Sunday, September 20, 2015

Red Chilli Szechwan Cuisine - Redlands

Szechwan (Szechuan or Sichuan) cuisine is a style of Chinese cooking from the Sichuan province in southwestern China. It is known for liberal use of garlic and chili peppers which make it spicy and pungent. We ate at a Szechwan restaurant in Beijing, China years ago and it seriously about put me under, heat-wise. I learned that day that Rachael could seriously out-do me on a heat scale. She kept eating when I had to give up because of heat overload.  

People at work were talking about Red Chilli Szechwan Cuisine and one told me I'd recommended it to her. No, I responded, I'd never heard of it. So I decided I needed to get right on over there. The name was enough to get me there.

Red Chilli has a very large menu. One side is normal Chinese the other is largely Szechwan food with little red chilies off to the side to indicate heat. The menu itself raised it in my estimation. Look at some of these dishes: dried pot frog, extra spicy; dried pot intestine; mini hot pot with pork blood, pork intestine strips and vegetable; deep fried pork intestines with hot pepper; stir fried pork intestines with pickled chili; stir fried pork with green jalapeno; boiled intestines in chili sauce; etc. I love menus that do not water down to the lowest common denominator of American taste buds. However, my issue with it is that most of the items must be frozen to accommodate such a large menu and the result is a mixture of  combinations from multiple plastic bags. My experience is mixed so far.

I'm looking at an on-line menu so some of these identifications may not be spot-on. I believe this first dish is deep fried fish with pepper and cumin, noted as extra spicy. The fish was pretty good, but I could not get over the feeling that I was eating a version of frozen fish sticks. It was loaded with lots of chilies and bamboo shoots, I believe. I actually did add the red oil chili sauce to it they had on the side and the top of my head was sweating. I ate about half and took the rest to work to share with the person who suggested it to me. She later told me it was way too hot for her.
Fried fish
The next dish is lamb with green onion. I love lamb and I love green onion. It also came with some red onion. It had an interesting add-in flavor that I can't identify which detracted from the dish a little for me.
I'm not sure of this next dish, but I think it was either deep fried spare ribs with salt pepper or deep fried pork chop. It was my biggest disappointment. It was cut into chunks of deep fried gristly pork that were difficult to eat and didn't taste all that great so there was no incentive to try.
Deep fried pork chop.
I can't find the next dish on the menu which was pork belly with tofu and green onion. It was sort of sweet and the pork belly was quite good, more than I can say for pork belly we had in restaurants on a recent trip to the Midwest. But the tofu was in big chunks and I'm just not a tofu person. Sans the tofu, this was the best dish I've had there.
Pork belly and tofu
Next was spicy chicken wings which came with a nice helping of sliced red and green jalapeno, as well as the long thin red chilies. The wings were crispy on the outside but still very moist on the inside. I liked the wings quite a bit.
Chicken wings
I'm going to go back and try some more dishes. So far I've not found anything that is going to pull me in as a regular, but I've had some intriguing dishes that are going to keep me exploring. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Angus McCurdy's - Yucaipa, CA

Some time back one of our employees at work mentioned that they had good hamburgers at Angus McCurdy's in Yucaipa. Then I happened to look at Trip Advisor for Yucaipa restaurants recently and noticed that Angus McCurday's was the no. 2 restaurant (out of 79), so I had to try it. 

