Nov 29, 2012

Cancun Mercado 28 - Where's My Boba?

How's your Thanksgiving? Turkey and stuffing overload?

In my case, it's ceviche and piña colada overload since I was enjoying my holiday break somewhere warmer - Cancun, Mexico. I'll be sharing some local restaurant reviews and vacation tips during the next few posts. As for now, since there are still tons of pictures need to be organized, let me share my little food stand encounter while visiting a local market - Mercado 28.

There are a few local markets in Cancun such as Mercado 23 and Mercado 28. Mercado 23 has more of a local affair, selling groceries to people who actually live in Cancun. Mercado 28 on the other hand, is a total tourist trap. You'll only find tons of souvenirs, perhaps overpriced souvenirs there.

Recent travel advisory warning visitors not to stray too far away from the Hotel Zone. As a result, we've decided to visit Mercado 28, which is not too far off from the so called "safe area."

On the way to the main market place, my partner and I found this hole in the wall drink/snack shop with pictures of tapioca throughout. Being a Taiwanese who can't live without boba, especially boba tea, finding this store brought much joy to this adventure.

We crossed the busy road with an unwanted help from a local guy holding up a STOP sign. His purpose was not to prevent us from accident but only to receive tips. Either way, we made it to the store safely.

Then we realized..there's no boba tea here, only syrup infused drinks with options of adding boba, jelly, or other chewy stuff inside the drink.

Well, since we're already here, might as well pick something unheard of, but something that looks safe enough to try. So it is, agua de Jamaica -

The lady went ahead to prepare the drink for us. I noticed she had cactus lying on the back counter with some blended liquid in green color..hmm..maybe next time -

So here it is, agua de Jamaica -

It's actually a hibiscus tea! I never knew that "Jamaica water" is the same as the hibiscus tea we have in the states. Well, it was a pleasant surprise that the drink was in fact pretty refreshing and delicious. At least something different than the usual things we tend to get at the Hotel Zone. You know, bottled water, beer, and all that tropical fruity drinks.

My Cancun food adventure to be continued (as soon as I get all the pictures adjusted).

Later on....

Cancun related posts:
Cancun Dining - Savio's Bistro by La Dolce Vita
Cancun Dining - Crab House Cancun

Nov 20, 2012

Southeast Asian Inspired Stir Fry Banh Pho with Chicken and Shrimps

Happy Thanksgiving!!

I hope you guys can munch on juicy turkey with wonderful homemade cranberry sauce this year. As for me, I'll be off to Cancun for a fun and relaxing trip. So I guess tacos will on my Thanksgiving night menu? But don't worry, I'll try to order some chicken to make up my turkey lost.

Southeast Asian inspired stir fry banh pho with chicken and shrimps -

Ingredients (3 to 4 people)?

Marinade -
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
1 tablespoon of rice cooking wine or sake

1 large pack of dried banh pho
1 lb of chicken thigh
1/2 lb of shrimps (peeled and deveined)
2 eggs
2 cups of green bean sprouts
6 stalks of bak choy
1 small carrot
1 medium shallot
1 stalk of scallion
1 small bundle of cilantro
1/2 large onion
5 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon of grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon Chinese chili sauce
3 tablespoons of soy sauce
2 tablespoons of fish sauce
2 tablespoons of shrimp paste
1 tablespoon of Sriracha
1 tablespoon of brown sugar
1/2 cup of hot water
1 lime
Some olive oil
Some sea salt
Some freshly ground black pepper


I know it's a long list of ingredients but trust me, the end result is mouth-watering.

Remove excess fat from the chicken thighs and cut into bite size pieces. Mix 1 tablespoon of soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of rice cooking wine. Add in the chicken and marinate for at least 20 minutes.

Here's the large pack of banh pho found at a local Ranch 99 market -

Package instruction states that you can either soak the noodles for 15 minutes or cook them in hot water for 2 minutes before stir frying. I tried to follow the lead but ended up with still very chewy banh pho. So here's what you should do to prepare the noodles: Bring a big pot of water to a boil and cook the noodles till al dente in texture, about 3 to 5 minutes. Once done, drain well and set aside for later use. Mix in a little bit of olive oil can prevent clumping.

Beat two eggs together with a tiny pinch of salt. Drizzle some oil in the pan, just enough to coat the surface. Bring to medium high heat and pour in the eggs once the oil gets hot. Scramble the eggs till the edges of each little pieces turned slightly brown. Scoop it out and set aside for later use.

Peel and finely chop the garlic cloves. Chop half of the scallion into 2 inch pieces and the remaining into tiny bits. Peel and slice the onion into thin strips. Peel and slice the shallot.

Remove the very bottom stems for the bok choy and cut into thin strips. Peel and julienne the carrot. Remove the very bottom stems from the cilantro and give the rest a rough chop.

Take a big pan, add in about 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt, 1/4 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon of red chili flakes or more if you like it spicy. Also add in the onion and shallot. Give it a quick stir and turn to medium high heat.

Cook till the shallot slices start to get slightly burned on the edges, about 3 minutes. Add in chopped garlic, grated ginger, and scallion strips. Cook for another minute.

Pour in the chicken along with its marinade, cook till the chicken is about 70% done then add in the carrot. Cook till the carrot softens.

