Wednesday, February 27, 2008

West Covina Thai Cuisine: West Covina, CA

I'm such a sucker for Thai food. Maybe it grew from my deprivation of Thai food when I was young. San Jose may have been one of the largest Vietnamese communities outside of Vietnam which is marked by numerous Vietnamese restaurants dotting the city. However, Thai food was a very different story. It was considered somewhat of a novelty and there were some joints in downtown but they were on the pricey side and only frequented by business or corporate types looking to have an exotic lunch. When I used to visit my relatives in Long Beach I'd eat all the Thai food I possibly could. The Thai restaurant scene was so different than that in San Jose as it was considered more humble fare and my relatives new the best joints in town so I couldn't get enough of the delicious flavors.On a recent trip to visit AS, I was introduced to her family's favorite Thai food place. West Covina Thai Cuisine looked like a tiny joint but Angie assured me that the food was awesome and she loves the flavors as much as I do. Within minutes of being seated all the other tables in this joint were filled. Angie remarked that this was rather uncharacteristic as it is usually very quiet when she visits. I thought it was a good sign... when a restaurant is packed its a good sign right? Oh goodness I'd have to give service thumbs down! I suppose the lone waiter and small cooking staff they had wasn't prepared to handle a full house. However, I think its unacceptable when diners are walking straight to the back of the house asking for bowls of rice, looking for drinking cups and take out boxes. It took more than an hour for us to receive all of our food which was very tasty and everything I had expected out of a family run place but the service just marred the food experience.

The first item in our order to arrive was the soup. Now we ordered a small Seafood soup($6.95). However what came out was a large Shrimp soup($7.75). I was a little peeved that the waiter didn't tell us of the deliberate change and charged us for the later soup. At least tell us that you can't make former soup!?!? This caused later contention over the bill. I'm really not a cheap person (I tipped 25% on a bill for my alterations a week ago... my guy thought it was too much but the work looked incredibly professional and I looked great in the pieces so I wanted to show my appreciation) but there are some basic things I look for when I eat out. I don't expect service fit for royalty in a family run restaurant but I do expect to get what I order or be notified if it isn't available ... not to be given something and have me figure out that it really isn't what I ordered at all. Sorry for the rant but aside from that the broth was very flavorful- a nice medley of sweet, sour, salty. The shrimp was large, plump, sweet and plentiful. The one thing I'd change in this soup is the monstrous amount of sliced mushrooms you can see floating atop the soup. It got a little mundane eating mouthfuls of the mushrooms, another ingredient would have been nice. Perhaps some sliced tomatoes or bac ha( I don't know the English name but its a spongy plant that looks similar to the taro plant).

The next item to arrive was the Panang chicken curry ($6.50). It was rich, conconut-y and spicy. The perfect accompaniment to steamy bowl of jasmine rice. The chicken was tender and the vegetable chunks were also cooked perfectly.

The final dish was the fried tilapia ($6.50). This fish was fried to perfection.. even the bones in fins could be eaten. The meat was tender, sweet and could be easily scraped off the skeleton with the provided spoon. It came with a fragrant spicy fish sauce dip. We couldn't get enough of this dip and smothered the pieces of fish with it.

When we were done, it took forever for the waiter to collect the bill so I walked up to the register to pay the bill and ended scrounging around the back for a take out box. There were several unhappy dine-in and take out customers frustrated with the long wait but I suppose they were happy enough with the quality of the food to come back.

So like I said... service could use some major improvement but the food was terrific.

West Covina Thai Cuisine
106 N. Grand Ave.
West Covina, CA 91791
open daily 11am-10pm

Friday, February 22, 2008

Recipe: Rolled Sugar Cookies

When I was little, my mom would often make cookies like these for me to hand out at school for a pot luck, Christmas party, Valentine's Day, etc. They were always the hit of the party and I always had none to take back with for the walk home after school. So I've tried this recipe several times and I still don't know how my mom was able to scrape away the excess dough without pre-rolling it and stiffening it again. I guess moms are just like that... kitchen goddesses. I've also added the amaretto and orange zest since I love these flavors in cookies. My mom use to press colored sugar onto the top of her cookies but I prefer mine plain. I feel less guilty about eating the cookie if I don't see actual sugar teasing me atop the cookies. Eating these cookies brings back memories of me being mommy's little assistant cutting out cookies and latter enjoying them with a warm cup of cocoa.

