Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Meal with Emil: China Poblano

It all started with this window and two cute Chinese ladies making steamed buns.  They were eyeing Emil as we pushed him by in the stroller, smiling & waving.  Ryan & I smile back, but our gazes don't meet their eyes. We kept walking, but we were both thinking about those delicious-looking buns.  

Emil was not having a good day, or a good weekend for that matter! The Kalama Brothers were in town to play the Ohana Festival at Springs Preserve.  The Vegas shows always becomes an Ohana festival, with so many in our family living there!  Our visit with them was a bright spot in an otherwise challenging trip. We blamed teething, but there was very little sleep happening in our room.  In desperation, around 7am I offer to take a walk with Emil so Daddy could get some sleep.  A Downtown Vegas hotel/casino is not a very baby friendly place to take a morning stroll.  We zigzagged around trying to dodge smokers and shady characters.  We walked outside in search of fresh air, but only found ourselves searching for shade.  We searched in vain for a Starbucks :( The scene was equally tragic at Springs shade in sight. What are they 'preserving' anyway? Astroturf? San Clemente weather has ruined me for the rest of the country...Vegas, how do you do it? I really should have made time for breakfast, but I was mentally 'saving myself' for some ono grinds at the Ohana Fest.  Instead, we found some sad excuse for curry chicken katsu slopped over jasmine rice...and this was the best looking option!, sleep deprived, hungry.  I attempt to nurse Emil with a dry, sweaty teat.  It is every bit as terrible as it sounds. Ryan & I look at each other in desperation. "I think we made a big mistake", shaking our heads in our hands. Parenting is hard, and our hunger only escalates the problems. Tomorrow is a new day.

 "Today, we eat like kings!", I say clearly with something to prove.    
Which brings me back to those beautiful buns :)  Only when the baby drifted off to sleep (finally!), did we give in to their deliciousness.  Sometimes, a nap can turn the whole day around. This nap literally turned us around! This was our chance! We change directions, walking back to the Cosmopolitan hotel and directly to the hostess at Jose Andres's China Poblano.  Table for two please, and room for a stroller.
Noodle bar meets taco stand, I'm still not really sure what brings Chinese & Mexican food together. I say this even after reading an old legend on the menu about an Asian girl brought to Mexico by pirates. Jose Andres brought the two cuisines together, and both were delicious...that's enough for me. I loved that the front window on the Mexico side of the kitchen also operated as a taco stand serving 'street food' to the crowds walking through the hotel! Nice touch.
I'm feeling better already, as we survey the menu. We tried to give each side of the kitchen equal opportunity, so we ordered 2 items from both the Chinese & Mexican menus.  I love small plates and sharing, and this menu was great for that.  Things just came out of the kitchen as they were ready, so it was a surprise to see what dish would be next. I loved the Tuna Ceviche. Beautifully fresh ahi, amaranth seeds, 
soy sauce & pecans, which offered a delicious crunch.  I really enjoyed the temperature of this dish...nicely chilled.  The most deceptively challenging rule in cooking is hot food hot, cold foods cold.  Sounds easy enough, but with the hustle bustle of a busy kitchen, things happen.  This ceviche was presented on ice..problem solved. 
The noodle dish was a daily special, so some of the server's description escapes me.  Buckwheat noodles & black pepper...honestly, too much black pepper.  While the daily special may have been a tad forgettable, I can vividly recollect Lengua Tacos! I know some of you out there are instantly puckering in distaste, tongue tacos? Tongue can be quite tasty...try it! Since tongue is a tough muscle, it requires a rather long cooking time to become tender.  This Lengua taco was perfectly tender, shred-able beef  topped with a salsa pasilla & what I thought to be not quite enough radish.  I like radishes :) 
China Poblano calls these little beauties "When Pigs Fly", delicate steamed buns filled with Chinese BBQ pork.  The Hawaiians call this dish Manapua, the Chinese call it Cha Siu Bao (bao means bun) and serve it with Dim Sum. I have my husband Ryan to thank for my intro to this Hawaiian favorite.  Awesome food is yet another perk of marrying a Polynesian! Honestly, I haven't had a bad Manapua yet! I love the softness as a result of the steaming, paired with the nice texture of the yeast dough...delectable little clouds.  I thought this version had a nice ratio of bun to pork. They tasted every bit as good as I had imagined, walking by that window salivating.  I feel revived. We had our reward. 

Our respite was brief, as Emil soon woke up, grunting at us for tastes of everything.  Luckily, it was enough.  We felt renewed! A well-timed meal (along with a well-timed nap) can turn the whole day around.  Those beautiful little steamed buns, and all the deliciousness that came along with, were like a symbol of hope in a dark moment of parenting.  It's tiring, it's testing to our every fiber of patience, but we will be sustained...this time in the form of a delightful pork filled dough ball :)

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Meal with Emil, No Kid Hungry