Judy and I went there for dinner and each of us got the Dirty McCurdy, a one-third pound burger with tri tip, bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, thousand island dressing and a brioche bun. It took a serious squeeze to fit the burger in the mouth and the resultant compression sent beautiful tasty juice and melted cheese cascading into the brown paper wrap under the burger. The burger is not the perfectly formed and proportioned patty you normally get, but a varied  edge and thickness burger of substance and resistance. Truly like a hand-formed patty you make at home. The tri tip is a delicious add-on and the bacon is a serious thick slab. Everything about this burger is first class. One of the better burgers I've ever eaten. 
Dirty McCurdy. Never has dirt been so good.
We also ordered tri tip fries that contain pieces of tri tip, parmesan cheese, au jus and a sauce that includes caesar dressing, per the website, although I would not have guessed that from the taste and thickness. Some of the best fries I've ever eaten. The only complaint we had was that there was not enough tri tip and sauce on the fries. Wow, a home run on two at-bats.  
Tri tip fries. If they'd add more sauce this would be even better than it already is.
Given the above, I was forced to go back several times and try other items on the menu to see if this excellence could be maintained. I ordered a bacon double cheese burger with extra avocado and it resembled the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I don't know that I've ever eaten such a thick burger, except perhaps one of my own at home. Just look at it and it shouts out "destroy me" and "knock me down." More serious squeeze compression, lots of cascading juices, great flavor. Beef with texture. Loved the avocado. A great, great burger, not as good as the Dirty McCurdy, but excellence never-the-less.
Double cheese burger with bacon and avocado. 
I ordered chili cheese fries, thinking I was getting the tri tip fries, and hit a single. The chili was thick and plentiful, and there was melted cheese underneath in addition to shredded cheese on top, but it did not have the flavor of the tri tip fries. Good for chili cheese fries, which I don't often order or particularly enjoy anyway, bad when compared to tri tip fries. 
Chili cheese fries - why, when you have tri tip fries?
On yet another trip I got the avocado bacon swiss burger. Same nice thick patty, but it was missing some of the pizzazz. Part of it was that the Swiss cheese is inferior taste-wise to the American cheese. It is still a double (using a baseball metaphor), perhaps also because it is a single (patty), but still pretty good. 
Avocado bacon swiss burger
It was hard, but in the interest of further menu sampling, I ordered the tri tip sandwich. My initial reaction was muted disappointment. Very plain bun, sliced tri tip and not much else (although thickly stacked), except of course a dipping bowl of au jus and some of the ceasar sauce (same stuff as on the tri tip fries). I was very pleasantly surprised to find the tri tip was flavorful, cooked nicely, and the au jus and caesar sauce jazzed it up plenty. An extra base hit for sure. 

Finally, I tried the onion rings. Very thick, but moist - really excellent. This place is for real. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Yellowfin Tuna Belly Meat, Collar and Filet

One of my partners went deep sea fishing off the California coast recently and caught a bunch of yellowfin tuna. 
Yellowfin Tuna
He brought some of the meat into the office and I got an assortment of belly meat, collars (the area of the head near the gills) and fillets. 
Belly meat closest to the bottom and collars in back.
I pulled out the George Foreman Grill, a two sided grill, which is perfect for this type of cooking. It cooks quickly, gives a nice grill stripe on both sides of the meat and helps cook the meat evenly. 
Yellowfin belly meat. You can see how fatty it remains.
I normally find yellowfin kind of dry which is why I particularly like the belly meat and collars which are fatty. For the filet, I under-cooked it a bit and ended up combining it with mayonnaise for a wonderful tuna fish sandwich. 
Filet, pulled apart and revealing the inner pinkness.
The belly meat is my favorite. Even when cooked completely through, it is moist and avoids the dryness I associate with yellowfin. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Buche Caprifeuille

Buche Caprifeuille is a goat's milk cheese made by Sevre & Belle of Central/Eastern France, the Charentes-Poitou area, that specializes in goat cheese and is considered the "Rolls Royce of Goat cheeses" in France. 
After less than a week, we started to get a mold on the outer rind.
The milk all comes from goats in that region and there is no vacuum-packing or gas-flushing, which we found caused the outer rind to go moldy quite quickly. It comes in the shape of a log and has a white bloomy rind with ridges that make it look like sheep brains. 

