Presenting The Faux Gourmet!

The Faux Gourmet has been on hiatus for a while. I began this blog as a creative outlet during law school. After law school, I started other blogs on other topics and no longer needed this as a creative outlet, not to mention my diminishing free time.

But I kept cooking, kept taking food pictures and garden pictures, kept wanting to share the little tidbits of what I'd made. I occasionally did this on my personal blog (to which, I'm sure, people yawned and wondered when I'd post another cat picture). But I started to miss this space. Of all the blogs I have, this format, culled over several dedicated years and incorporating that adorable illustration by Sam Wedelich (see info the left) is by far my favorite.

So I'm back!

Expect short and sweet posts. Less food porn, more recipes and tips. If you want food porn you can look at any of the 5000 million existing food blogs. I don't have good lighting in my apartment and don't have time to style plates. I just want to make something yummy and eat it. If that sounds ok with you, stick around.

Looking forward to being back in touch!


The Faux Gourmet

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    Sunday, February 17, 2008

    Stop 3: Penang Part II

    Oh, glory.

    Taste & See:
    I found Little India to be
    the most charming part of Georgetown. As in Singapore, the vivacious neighborhood was overflowing with the bright colours of Bollywood posters and sari fabric stores, and bouncing to overlapping soundtrack hits. In Singapore, the city is generally modern and reserved; in Georgetown, a bit grungy. Either way, the extravagantly beautiful Little India stands in stark contrast.

    And the food- oh, glory! Every corner had a cafeteria-style Indian restaurant with a half dozen regions' foods served up at different stations, the perfect antidote to my inexplicable cravings. Sometimes I yearn for the for mushy warmth of baby-foodesque Indian dishes like Butter Chicken and Palak Paneer, sometimes for the complexity and strangeness of something altogether new. Georgetown offered both lovely versions of the familiar and a few surprises I look forward to tracking down back home.

    We spent a good deal of time meandering through town, ostensibly towards a tourist site but more often wandering from one food break to another. One day we had barely finished a bowl of Malaysian-style won ton noodles (Giow) when we passed a catch-all Indian place, brightly done up in greens and yellows.

    Who could resist the red-rubbed Tandoori Chicken sticks roasting? Certainly not us.

    Served with tamarind & cilantro sauces:

    It is practically our tourism duty to consume as much Roti as possible during our stay (or so we told ourselves):

    Our last night in Georgetown we traipsed through the rain in search of Sri Ananda Bawan, a hallowed Guide Book destination where we would at last find A's much-coveted banana-leaf meals.

    We had been informed that upon sitting down, a slough of vegetarian Indian food would appear on banana leaves before us as if by magic. We made the mistake of doubting the oracle and proceeded to order a "few" dishes. In the mean time, the table began to fill with things we had not ordered . . .

    First, the banana leaves topped with scoops of a trio of potato-based veg dishes reminiscent of church potluck fare-- though far more flavourful:

    A trio of sauces (from top left, coconut chutney, red garlic sauce, and masala) splashed on in generous quantities:

    A basket of crispy Papadums:

    Topped off with a few bowls of Dahl:

    The food is making A pretty happy at this point. Little do we realize this is merely the beginning of the onslaught.

    Out came a Pakora:

    The odd Black Pepper Chicken, lightly breaded chicken chunks in a sauce of curry-like consistency, with a flavor I'd expect from a Chinese restaurant:

    Two more curries, with ladyfingers (okra) & mutton (here, goat rather than lamb):

    One of my favorite dishes consisted of a something like a hamburger-patty made of beans and spices, chopped up into small pieces on a grill & served with a dipping sauce.

    We made valiant efforts to consume this feast . . .

    I, especially, deserve an honourable mention for foregoing silverware-- even with the soupiest dahl. Following A's lead, I made a little ball of rice and scooped it directly into my mouth with one hand, attempting to imitate A but with a far higher percentage of the food winding up decorating my face.

    I was proud of my efforts, but rather delighted to finally have clean hands at the end:

    Despite all the food wasted smeared on my face, we were ultimately no match for the banana-leaf feast.

    In fact, we ended up with a guilt-inducing quantity of leftovers. All of that delicious food, never to be enjoyed to its full potential . . . how tragic.