Add in bean sprouts and bok choy. Also add in our main seasonings here: 3 tablespoons of soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of fish sauce, 2 tablespoons of shrimp paste, 1 tablespoon of Sriracha, 1 tablespoon of brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of chili sauce, and juice of 1/2 lime. Mix well and let it cook for about 3 to 5 minutes, till all the flavors soaked into the ingredients.

Add the shrimps, scrambled eggs, and 1/2 of the chopped cilantro to the mixture. Once the shrimps start to turn pinkish color, pour in the noodles along with some hot water. Mix well and cook till the noodles have fully absorbed the seasonings. I just left it till the noodles reached my desired texture, about 6 minutes.

Serve with some of the chopped scallion and cilantro we reserved earlier along with one wedge of lime. Perhaps more chili sauce for spicy lovers (like me!).

See you after Thanksgiving break!

Other recipe using shrimp paste:
Stir fry ongchoy with shrimp paste and fish sauce 蝦醬空心菜

Other Asian noodles recipes:
Taiwanese ruo gen soup noodles 酸辣肉羹麵 
Japanese style dan dan noodles

Nov 15, 2012

ink by Michael Voltaggio and Cole Dickinson

If you are a fan of Bravo's TV show Top Chef, you'll know who Michael Voltaggio is. He is the winner from season six, but he's definitely more than just a renowned title. You'll see by looking at all these mouth watering pictures below.

A picture is worth a thousand words, especially when these words are actually coming from my rambling. Just a few details and conclusions here and I'll leave you with food pictures to dig in. 

There is "ink," where the fine dining happens during dinner hours. And there is "ink sack" for a more casual bite, offering both lunch and dinner.

For the upcoming food and beverage pictures, I'll just add the descriptions straight from the menu. Also I'll put up a * sign and "highly recommended" on the bottom of the picture for the ones I'm deeply in love with. Less of my rambling remember?

The overall dining experience was wonderful. Very good service, clean and trendy ambience, great food, just one little glitch - the restroom flooded. Luckily ink sack is just few stores down the street where all the guests can take a detour to mind their own businesses.

On top of individual dishes, ink also offers tasting menu for $85, $50 more if paired with wines.

For a party of six, we've decided to skip the tasting menu and ordered everything on the menu instead. Well..except the carrot.

Our waiter did warn us that it might be a daunting task due to large amount of food. Frankly speaking, we OC people rarely drive that far to dine in LA, especially with our ages hiking up, we just got lazier and lazier. So just bring it on! The more the merrier!

Cocktails, beers, non-alcoholic -

Spirits -

Old school specialties, new school sparkling, sakes -

*Cocktail - Pisco -

Pineapple, coconut water, falernum, lime.

See the large rectangular ice cube inside? I would love to order this drink again. Not overpowering and definitely refreshing.

Japanese whisky (on the left) -

Dinnerware -

Sparkling water -

Still water -

Wine -

Barnstable oysters $18 -

Burrata, bottarga, little gems, lemon dressing $14 -

Cuttlefish, green papaya, peanut-coconut cream, black lime $15 -

Shishito peppers, almond-bonito sand, tofu mustard $9 -

Hamachi, caesar dressing tempura, breakfast radish $18 -

Duck rillette, waffle, mustard, griddled pear, banyuis vinegar $14 -

Beef tartare, hearts of palm, sea beam chimichurri, horseradish, rye $15 -

La quercia berkshire ham, manchego biscuit, marcona almond butter $16 -

Pei mussels, sourdough sabayon, egg, mussel jus $12 -

Revealed -

*Corn porridge, miso, chanterelles, house-made doritos $10 -

Highly recommended!

*Potato charcoal, house-made sour cream, black vinegar $10 -

Highly recommended!

Basically you eat it just like baked potatoes. A spread of sour cream and spray some of that black vinegar to highlight the flavors -

*Brussels sprouts, pig ear, lardo, apple $13 -

Looks like fried gobo root at first sight. Goes very well with alcohol,
Highly recommended!

*Baja scallops, egg yolk gnocchi, mushroom hay $17 -

Highly recommended! Hands down my top three favorite gnocchi.

My round two beverage, house made hibiscus citrus flavored soda $4 -

Octopus, ink, shells, young fennel, pimenton $20 -

*Halibut, buckwheat noodles, tomato fumet, yuba $27 -

Highly recommended!

Poutine, chickpea fries, yogurt curds, lamb neck gravy $15 -

*Pork belly, charcoal oil, bbq flavor, petrified yams $24 -

Highly recommended!

Lamb shoulder, beets, vadouvan, yogurt $23 -

Beef short rib, carrots, tendon, horseradish tofu $28 -

Other view -

Sadly no more room for dessert..

Our bill came in an envelope -

Moment of truth -

About $100 per person, not bad at all considering we ordered food for sure can feed at least 8 people, perhaps 10. On top of that, we all got one or two beverages accompanying our meals. I suppose if you don't go as crazy as we do, you'll probably end up with around $60~$80 per person. With these amount of details and works that go into our food, I think ink is definitely worth to pay a visit with a few $20 bills.

8360 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90069
*Between North La Cienega Blvd and North Fairfax Ave

323-651-5866 (ink)
323-655-7225 (ink sack)

Twitter: mvinkla

Cindy's Rating: 8