    Being the wifey of a starving artist does have its perks. Over the years, I've learned to tag along to only the best events.  Luau in 95 degree Fallbrook in July? No thanks. Share Our Strength's Taste of the Nation event at Montage Laguna Beach? Now we're talking :) 
    This is the 6th year the Kalama Brothers have played for this great cause, ending childhood hunger! It's been so fun to watch this event blossom over the years from a small gathering in a park on a rainy night to a culinary showpiece at a 5 star resort.  My husband is always so happy to donate his time & talents for this worthy cause! In previous years, I've volunteered too...I had hoped to rub elbows with Alan Wong.  Instead I polished & stacked champagne glasses.  I'll happily tackle almost anything, I didn't mind! 
    This year is different. "You're going to bring Emil, right?" says Judy, the event chair.  Would you let me in without him? "No, but I didn't want to say it that way" she says.  So, I take my 7 month old to a fancy schmancy food event...this should be interesting.
    Who doesn't love a nice hotel?  The Montage Laguna Beach is as nice as it gets!  I've never spent the night here yet, but my dining & event experiences with the place have been very memorable!  Upon pulling up to valet, the gentleman tells me he has a little something for Emil, please step inside.  From behind the lobby desk, he pulls out a red radio flyer wagon FILLED with toys!  I can tell these toys can sub as both kid/dog toys.  Emil chooses the pink octopus...grasping for those eight long legs & instantly putting them in his mouth.  For a moment, the valet guy looks at me, waiting for me to react to my son's choice of a pink toy, "He is secure with pink", I say, moving on.  Smart move Montage...bribery is EVERYTHING in the kid world. 
It's amusing to watch my husband try to hit all the different dishes in the short amount of time he has before performing.  He is very goal oriented during this time...8 chefs, 35 minutes.  It's amusing to watch me play the role of the human octopus...carrying Emil, my purse, my wine, and my beloved food all at once.  I'm feeling bad for using the adjective 'beloved' before food, and not my son. Ok, Emil is beloved too.  
See that look in his eye as he admires the food?  Ok, now he resembles me!! It didn't take this kid long to figure out that Mama & Dada are eating the good stuff.  I'm already caving to the demands of a 7 month old...I gave him tastes of Chef Chris Crary's (from Top Chef Season 9) Uni & Almond panna cotta (with caviar, peas, pickled beets and crispy potatoes). As long as it appears to be something I'm enjoying, he wants some.  
Chef Josiah Citrin of 2-Michelin star Mélisse served Veal loin with celtuce, sea vegetables, and sorrel.  I dont have nearly as much wine as I would prefer.  Not even pumping & dumping can relieve a job that starts at 6am every morning without fail.  Have I finally learned moderation? 

Ok, after several years of experience, I can tell you Chef Alan Wong always has the longest line!  I don't just say this because I have a penchant for Hawaiians...his food is delicious!  This year, Steamed Opakapaka with pork hash & ginger.  The light & flakey fish paired with a savory pork hash?...Decadent!! 
Chef Craig Strong from the Montage's Studio used my favorite Mango Sage Honey from VR Green Farms in San Clemente for his gastrique on his scallop dish.  I've been using that honey in my panna cotta for a few years now!  Am I finally ahead of a curve?  

Montage's Pastry Chef Lee Smith celebrated the strawberry (again this year, but that's not a complaint!). Strawberry Risotto with white chocolate & citrus olive oil, Frozen Strawberry Creme Fraiche Push Up Pops, and English Scones with Devonshire cream & jam!  

Oh, the cheese. Straight up food porn! Even as I'm enjoying this beautiful evening (and I must say, the most well-behaved baby ever), I realize that Emil probably won't be invited next year.  Big difference between 6 months & 18 months!  'That's ok' I think, as I lean back & sip my wine.   Next year this time, I'll might be ready to ditch him for a couple hours! I go back for a 2nd Strawberry Creme Fraiche push pop, and resolve to just enjoy the moment.  Pretty easy to do. 

A Meal with Emil

My poor neglected blog, it's been a whole year!! Forgive me as I play a bit of catch up! Here's my only excuse. I spent a few months interning as a dairy cow, and the schedule was quite demanding :)  There is now another little insatiable appetite in our house, which has added even more fun to our adventures in eating! Our son Emil is acclimating very quickly.  After all, to borrow the phrase of a wise 10 year old, "He's not just a snack, he's A-meal!".
The first few months were spent just trying to keep everyone fed.  Sounds easy enough, but at 6am I was usually tripping over the cat demanding his morning 'treat', while searching for my nursing pillow as Emil wails in the background.   Feeding the adults is a whole other takes a little practice to get dinner on the table while caring for a newborn! That said, I ate lots of yummy stuff in the name of 'keeping my milk supply up'. Want to know the best gift ever for a new Mom? My neighbors & friends organized a dinner delivery schedule when we got home from the hospital!  They went totally overboard and brought us dinner for like, 10 days!  Ten days!? Of course I had to bake some treats to say Thank You :)
We always said we would try to take full advantage of those first few months of eternal slumber...when babies will sleep anywhere, blissfully unaware of their surroundings.  So, I bellied up to the sushi bar with Emil slumbering in the sling.  When he wanted to be held during dinner, Rybo got creative while eating his soup (please don't try that at home. Eating soup while holding a baby isn't the best idea we've had). Pretty soon, I discovered I had lots of time for cooking at home too!  We have been blessed, Emil is a great sleeper!  He naps, I cook :) 
Secretly, I feared getting a picky eater baby.  Mother nature has a sense of humor like that, you know? So far, Emil has been eager to receive 'tastes' of just about anything we are eating.  I'm surprised I'm not more uptight about what he's eating, but with no family history of food allergies, my intuition told me it was ok.  The only thing I have tried to stay away from is honey...infant botulism doesn't sound like something to mess around with.  

And we're off...into this colorful world of messy mealtimes, disturbances during dinners, and more fun than we were ever having before!  Its as if my whole life I needed WAY more for WAY less enjoyment in the end.  Truth be told, seeing my baby grin at me, avocado smeared ear to ear, is all the happiness in the world.  Now I know :)