Note the similarities to these sheep brains we ate in Cairo, Egypt, which also were prepared with a very strong lemon component.
The taste will vary, depending on the aging. Ours has matured to the point that the outer layer of the inside cheese has become darker and goopier than the white paste in the center. 
Buche Caprifeuille
It is one of the stronger goat cheeses I've ever eaten, both from a smell and taste standpoint. Having handled some of the cheese this morning, I'm smelling the barnyard smell on my fingers and the multi-hued taste of the cheese is still exerting power over my taste buds. The cheese taste starts out somewhat bland, the tongue distinguishes between the softer outer layer and the more solid inner layer. Then there is an enormous and intense burst of citrussy overload, sort of a D-Day assault on the mouth. Then when you think you can't take it any more, the face scrunched up from the lemony tartness, it quickly subsides. I am one for strong tastes - but this one is almost too much for me. Fortunately, we have some chocolate to soothe over the battered tastebuds. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Gaperon Cheese

Gaperon cheese is made in the Auvergne (central) region of France from cow's milk and flavored with garlic and cracked peppercorns. It is shaped somewhat like a dome, or a flat-bottomed baseball, and the outside rind is a fuzzy, moldy white. 
Picture from here
The inside is a creamy white with oddly shaped holes and a smattering of peppercorns. It has a creamy consistency and a very, very strong pepper flavor. 
We purchased ours from a cheese store in Beverly Hills.
As I eat it I think of old wood in a barrel. Kind of musty and earthy. It was originally made from buttermilk, left over from making butter, then mixed with added milk to make curds. The Auvergnat dialect word for buttermilk (gape) is where the name comes from. Today, commercial cheese-makers make it from partially skimmed milk instead. The curds are mixed with pink garlic, a crop in that region, and pepper. The garlic is supposed to be quite pronounced, but I only taste the strong pepper. However, the smell is very strong and I think the garlic adds greatly in that regard. I found that the taste really grew on me a lot.  Steven Jenkins Cheese Primer has quite an extensive section on Gaperon and recipe suggestions and how best to eat it. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Ground Nilgai

A friend gave me some ground nilgai antelope meat. I believe he had a friend that shot a nilgai in Texas. I previously tried a nilgai shoulder roast that was horrible, very dry and gamy, so I had no illusions about it. The meat is very lean and very dark. 
Ground nilgai
I cut up a whole onion and a bunch of garlic and fried it in a frying pan with butter and oil until it was getting soft. Then I added the ground nilgai to it. One of the keys of cooking wild game is not to overcook it, so I pulled it off while still a little pink. 
The ground nilgai was substantially better than the nilgai roast. It's taste was stronger than normal hamburger, but it was not particularly gamy. The added garlic and onion added moisture and flavor. 
I then added guacamole and sour cream to the concoction and it was a very nice meal. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Watercress Vietnamese Bistro - Redlands