  • ¾ cups of softened butter
  • 1 cups of white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1-teaspoon vanilla extract
  • a few dashes of amaretto
  • zest of a small orange
  • 2 ½ cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1-teaspoon baking powder
  • a pinch of salt

  1. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs, vanilla, amaretto and orange zest. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt until dough comes together. Cover, and chill dough for at least one hour.
  2. Break dough into smaller portions and roll out to desired thickness on a parchment paper. Cover with another sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap and place back in the fridge to stiffen. If you don’t have a wide/deep enough fridge shelf then roll up the rolled out dough and place back in the fridge.
  3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). After the dough has stiffened up, take the dough back out and roll out any creases if you rolled up the dough previously. Cut out the shapes that you like and peel away the excess dough. Roll this dough and repeat step 2 if you would like to make extra cookies with this dough.
  4.  Place cookies 1 inch apart on cookie sheets.
  5. Bake 6 to 8 minutes in preheated oven. Cool completely.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Sprinkles Cupcakes

Here's that Sprinkles review I promised a few posts back. On a recent trip to visit my good friend NCT, I was pleasantly introduced to Sprinkles cupcakes at her home. GS brought home half a dozen cupcakes and one of them was a Red Velvet cupcake. Knowing how I just love Red Velvet cupcakes she graciously offered me one. I don't care what LH has to say about Sprinkles... he believes that they put stabilizers in the cupcake. It was so incredibly moist and the frosting was just the right amount and sweetness. Unfortunately I thought the color was on the darker side of red... nearing the cocoa color.

I've read some mixed reviews about this place since tasting it. I try not to be affected by harsh reviews most of whom dislike the chain aspect of the store. Honestly I have no issues with buying or eating from a chain restaurant. Did I mention my love for Animal Fries extra sauce on the side from In n' Out? I'm all for the small mom and pop stores since my parents have a small family run laundromat however if a chain sells something awesome I'm gonna have to buy it.

Anyways, I was so in awe of this fantastic cupcake that I decided I must bring 2 back for the road to calm the cravings I know I'd be hit with once at home. Nhu-chi and I headed to the closest store which was in Newport Beach. The decore of the store was very cute, light and airy... definitely trendy. The prices of the cupcakes blew me away... $3.25/cupcake and you only get a discount of $3 when you buy a dozen for $36 after discount?!?!?! Ok ok, being a fan of Extraordinary Desserts I know Sprinkle's prices got nothing on Karen Krasne's creations but I do feel a little more justified for pay the latter prices with the fancy names(called torte instead of cake) and ingredients like gold leaf. Then I thought about how scrumptious the first cupcake tasted and all my hesitations melted away. I got the Black and White- a Belgian dark chocolate cake with vanilla frosting and another Red Velvet- southern style light chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting. The Black and White was super moist but I wasn't digging the strong chocolate taste as I was hoping to taste some other flavors like the frosting! The Red Velvet was just as delicious as I had remember the first. I really like the light cocoa taste combined with the tang of the cream cheese frosting. Ok I'll have to admit that I did get another Red Velvet which I had intended on giving away but the first 2 I brought back were so good that I thought it'd be a crime to just give this one away too. My only complaint with Sprinkle's for packaging this one cupcake when I had intended to give it away was that they put it in waxed paper bag instead of a box like the other 2. I'm paying the same $3.25 for this cupcake like the first 2 so it'd be nice to get a single box for it without being asked to pay extra for boxing a single cupcake.

When I was browsing some of the gift items while waiting for my cupcakes to get packaged, I eyed their dry mix but decided against purchasing it. On the tube there is a recipe for their frosting that goes with the cupcake in the store. I liked the cream cheese frosting on the Red Velvet very much and searched for their recipe which appears on the tube. After some experimentation, I have to say that the recipe listed on the tube isn't the same as what they sell- the consistency and sweetness was very different. I can't blame them... if they were giving away the trade secrets than there'd be no reason for me to buy their cupcakes anymore.

944 Avocado Ave.
Newport Beach, CA 92625
(949) 760-0003
(multiple locations can be found on the website)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Maru Ichi: Mountain View, CA

Surprisingly, my family stumbled across this quaint ramen house when we were shopping for a new dining table. My parents picked out a lovely Chinese style rosewood table at a killer discount since my dad is so awesome at haggling. I don't think I could ever haggle like that. My mom would also not fork over the payment until the proprietor agreed to throw in the shipping. As they were handling the agreement, my siblings and I walked around the street to see what type of restaurants there were for lunch. My brother had his eye on Maru Ichi which was directly across the street. I wasn't really feeling like eating ramen but since my brother expressed his craving for it I went along.

