Saturday, July 31, 2010

Cafe Dore, Comic Con...a glance at an SD afternoon

I finally arrived into San Diego around 4pm, WAY late, to pick up Bro for the Comic Con (which was closing at 7pm). Starving and craving Bánh Mì (a Vietnamese sandwich), we detoured to Cafe Dore before hitting downtown. Cafe Dore, with a good rep for Bánh Mì, is an old school Vietnamese cafe and restaurant, located next door to a coin laundry and Saigon Deli in a strip mall in City Heights. The parking lot was packed full of ethnics. 
When we walked inside it was ALL Vietnamese men - tattooed guys were slurping soup with Vietnamese movies on laptops and old men, who were smoking, were heavily engaged in Chinese Chess and video gambling machines. The room was dark with flatscreens showing sports.
CAFE DORE, 4135 University Avenue, San Diego, CA 92105, 619-563-3525
I was VERY aware that I was the only female in the room. Not in the mood to be gawked at, but loving the attention and opportunity for Vietnamese small-talk, we placed our to-go order with the friendly staff and toured the strip mall until our food was ready.

Ah... nothing like getting a real fix of authentic ice cold Vietnamese Coffee, extra strong, from a slow French drip filter and served in styrofoam cups! Heaven!
Slumming our grub in the car... terrific toasty tasty "Vietnamese breakfast hoagie," Bánh Mì...
Vietnamese baguettes are made with rice and wheat flour and are the ideal bread for sandwiches. The crust is extra crispy and the inside is soft and airy, versus hard crust and dense-chewy inside like most French and Italian baguettes. 

Traditionally, Bánh Mì is stuffed with the bare essentials of homemade liver pâté, homemade mayo-butter, sliced chili, cilantro, cucumber, pickled daikon and carrot, and dashes of soy sauce or Maggi, and then added with a variety of protein choices like Vietnamese cold cuts, roasted chicken, grilled pork, crunchy pork skin (!!!) or even tofu.
Above and below pics are my Cafe Dore's "Vietnamese breakfast hoagie" version of  Bánh Mì stuffed with griddle-seared meats and coldcuts, two sunny-side up eggs, chunks of jalapeno, cilantro, thick cut cucumber and housemade pâté. The cucumber was still cold and the cilantro not wilted from the hot sandwich. I would have preferred more veggies but, nevertheless, TO DIE FOR. Now with appetites satisfied, we tackle the Con!
Downtown. Coinciding with the Comic Con is the The San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art show, "Viva la Revolución: A Dialogue with the Urban Landscape," (going on till January 2, 2011) which is showcasing 20 of the most influential street and graffiti artists in the world. Just some of the big names participating are Shepard Fairey, Banksy, Blu, Moris and Mark Bradford. Commissioned on-site installations can be found on buildings and street walls all over downtown San Diego and Hillcrest. 
Here is a piece on Horton Plaza's parking garage side where we parked and walked to the Convention Center for the Con. Check it. Sick detail...
Originally, Comic Con was a niche gathering for geeky collectors and die-hard fans of comics, sci-fi and fantasy books, film and televison. It has evolved into a pop culture MECCA for lovers of of toys, gaming, graphic novels, anime, manga, horror, action movies, collectible card games, underground culture and anything relating to art and design. The packed streets surrounding Gaslamp are efficiently controlled by the SD Police directing vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

Tons of swag giveaways too this year. SO MUCH SWAG!
As more and more participate in the Masquerade costume contest each year, it gets surreally Halloweeny with so many awesome posers walking around. 
Some V for Vendetta (yeah!)...

Above, Slave Labor Graphics (ah, memories...). Autographs, sketches, book signings and so much swag at nearly every exhibitor booth. Art galore.

Jhonen recommends Amulet by Kazu for my kids. Raina Telgemeier signs SMILE for Miriam :)

Playstation, Nintendo, DSi XL, Xbox had elaborate booths everywhere with gaming previews. I felt SO guilty my kids were not here to demo all the new cool gadgets and games. Here's Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies. 
It was PACKED. See? (Overwhelming as the experience requires 2-3 Advils straight-up.) Collectible toy exhibitors, TOYS!!!, movie previews, Japanese animation, artists portfolio review sessions, drawing workshops, seminars, sculpting stations... too much, too much, way too much to discuss (and I have WAY too many pics to post... so here are some quick totally random ones). Amazing line-up of artists, celebrities and studios hosted discussion panels with appearances by Natalie Portman, Danny Elfman, Big Bang Theory and Salt with Angelina Jolie and so so SO MUCH MORE!