    I suppose that is what we get for mistrusting our sources. Let this be a lesson to you, dear reader. Traverse the Little Indias of Asia and order to your heart's content . . . but know you will always be left lamenting the fact that your hunger is no match for the volume of glorious food.

    Saturday, February 9, 2008

    Restaurant Week outing #3: Park Avenue Winter, Feb. 1

    Every season brings a whole new set of reasons to visit.

    Taste & See: As if I needed another reason to hit up Park Avenue [insert appropriate season], this restaurant practically demands a quarterly visit by changing everything- name, decor, layout, menus- to match the season, modeled after regions visited by Captain James Cook. I first visited with a prospective employer in Autumn:

    [Photo credit: PAW website]

    Restaurant Week seemed like the perfect time to see how Winter looks from Park Avenue.

    Winter looks . . . well, white.

    [Photo credit: PAW website]

    The antler-chandeliers and fur-panels on the wall give off a hunting-lodge vibe, not a look I usually associate with Park & 63rd.

    The restaurant feels cool and airy, all clean lines with spare glass and metal accents.

    In PAW's own words:

    "Park Avenue Winter includes a refined interpretation of the season, adding details such as lacquered panel moldings, coffers with mismatched plaster rosettes, vintage British military buttons and custom crystal and glass chandeliers. All of the polished architectural elements blend with more rustic items, such as elongated birch branches built into the lighting elements, raw leathers and white-washed woods. Winter pays homage in part to Cook's travels in the Antarctic Circle, combined with a classic drawing room aesthetic."

    I can't say I noticed the plaster rosettes or vintage buttons, but I was nonetheless impressed. Even more impressive: apparently the change was made in just 48 hours.

    One precaution: you might find the hostess & her fashionable, high-heeled crew a bit pretentious & the upper-crusty crowd a bit too used to the luxury, but don't let it put you off. Even faux gourmets like me can enjoy PAW; just save your pennies, make yourself a reservation, and focus on the food.

    You'll be able to begin with this all-important task immediately, as the bread basket is half Whole Foods gourmand, half farm-girl abundance. I prefer the carrot-raisin loafs, personally.

    Kudos to PAW for one of the most indulgent restaurant week menus I've seen-- remember, we pay $24.05 total for three courses-- printed in a hefty little bound book imprinted with a compass, PAW's logo. It included reasonable wine pairings, one of which was from a local (to my hometown) winery I've lauded on here more than once:

    Like Mercer Kitchen, PAW revisits some classics, but did so with a twist that made each dish, and the experience as a whole, far more memorable. In addition to being delicious- I won't waste time on extraneous adjectives; for once, every single dish was amazing from start to finish- the food was extremely photogenic. Hence, the outburst below.

    Starter options included Cured-Meyer Lemon Caesar Salad ($11) and Prosciutto with Asian Pear ($14).

    I chose Porcini Ravioli, Swiss Chard, Gorgonzola Cream ($16). I don't even like Gorgonzola and I liked this. Between the bread and the generous appetizer portion, I could have been content to stop here.

    But then I would have missed the exquisite (couldn't resist just one extraneous adjective) Cornbread Crusted Red Snapper ($25).

    The down-home name belies the delicate crispy crunch just laying atop the perfectly flaky fish; the rainbow bed of blood orange and green onions . . .

    The deep green olive oil and sweet rich balsamic swirled around the fruit . . .

    I can't overstate how incredible this was. I did not, however, regret giving up half my dish for a half plate of Grilled Lamb Chops, Preserved Lemons, and Picholine Olives ($32). Perfectly tender, superbly done. Yes, yes, yes!

    [Photo credit: J. Wang]

    Another friend had Roasted Chicken "Coq au Vin," ($18) and you already know how I feel about restaurant roast chicken. But I admit, this was a bit more spectacular that the aforementioned MK, and my friend was quite satisfied.

    [Photo credit: A. Bron]

    I really didn't have room for dessert at this point, but when I saw my darling little dish of Coconut Panna Cotta with Macaroons (not available on regular menu) I made room. A Jewish friend eating with me says she'll never think of Macaroons as a 2nd-best Passover dessert again.

