance. Maybe I will try dinner service next time around.

It’s Cold: Time for Jook

As the temperature drops below freezing in parts of the Bay Area, I am always seeking something warm to eat. Rice porridge also known as congee and called “jook” in Chinese is something I love to eat when it is cold.
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The basic ingredients of jook is rice, water, and salt and it takes hours to cook over a stove top as the rice has to slowly break down. I have cooked it all day in my crock pot. In order to add flavor, you need to add other ingredients or toppings. Ingredients can range from the inexpensive pork and thousand year old egg to the pricier ones with abalone or frog legs. After Thanksgiving, my family has made a turkey jook and a ham jook. The bones of the turkey or ham add a lot of flavor.
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My friend and I recently went out for jook on a cold evening. Hands down the best place for jook in Oakland is Gum Kuo in Chinatown’s Renaissance Plaza. We decided we would share a bowl of jook and a couple other items. It didn’t take long for us to agree we would have jook with filets of fish. The jook at Gum Kuo was super creamy. The flavor was plain tasting until we added the green onions, cilantro, soy sauce, and white pepper. It was tasty, comforting, and hit the spot.
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The most popular thing you can order on the side to dip into jook is a fried savory bread stick also known as a Chinese donut. I only like a few pieces so I don’t tend to order it. Popular at Gum Kuo is their made to order rice noodle rolls. These are stuffed with different items and has a sweet soy sauce poured over the top. We ordered my favorite which has crispy roast duck, BBQ pork, and garlic chives. The three ingredients together were harmonious.
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The final item we ordered was salty fish and chicken fried rice. You can get chicken fried rice at most Chinese restaurants, but they don’t always have the preserved salty fish for this dish. I can’t recall the last time I had this, but my friend and I were really happy we ordered it because it was the best thing we had this evening.
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Gum Kuo is my go-to place for jook and other cheap Chinese comfort foods. Cash only.

Aloha Bubbies

I was never a big fan of mochi ice cream until I discovered Bubbies by accident. I was having one of the most delicious Japanese dinners at Nishino in Seattle with one of my closest friends. Our meal ended with a plate of mochi ice cream and fresh fruit. It appeared anticlimactic until I bit into the mochi. Bubbies mochi ice cream taste a lot different from the Mikawaya brand sold at Trader Joe’s. When I asked the restaurant where the mochi ice cream came from, they said they are shipped in from Bubbies in Hawaii. Bubbies has been on my mind ever since I had that dinner over two years ago.

I began to research Bubbies. There are two stores in Honolulu. I definitely missed it the last time I visited Oahu which was way back in 2005. I could order online, but that seemed a bit over the top to ship ice cream.

Shortly after that dinner, my friend found boxes of Bubbies mochi ice cream for sale at Whole Foods Market in Oakland. I guess it was on her mind as well. If we recall correctly, she bought a box of raspberry white chocolate and a box of strawberry. They were delicious. I was so excited because now I could have Bubbies whenever I wanted, so I thought. On another occasion, I went to Whole Foods and it was no longer in their freezer section. I even posted on their Facebook page, but never heard a response. That was short lived.
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My niece informed me about a shop in San Jose called Jimbo’s that carries Bubbies. A couple of months ago, she and I went to Jimbo’s. The shop is cute with Star Trek decor on the walls. It was definitely a mom and pop shop, also selling homemade snacks like caramel puffs, sweet party mix, butter mochi, and cookies. Getting Bubbies at Jimbo’s allowed us to try more flavors. We selected six different flavors and shared them.
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My family celebrated my niece’s 16th birthday yesterday with her favorite food, Japanese. I thought it would be nice if I could get Bubbies. Jimbo’s would be too far to go to get them, so I returned to Whole Foods Market in Oakland in hopes they would have them. They did. The flavors were limited so I bought a box of passion fruit and a box of mango.
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Why are Bubbies mochi ice cream so special? I think it’s threefold. First, they have much more interesting flavors of ice cream. Second, the quality of the ice cream is very high. Third, the thin covering of mochi complements the ice cream well because the two ingredients don’t ever separate.

While I dream of going to one of the Bubbies Homemade Ice Cream & Desserts shops in Honolulu, I am glad I have access to Bubbies mochi ice cream in the meantime.