Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Good Things Really Do Come In Dumpling Packages

For my annual Thanksgiving pilgrimage down to Southern California, I was compelled by the force (of my growling stomach) to make a necessary pit stop at the Arcadia location of the famed Din Tai Fung chain restaurant from Taiwan. Din Tai Fung produces the perfect dough-wrapped, meat-filled packages, packages that are aptly known in Chinese as "shao loeng baos."

Joe's Shanghai in Flushing, New York, you ain’t got nuthin' on these Taiwanese chain-restaurant babies.

That Din Tai Fung's soup dumplings run out within an hour of opening (and that they only sell soup dumplings on the weekends) is an indicator of how good this place is.

You can't miss Din Tai Fung. You'll see a line of pushy patrons snaking around the insides of a strip mall, and like me, their eyes will be bright with "visions of steaming shao loeng baos dancing in their heads."

My favorite part of Din Tai Fung is not the dumplings themselves, but the ability to watch the entire production. When patrons enter the restaurant, they are allowed a bird’s-eye view of how Din Tai Fung’s dumplings are made. Immaculately-cleaned, thick, and soundproof glass windows enclose the dumpling-making area and allow patrons to peer at the assembly-line.

The dumpling makers work in a rapid-fire sequence of coordinated movements. Worker #1 rolls tight, flour-dusted dough balls into thin, flat, and circular dumpling wrappers. He does this by efficiently moving a wooden rolling pin over the dough using his right palm and simultaneously twisting his left wrist to quickly rotate the wrapper in a counterclockwise motion. Worker #2 then pats a round meatball-sized circle of ground pork onto the wrapper using a flattened wooden dowel specially used to portion the perfect amount of meat into the dumpling. Worker #3 then manually folds mini-pleats into the perimeter edges of the dumpling wrapper and squeezes the wrapper over the meat to form either a crescent moon-shaped dumpling or a beggar’s bag-shaped dumpling.

Just talking about the dumpling-making process has gotten me in the mood for these dumplings. Even if you don't live nearby any location of Din Tai Fung, I highly encourage you to try these perfect and juicy packages this holiday season!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving for 2006!

Tis' the season to be a food bloggie, fa la la la, la la la la!

It is a family tradition of ours to make special dumplings during the holiday season, so I wanted to share these pictures of my family's "special tradition" to get you in a festive holiday mood. Pictured below are the raw ingredients behind my Mama's special soup dumplings (including prawns, ground pork, bamboo slivers, and water chestnuts).

The holidays are a time to inspire your creativity and bring out your natural culinary prowess! I can't wait to hear about your family practices and traditions and to see the vivid Thankgiving pictures taken of your dining table this year! (Please feel free drop me a comment about a special tradition carried on in your family during the holidays!)

Happy Thanksgiving (and Black Friday) everyone!

. . . Oh, and also, I am trying to improve the content of my blog and make it appealing to a wider audience. I don't want to limit the relevance of my posts to a target audience from the San Francisco, Bay Area. So for those of you who are here from outside of the Bay Area, I want to leave you with a great kitchen tip!

Post-Thanksgiving Kitchen Tip from Passionate Eater: To reheat refrigerated rolls, croissants, biscuits, pancakes, or muffins (especially those from Thanksgiving), place them in a microwave with a microwave-safe cup partially filled with water. The steam from the evaporating water will make the bakery-good moist and fluffy, and also help it to warm faster. This tip will help you to say good-bye to those dried out pieces of bread that have become microwave-dried croutons!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Gimme the Check (Now) Please!

I love the show Check Please! Bay Area on the PBS channel up here in San Francisco. Check Please! Bay Area showcases three articulate yuppies who each voluntarily promote their favorite Bay Area eatery and critique the favorite eating establishments of the other two guests on the show. Most of the featured restaurants are high-end establishments that are out of the price range of the overwhelming majority of the populace. However, some seem like they'd be right up my penny-pinching alley.

Check Please! Bay Area is the Bay Area's version of confrontation "Jerry Springer-style." However, unlike Jerry Springer (whose show generally features a topless 300-pound she/male) there is a bickering trio of MPWATOORs (Multiracial People Who Are Tolerant of Other Religions--not WASPs) who one-up each other with descriptive vocabulary words. Just replace Jerry Springer with Leslie Sbrocco (complete with a feigned Kool-Aid red smile that disguises her genuine disinterest) while keeping the rude interruptions, insulting jabs, inappropriate zingers from the guests, and voila! You've got yourself a show titled Check Please! Bay Area!