    Also available Warm Walnut Gingerbread, Apple Puree, and Spiced Raisins and Cinnamon ($13).

    I suppose I did not uphold my promise to avoid extraneous adjectives, though for me, the food was so well done, every single adjective was more than deserved.

    Monday, February 4, 2008

    Restaurant Week outing #2: Kittichai, January 29

    Khao Gaeng Ron Ron Ma Laew Ja!!

    Taste & See:
    Like Mercer Kitchen, Kittichai is the domain of a celebrity chef. Like Mercer Kitcher, Kittichai is the hotel restaurant of a rather swank SoHo hotel. Unlike Mercer Kitchen, however, the food at Kittichai is inventive and fun, anything but dull. As I explained previously, I found MK tasty, but not particularly exciting. Kittichai is both.

    I had been to Kittichai in the fall, courtesy of a potential employer (with, apparently, impeccable taste). It was a rooftop party looking out on the twinkling Manhattan skyline, with trays and trays of eye-popping appetizers from which I picked and munched on constantly, with absolutely no shame-- even as I carried on polite chit chat with higher-ups. The food put us on equal ground: we were all in awe of it. Naturally, Kittichai was one of the first places I thought of for Restaurant Week this year.

    The interior is quite and still, with dark walls imprinted in heavy metal Thai letters leading to a a dimly lit room draped floor to ceiling along the walls in swaths of autumnal raw silks. Orchids dangle from the ceiling over a pool in the middle. The peaceful atmosphere- a girl is studying at a table opposite us!- is perhaps in some part thanks to the advice of the feng shui master who was called in to consult on design.

    Chef Ian, as the restaurant website affectionately refers to the head chef, is noted for being the first Thai chef to head the five star Bangkok Four Seasons Hotel:

    What this means for me is not simply that he has broken racial and cultural barriers, but that I have previously had the honor of dining in one of his restaurants, the Italian 'Biscotti,' where my real parents hosted my Thai host family to a memorable fine (Western) dining experience when I first lived in Thailand.

    Chef Ian's illustrious career began at the age of three when he would rise before dawn and help his mother buy vegetables, then later push through the city yelling Khao Gaeng Ron Ron Ma Laew Ja!!!-- hot curries are coming! I find the familiarity of the phrase, one I've heard being hurled through Bangkok allies, and retold in an anecdote on the restaurant website, comforting.

    Now at Kittichai the hot curries are coming, along with multitudes of other creative arrangements of Thai-esque food ("Thai Tapas"). It is a very tasty take on Thai food, even if you'd never find it in Thailand itself. No wonder it is
    Mario Batali's favorite restaurant in New York.

    The normal menu changes regularly, and features a wider range of options than does the Restaurant Week Prix Fixe; I'd go for the chocolate baby back ribs and Thai spices, the banana blossom salad with cashew nuts and chili jam, or the crispy rock shrimp with grilled eggplant and palm sugar tamarind sauce if I had my way. And those are just appetizers.

    This time we started with a crispy fried bean curd and green beans with a mild curry sauce ($5) from the regular menu:

    A seafood salad from the RW menu, with shredded raw mango and juicy scallops, squid and shrimp:

    Also for RW, a light curried butternut squash soup with a single pumpkin ravioli:

    The restaurant week entrees were a bit of a disappointment, compared to my high expectations-- just a little too simple. The vegetarian salad with Brussels sprouts, plump whole tomatoes and fried tofu was a bit too saucy, though the tangy, sweet sauce in lower proportions would have been nice:

    The five-spice beef potato curry had a good flavor, but nothing I couldn't mix up myself, and the beef was a little tough-- all three pieces of it.

    The spikes of color from the vegetables and the unexpected green egg noodles were a fun-though odd- touch.

    The grilled beef with green beans and preserved chili sauce off the regular menu ($14) was hands down the favorite; the meat was tender and held the sauce wonderfully:

    No other way to put it, the desserts knocked our socks off:

    The bright orange black specked Thai tea custard, like a Reese's Peanut Butter cup upside down, was swirled with rich caramel and simply divine:

    All in all, well worth the splurge- for Restaurant Week and again (and again, and again).