one shot: Profiteroles at Cafe Rabelais

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Even if you don’t like anything at Cafe Rabelais (I didn’t), this mini-mountain of profiteroles loaded with ice cream is still as resistible as a pool in the summer, and worth every second you spend with it too. To top, it’s HUGE. THREE orange-size puffs, for only $6.50! We thought it was going to be just one cream puff, you know, like how desserts are usually portioned… but no, the pastry chef has a heart of gold. Next time I’m at Rive Village, I’ll swing by for a profiterole recharge. Sidney and the cream puffs. See how big this dessert is? [...]

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The macaron that keeps you wanting for more

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What defines a good macaron? I googled, but found only “10 signs of a bad macaron“. My pâtissière friend Hanna Lim told me a few criteria: a good macaron should look smooth on the surface, crunchy (but not crumbly) on the outside and a little chewy(*) inside, it should not fall apart when you take a bite, it should be a clean bite – no crumbs, no cream spewing out on the side. Looking through the Facebook page of The Pastry of Dreams, I see gliding smooth macarons and beautiful cookie-to-cream ratio. Visually, they are perfect. But what impresses me most is their taste. These almond cookies reflect what real fruits and nuts taste like in a cookie. Instead of being masked by sugar, the flavors that each cookie is supposed to contain shine through. “There are no shortcuts in our pastries,” says Liz Laval, the chemist-turn-pastry-chef who started The Pastry of Dreams. For something as simple as vanilla, she uses special vanilla beans imported from Madagascar to France and shipped to her by family living in France. “The one from here and the one that people [...]

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Bistro Liaison – new connections

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Isn’t there always some restaurant that you pass by a thousand times, think about trying it every of those thousand times, and just never do? For me, that restaurant is Bistro Liaison. Its rustic red awning shines brightly at the corner of Shattuck and Hearst, draws my attention enough to remember that from there I’ve sampled a cup of quenelle souffle – salmon and scallop mousse in a shrimp sauce (think clam chowder but fishier and cheesier, and surprisingly good!) – almost three years ago during a North Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto event. But the timing was just never right for an all-out dinner, until a few weeks ago. We walked in without reservation, half worried that there wouldn’t be a table for us, and half worried that there would be a table for us, which might imply that the restaurant wasn’t good enough to fill up on a Friday night. But we were a party of two, perfect to squeeze in a table at the end of the room. When the hostess at the front desk offered to take my friend’s coat, we began feeling the warmth of old-fashioned restaurant service. And it [...]

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Little Cafe Du Bois in Kingwood

Little Mom likes Houston because it’s big, I’ve grown to like Berkeley because it’s so tiny I can get around without a car. Little Mom likes our big garden where she can grow 20 trees and who knows how many rose bushes, I’m content with my little dried-plum-container-turned-flower-pot in which I grow my onion. Point is, Little Mom likes big things, and I, well, sometimes like and most of the time don’t mind small things. But as often as she likes big restaurants, Little Mom likes little Cafe Du Bois in Kingwood. It makes me feel better than if I had liked Cafe Du Bois myself. The joy when you pick out a place and your company likes it, the more important the company to you the bigger the joy, and to top that with a company of people with sensitive, rarely pleased tastebuds, it feels like winning the lottery. And here my mom suggested that we should go to Cafe Du Bois again. She likes it for the roasted red snapper on rice with a light cream and tomato basil sauce, for being a mere 10 minutes from our [...]

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The last of June – Gregoire

Few Berkeley residents, minus the homeless people (I think), haven’t at least heard of Grégoire. Everyone I’ve talked to has eaten here, even my freshman students. Technically I also have, but only for desserts. Somehow the menu on the days that I looked never struck lightnings on me. I might have been looking on the wrong days. Then I stopped treking this part of town for over 6 months, minus a trip to Imperial Tea Court that turned out somewhat disappointing, which shot me back to Fourth Street. When the whole tea business got serious, I kinda started eating to subsist more than to eat. I stopped actively hunting for special things. I don’t think of restaurants anymore. Chinese fried rice has been a staple for the last 7 days, with intermissions of frozen pizza and ramen. That reminds me, Berkeley Bowl no longer carries Sapporo Ichiban, and I’m mad. Of course, if delicious-sounding food just rolls up to me, I’d take it. Like today, we’re close to Grégoire, and Grégoire (finally) has something that caught my eye. My lunch gleaming on the grill. [...]