After the transaction, my family headed over to Maru Ichi, signed in and waited to be seated. I immediately notice that they had a small glass enclosed room in a corner at the front in which you could watch them make batches of ramen noodles. It was very interesting to watch them make the noodles and piqued my appetite for ramen. My father was very intrigued by the noodle making process but I don't think enough to make them himself even though we have a manual noodle making machine at home.

When we were seated, we were promptly handed menus and glasses of water. I immediately noticed the Kuoro ramen($6.90) which sounded interesting because I had never tried this type. According to the menu, kuro ramen meaning black ramen is made with browned garlic and was invented in a noodle shop in Hitoyoshi, Japan, some 45 years ago. However, the broth didn't appear to be black but an opaque, earthy brown. My father and brother got this and I got the spicy miso ramen($7.90). I asked for mild but it was still a little too spicy for me so I couldn't finish it. The meat was however quite tender and the soup though too spicy for my tongue was very flavorful. The noodles also had a very nice bite to it. The kuro ramen's soup had a more heartier and developed taste. There was also a very distinct sesame taste and it did look like there was a thin layer of black sesame oil floating on the top of the soup.

I think regardless of whether I had gotten spicy or not spicy miso ramen that I still preferred the kuro ramen. I should have known better even after the waitress said it was what they were known for.

368 Castro St
Mountain View, CA 94043
(650) 564-9931 

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Lunar New Year with the Family: San Jose, CA

I recently returned from a visit up North to spend the Lunar New Year with my family. I ate tons of good food the day before, spent quality time with family and received some very hefty red envelopes. My mom asked me what my favorite holiday was while I was home and I half laughingly replied Lunar New Year of course. Its a fun, profitable holiday while you are young and not married as you should start handing out the red envelopes once you get married.

So a must for celebrating New Year's with my family is a visit to the local Buddhist temple to burn incense, give offerings and receive blessings of fruits, flowers and charms. I'm always down for the eating the vegetarian meal at temple as well. Heck its fried and we all know that anything ladened with grease and oil is going to taste awesome.

My family traditionally eats vegetarian meals on the 1st and 15th of the lunar calendar so of course Lunar New year is the big 1st. The vegetarian Buddhist population in San Jose is pretty substantial so you can find several tofu shops like Dong Phuong Tofu around town specializing in making tofu, soy bean milk and all types of tofu inspired vegetarian foods. 

We picked up a gallon of pandan flavored soy milk freshly made, a party platter of fried vegetarian rice noodles and 2 orders of xio bap.

Freshly made soy milk is something I've treasured since I was very young and I'd peer over the giant vat as my mom made it. However, it's quite labor intensive so my parents just purchase it from this store and it tastes just as great. They offer both sweetened and unsweetened as well as plain and pandan flavored. They don't sweeten it too much so I prefer to get that to save me the work and the fragrant scent/taste of pandan just enhances the taste of the soy milk.

The fried noodles are mixed with carrots, cabbage, some mushrooms and comes seasoned with salt, pepper and some sweet soy sauce on the side to flavor as you wish. It's one of my vegetarian comfort foods and since the oil is on the light side I feel somewhat less guilty filling up on this. 

My baby sister walked in on me eating an order of xio bap and demanded that I share some with her... before I knew it she ate most of the order and I can't blame her. The combination of sweet rice, hominy, mung beans, crispy shallots and SUGAR is goodness that all ages can enjoy. The flavors all play against each other not making it too sweet or too salty, the hominy and sweet rice makes it pretty hearty so it makes a tasty breakfast yet I enjoy it at all times of the day.

What Lunar New Year is complete without some firecrackers. I insisted that we pick up some to set at my parent's shop to bring in luck for the new year so we got a modest 3 ft string and attached it to a mop stick. It startled quite a few of the neighbors and the customers but they were in good spirits since they realized it was a holiday.

Dong Phuong Tofu
2359 Mckee Rd.
San Jose, CA 95116
(408) 251-6838

Pao-Hua Buddhist Temple
2946 McKee Road
San Jose, CA 95127

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