I don't think of Redlands as a great culinary area, but we recently discovered a wonderful restaurant, my favorite Vietnamese food ever, here. It may actually be more Asian fusion than Vietnamese, but fresh ingredients, artistic presentations, and really fantastic sweet mashed potatoes provide a very different and fantastic taste treat. The sweet mashed potatoes are an option with most meals along with soup, a salad, steamed rice or brown rice. The sweet mashed potatoes are thick and creamy, have a sweet, buttery taste, and I love them so much that I've not tried any of the other options, except one soup that I ordered as a separate item so that I could still have the sweet mashed potatoes. We've been back a number of times to try different dishes and I haven't had a bad one yet. 
Sweet mashed potatoes
The one soup I did try was cream of corn and leek with chicken dumplings. It was very mild, but thick and creamy. A nice soup option, but not worth foregoing sweet mashed potatoes for. 
Not one of the soup options, but a semi-soup, Judy had the pho dac blet, a beef soup with rice noodles, rare thin sliced beef, brisket, tendons and tripe with bean sprouts, basil, chili, hoisin sauce and lime. She enjoyed it and it is a lot of food. 
She has also had hu tieu hoac mi bo kho, a beef stew with egg noodles, bean sprouts, basil, chili and lime.
A nice appetizer was rice paper summer rolls with grilled bbq pork, vermicelli noodles, lettuce, bean sprouts, mint herbs and peanut sauce. I think I like these better than any other summer or spring rolls I've ever eaten. The pork is a nice addition, as is the vermicelli and I really like the peanut sauce. We'll have these again.
A real winner is the thit heo kho nuoc dua, braised five spice pork belly and quail egg atop sweet mashed potatoes with mustard greens. The fatty pork belly combines perfectly texture-wise with the sweet mashed potatoes and is a wonderful, wonderful dish. 
Ca kho to is claypot fish in a sweet-savory black pepper caramel sauce with pickled carrots and daikons. The fish was moist and tender, the sauce was savory and sweet and it was a very nice dish, but probably not one I'd get again just because there are other dishes I like so much more. 
Probably my favorite dish, I've had it several times, is the ca chien, pan-seared marinated seabass with tumeric with shallot lemongrass sambal relish, on top of sweet mashed potatoes. The seabass is cooked perfectly, very moist, a nice savory flavor, a little bit of spice from the relish, and the sweet from the mashed potatoes. One of my favorite fish dishes. 
Tom ca ri is yellow curry shrimp has baby carrots, fingerling potatoes, pearl onions, scallions and cilantro (but fortunately not too much).  Good, but not a dish I'll have again with other better options. 
Judy had bl do kho, braised five spice kabocha squash with fennel in a sweet ginger soy. She got it with rice, instead of sweet mashed potatoes, which I think is a mistake, but she really enjoyed it. I don't know many restaurants that serve kabocha squash, a great vegetarian option. 
Hu tieu hoac mi xao is baby bok choy, shiitake mushrooms and baby carrots on wok-fried egg noodles, another very good vegetarian item. 
Finally, we've had a couple of desserts and they've both been good. A passion fruit cream cheese pie was topped in whipped cream, slathered in a strong orange passion fruit sauce and sprinkled with what tasted like freeze-dried fruit. A very fun, different and good dessert.
Then an interesting rendition of mango and stick-rice. The sticky rice was topped with a raspberry, sprigs of mint, and slices of mango, with more mango slices on the far end of the plate. A very good version of the dish and the most interesting presentation of it I've seen.
I love this restaurant and look forward to trying more of its dishes.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Laughing Dove

The laughing dove, also known as the palm dove and Senegal dove, is a long-tailed pigeon 
that is brownish on its upper parts, has a bluish-gray band along the wing, has a chequered rufus and gray patch on the sides of its neck, red legs, and outer feathers that are tipped in white.
We found one in Jaffa, Israel, but it is also found in Lebanon, Syria, the UAE,Turkey, India, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arbaia, much of Sub-Saharan Africa and it has also been introduced to Western Australia. 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Abulafia - Jaffa, Israel

While in Amman our guide took us by a bakery that has existed since 1879: Abulafia or Abouelafia. 
Our group stands in front of the counter of the bakery.
It was right before dinner so we did not get a lot, and we saved some of what we got until later that evening. 
But in particular, we got a feta-cheese filled bread that was jam-packed with feta. 
It reminded me of the feta cheese bread we got in Greece, including the old brick oven cooking it right behind the counter. I think I enjoyed the Greek bread a little more because it was not so over-whelmed with cheese. But this was great too and made more fun because of the setting. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Reem Al Bawadi Restaurant - Amman, Jordan

The last night of our trip to the Middle East, right before being taken to the airport for the long journey home, our guide took our smaller group of eight to Reem Al Bawadi Restaurant in Amman. Our larger tour group left that morning. We extended our stay with the morning spent in Jerash and the afternoon in Amman. This restaurant was just a short distance from the Intercontinental Hotel where we'd stayed. 

I believe "reem" refers to the "rihm" gazelle, an endangered antelope indigenous to the area. The sign has an antelope and the lobby has an antelope head and antelope relief. 
Note the small antelope head to the bottom left.
The eating area was quite a large hall with seating areas separated by dividers. We sat four to a table and were given a very large platter for each group of four. The food was good, a mixture of the typical salads and grilled meats, but a huge drop-off from Fakhr El-Din which our guide had taken us to our first night in Amman.  
It had been a long day and we got much more food than we could handle. 
Hummus, baba ganoush, falafel, pickled vegetables, a creamy meat, cheese and vegetable salad, etc. 
A platter of beef, chicken, french fries, etc.