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French and Texan intertwined at Phillippe of Houston

Every year just after the winter holiday hustle and bustle, Mom and Dad let me choose a restaurant for my early birthday dinner. Last year it was Martin’s Place for barbecue. Dad never tells me no, but let’s just say that Mom didn’t feel too confident of my aesthetics since then. This year she gently insists on French. But I manage to sneak in a twist of Texas. After all, Chef Philippe Schmit dubbed himself the French Cowboy. His two-story Philippe Restaurant & Lounge opened last February just a mile north of The Galleria. Looking out to the Houston’s limitless horizon, the second-floor dining room is bathed in a warm chocolate hue of the furniture, accented with soft vanilla light and word decorations made of Chef Schmit’s quotes in watermelon red. In contrast, the menu is bold, extensive, spanning from Texas BBQ and cactus to foie gras and fish pâté, from the classic croque monsieur to the carefree duck confit tamales; there’s a little something for everyone. “The Moroccan”, beef tartare with raisin, almond and the Tunisian hot sauce Continue reading French and Texan intertwined at Phillippe of Houston

‘Cross country Day 5: Beignets, at last

Two dollars for every three of them. A square, fluffy pillow of dough deep fried to flakiness and powder-sugared. Gripping each donut with two fingertips, I bend as close to the tiny plate as I can and hold my breath, the anticipation mounts as to not blow away the sweet white dust (and to avoid unwanted makeup powder on my face). We confectioner the year end with beignets from Cafe Du Monde in Metairie, Louisiana. And the six-hour drive just spirals off in the invisible gust of some unjustifiable self-indulgent joy. We’ve had beignets before, but these strike us differently: refreshing, comfortable, and better. They offer nothing more than a combination of leavened, fried and sweetened, but also nothing less than an immersion into the food itself, skillfully and quickly enough to make you forget your whereabouts. [...]

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Think twice before you say ew

When I was little, I built this little toy settlement with animal figurines that I collected over the years. One of my ladies, an inch-tall cat with apron and yellow dress, was a baker, and I would gather water droplets on the garden leaves each morning so that she could bake cakes for the village. Apparently the best thing my imagination could come up with was a “soil cake”. Yep, I said my baker would collect the best dirt in her backyard, wash and knead it with morning dew, then make pastry out of it. Crazy, you say? Well, apparently a group of Indonesian villagers agree with my cat patisseur. Have you heard of ampo cake? I did just last night. ampo snack at Tuban village, East Java Province, Indonesia – Image courtesy of OddityCentral.com The ampo snack, made entirely of clean, gravel-free earth from paddy fields, can be eaten like crème roulée. I’m not sure what they mean by “clean” in the context of dirt. Regardless, Tuban villagers also believe that these supposedly cool, creamy baked rolls of soil are an effective pain-killer and skin-nourishing product. (From Reuters) [...]

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Belle La Note

Summer has rolled around, and it’s time for the restaurants to get flocked with new college graduates and families. We didn’t make reservation last time we went to La Note, and we thought we would have had to wait for 55 minutes. Luckily somebody cancelled theirs, so we only waited for 10 minutes to be seated at a little table near an old piano and a giant fly, looking out to the beaming afternoon on Shattuck Avenue. I’ve heard many good things about this cozy corner. I’ve walked past what I thought to be its main door countless times, wondering why the sign “Ferme” is always there and if La Note is ever opened. Finally, we’ve gotten behind those doors. We heard the girls giggling and commenting on its “cuteness”. We read the two-paged menu and saw the chalk board of daily specials. It feels bistroesque. Somehow we ended up ordering lasagna at a French restaurant, but it was one of the specials. I’ve had some boring moments with lasagna before, so I didn’t expect much from this Lasagna Bolognese. However, the creamy layers of pasta [...]

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Some crepes are better than others

My cravings fluctuate from time to time, and it’s not always rational. One time I bought two kilos of prunes, ate some for a few days, now the rest are sitting patiently in my pantry. Then I used to have a crush on chocolate bars, the result is an almost complete collection of Endangered Species Chocolate wrappers, but a few bars have been on my desk for over six months. As of late, I’ve grown a crepe tooth. A matchbox kitchen fifteen-minute leisure walk from Sather Tower, called Crepes A-Go-Go, is to blame. A quick drop of sound sizzles when the spatula folds and presses the fluffy layer. The oversize pancake lies supine. The heat is low. The quiet, stout chef casually sprinkles some Swiss cheese and some pineapple; he seems bored, or maybe I’m just too excited. I like my crepe soft and thick. Heck, I even like my banh xeo soft and thick, no matter how many people tell me that a qualified Vietnamese sizzling crepe should be crispy and paper thin. I watch the cheese melt. The chef lets the doughy pancake rest a [...]

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