I decided to take two of my out-of-town friends to a cool-looking San Francisco restaurant featured on the show, the Hard Knox Cafe. My reasoning? If the PBS producers selected this person to endorse his or her favorite restaurant, he or she must have great taste and at least some credibility. Unfortunately, this reasoning was flawed.

Play the "Nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach, diarrhea" song from those uber-irritating Pepto-Bismol commercials here. . .

It was more than just a coincidence that three out of five of us had the "runs" later that evening. After eating at Hard Knox, uncontrollable fury of the intestines ensued.

Allow me to list and describe the menu items that may have contributed to our digestive demise, the most of which, however, were pretty good.

We sipped on icy summer lemonade that was poured in fat canning jars with glass handles. The jars were slippery with swollen beads of condensed water and the lemonade was tart and sweetly satisfying.

Several our orders came with two plump corn muffins, and the bulbous muffins were buttery, nutty, and crumbly with the coarse ground meal of golden corn kernels.

I ordered the cornmeal-encrusted red snapper, which was surprisingly tasty. The crisp cornmeal crust acted as the perfect retaining wall to lock in moisture and steam so that the snapper fell apart into substantial and moist flakes when penetrated with a fork. Unfortunately, the salted black-eyed peas were a little sandy (even gritty at times) and the fork-fluffed rice tasted like Uncle Ben's. Similarly, the potato salad that came with my dish was only decent.

One friend of mine ordered the barbequed ribs, which had tender meat that easily fell-off-the-bone with a simple tug of my clasped jaws. The ribs were smothered with a gentle coating of tangy barbeque sauce. She also ordered macaroni and cheese and smashed yams (or sweet potatoes). The saccharinely-sweet yams were flavored with the earthy overtones of an overzealous helping of pumpkin pie spices. And yet, the yams were still very appealing and palatable.

Earlier, I had forebodingly advised my friends, "Not to get the mac and cheese because the Check Please! Bay Area reviews said that it tasted like the instant kind made with reconstituted powdered cheese." Some attentive friends obeyed. However, when I sampled my non-obeying friend's dish, I learned of my error. Admittedly, the macaroni did taste instant, but like the tasty Deluxe brand--the kind with the bulging foil packets of squeezable and velvety Velveeta. Yum! I like that kind.

I was also able to sample my beau's fried chicken and collard greens. Unfortunately, Hard Knox's signature three-piece chicken dish was a dismal failure. The motley pieces of chicken included the "reject piece" of the chicken: the wing. How the heck are you gonna classify the wing as a real "chicken piece?" Ain't nobody I know who does that. Well, except for Church's, Popeye's, and KFC. However, the chicken was unredeemable. It tasted as if it had been fried in rancid and putrefied oil because it was permeated with the musty flavors and odors of a fetid closet. Too bad the collard greens were similarly tasteless. The ragged collard greens were limp and flavored like Billy Bob's old towel from gym class.

I also got a taste of my other friend's braised short ribs, which were smothered in gravy. Of the mini-bite I tried, I was pleased. The meat was supple and toothsome and . . . Well, "rib-like."

On an unrelated note, when I entered the restaurant, I realized I must lack depth perception because the video footage and pictures on Check Please! Bay Area of the three tight booths in the restaurant were actually dead-on accurate representations of the restaurant seating--for the entire restaurant. Somehow, I thought the restaurant was bigger. However, there were only three (or four) booths and limited bar seating in the entire establishment. When we entered, all of the seating was filled. Thus, we had to wait for a table, which is fine, but when I have to wait for a table, I expect the food to be dayum good.

Overall, the food wasn't bad, but the aftereffects of the meal were very bad for those of us who had sampled the fried chicken. Essentially, Hard Knox gave
Passionate Eater a new motto: "Trust your gut when it comes to other people's restaurant recommendations--especially to prevent gut piercing explosions."

Monday, November 20, 2006

That Was Relatively "Fast"

New Orleans, Louisiana: "The Big Easy"

Thank you friends of the food blogging community for your support and outpouring of encouragement! I finally had an opportunity to read the heartwarming comments you left for me during my fast from blogging. Many important events and milestones have occurred in my life that I can't wait to tell you about! (Two of the most important events being the one year anniversary of Passionate Eater and my visit to New Orleans, Louisiana!) But I don't want to barrage you with an overflow of undigested thoughts, so I'll be letting you know of the news in an upcoming post.

I feel rejuvenated with a stronger spirit and focus for my food blogging. I can't wait to see how life (and food) has been for all of you!

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