Interesting how my kids' interests dictate what I seek out nowadays. There were more kids than ever before, as so much as changed in just a few years (i.e., less anime porn, more cutesy family themes). A year ago, I never would have thought to snap a picture of the Pokemon exhibitor booth.
Couldn't leave without a picture with Pikachu EITHER!  :)  After all, within just a year, I've invested quite a bit of $$$ into Pokemon cards...
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Friday, July 30, 2010

Spring rolls... avec shrimp

Spring rolls or gỏi cuốn or summer rolls make perfect elegant appetizers for any party. The traditional Viet spring rolls contain lettuce, cucumber, pork, shrimp, mint, cilantro, rice noodles and asian chive, all rolled up tight in edible rice paper. Mini compact Asian burritos :)
Here is a tasting plate of Spring Rolls (pic above and below) as a lunch appetizer, first course, for hubby and Ted: Shrimp-Mango, Shrimp-Cucumber, Watermelon-Shiso and Watermelon-Mango. Be creative and explore fun options for fillings. I am totally digging these pedestal cake stands for family-style platters. Miriam garnished the table with wild daisies from the yard.
Rice paper is a semi-transparent edible sheet once softened in water. You must come up with a layout strategy for all the ingredients making note of what colors and shapes will show through once the spring roll is...well, rolled. The idea is to produce neat appetizing rolls versus ugly sloppy ones. Shrimp is a popular filler because of its bright orange glow through the rice paper. See?
Mise en place: rinsed and plucked mint or shiso leaves, cucumber strips (cut lengthwise into quarters or 1/2" thick), cooked/cooled rice noodles, chopped cilantro (or scallion), cooked shrimp cut in half down the center and a package of round rice paper. Have nearby, a deep and wide saute pan of warm water for dipping the rice paper. Better yet, set up near a stove and keep a large pan of hot water on the burner simmering.
Boil the shrimp. When it turns a bright orange, rinse in cold water, deshell, and cut the shrimp in half lengthwise, down the middle. Set aside. Figure 2 shrimp halves per spring roll, so one whole shrimp per roll. 
So many brands of rice paper, bánh tráng, to choose from! Lately, I've had great luck with the "Flying Horse" brand (sold at Asian markets like Tay-do in Salt Lake). Rice paper is sold square-cut or circle-cut, in large or small sizes. I like using the large round sheets to roll BIG ONES with the option to cut the rolls in in half (strictly for presentation purposes) at serving.
Make sure the rice paper sheet has no cracks or holes near the center. Throw damaged ones away as they will be a PAIN to manage. One package comes with plenty of rice sheets, and at $1.59 for a whole bunch, no need to worry too much about running out or wasting. 
Use warm/hot water to dip and soften the rice paper. I like to station myself next to the stove with a wide and deep pan of simmering water. Carefully and quickly (like, within seconds) dip over half the sheet of rice paper into the warm water rotating clockwise with both hands until the entire sheet is wet, not soaked. Transfer it to a flat surface (non-wood) immediately. When it gets limp and very tacky (within seconds) and slightly elastic, the rice paper is ready to work with.
Use a nonporous surface, like a plastic cutting board, cookie sheet, round flat plate or a clean countertop to make the spring rolls. Heads upavoid wood, bamboo, or any porous surfaces, as the rice paper will stick to it like glue, thus making it ridiculously impossible to roll.
(1) In a small neat pile lengthwise toward the bottom of the sheet, add the following ingredients in this order: mint, small bundle of rice noodles, a pinch of cilantro (or scallion), a strip of cucumber. Add 2 pieces of shrimp, color side facing down side by side, toward the upper half. See below, like a funny face :) Remember this procedure, layout and design so that all your rolls look and feel exactly alike.
(2) Begin rolling from the bottom to the middle holding in everything tight, but not too tight, or it will BURST.
(3) When you reach the middle area (the shrimp part) fold in the sides carefully keeping the filling in tact.
(4) Finish folding over the sides. Sticky sticky. Remember, be deliberate with your folds on your first try or you'll end up peeling back and tangling wrapper into a crunched up mess. If you mess up, just toss it or eat it  and start over with a new sheet of rice paper.
(5) Continue and complete your roll. Oh, look at how that shrimp glow. Gorgeous.
(6) Fini. Violaone down.
Transfer the rolls to a plate. If you are making a whole bunch ahead of time, keep them in a covered container (like a huge tupperware) to keep from drying out. 
If the rolls are exposed to air, not covered (if you're here in high altitude Utah), they will dry up immediately. They are just horrible and not edible when they do dry outthey will look, feel and taste like hard plastic. Keep the rolls sealed at room temperature before serving with peanut sauce, sweetened fish sauce or your favorite salad dressing. 
(Rice paper, rice noodles and peanut sauce deserve their own respective posts. Kay, I'm on it.)
Spring rolls make an elegant late night snack with friends over wine and tea.
The "spring" in spring rolls assume they are served fresh at room temperature and not deep-fried. The fried spring rolls are called chả giò or vietnamese egg roll and shouldn't be confused with Chinese eggrolls call for a wonton egg wrapper versus rice paper.
Listening to Massive Attack and Chemical Brothers. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Takashi in Salt Lake

TAKASHI, 18 West Market Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84101, 801-519-9595.
I am ALWAYS lobbying to go here. Located in downtown Salt Lake City, the atmosphere is hip and urban and the food is consistently FANTASTIC. What an eclectic crowd though. One minute the place is packed with tattooed-pierced vegans, next minute it's all men in expensive business suits. Oh, and at that weird late dinner hour, you're suddenly seated in a section filled with provocative sassy ladies (you know, the kind with freshly ironed hair, sparkling eye make-up, ultra short shorts and stilettos!)...
The prices are very reasonable (dirt cheap next to Park City's sushi prices), so it's definitely worth the drive down I-80 for a meal, or a snack or whatever! 
Strawberry Fields Roll is a deal (actually, a STEAL!) at $7 or $8: strawberries, hamachi, spicy mayo inside seaweed, rice and toasted almonds. I love how they lay low on the mayo here with just a light spicy smear. I LOVE this roll.
King Kong Roll is a unique assembly of tempura banana (Yep, BANANA!), tuna, salmon and rice wrapped in seaweed - OMG. It isn't part of the regular menu. Ever since this roll was listed on the chalkboard as a special a few years ago, I religiously request it each time. Must warn you that they don't always carry bananas since it (banana) is kept around as ripening tool for avocados. Tempura fried banana...who'd a thunk it?! Each bite is sugary and fresh. I crave this roll. CRAVE!
Summit Roll with salmon (it's a personal choice to sub the crab with salmon) is a riceless, no-carb roll containing tobiko, tuna and salmon wrapped in cucumber sheets, topped with a grated ginger sauce and chili slices. The fresh crisp cucumber wrap is refreshing and crunchy (ooh la la) with a kicky sauce. This dish always comes with a snazzy artsy garnish (it's simple tonight) depending on the sushi chef. Awesome flavors. Remember to order it.
Sablefish Nigiri will rock your world. Seriously. A gorgeous slice of cod is placed on rice, nigiri style, then torched (TORCHED! Love anything torched!) and topped with minced garlic and scallion. Drizzle ponzu. Each bite is exquisite... super buttery, smooth, rich and complex. Torched black edges make it smoky and INTENSE. Okay, this one is REALLY my absolute favorite!
Peachy Salmon Roll. I made up that name...the real name escapes me, but at quick glance, it is topped with peach, salmon and chilis. I try to order at least one unknown at each Takashi visit. It obviously did not make an impression, so I rate that as good, but not CRAZY good. That plate to the left is what remains of a generous portion of Asparagus, Shitake and Glass Noodles in addicting sauce. (When I went with Cindy and Diana, they practically LICKED the bowl. Sheesh!) Couldn't even snag a picture, we ate it so fast.
Gyoza with pork. These were light and amazing. Can't go wrong with gyoza. Warning: spicy!
For dessert we had coconut and green tea gelato and a pot of tea. I love ending a meal with ice cold ice-cream, oops, I mean gelato. Ah, another fantastic Takashi meal. Yes, the theme here is...fruity sushi. Fabulous fruity sushi.

Takashi on Urbanspoon