Category Archives: Not-so-cheap but Worth It

Song Fang Maison de The: A Lovely Teahouse in Shanghai’s French Concession

Possibly my favorite place in Shanghai, Song Fang Maison de The is a lovely teahouse in the French Concession featuring premium Chinese and French teas.  The teahouse is a labor of love from owner Florence Sampson, a Paris native and longtime Shanghai resident.  Every detail, from the vintage tin cans lining the shelves, to the old-fashioned Chinese bird cages hanging from bamboo rods on the ceiling, to the elegant floral patterned cushions, adds to the charm and whimsy of the shop.  You certainly pay a premium for the tea, priced at 40-70 RMB per pot, but it is certainly worth it for the quality of the tea an sheer loveliness of the shop.   

Partly because I am pressed for time, and partly because Song Fang is so pictureque, I will keep the descriptions short and let the photos speak for themselves. 

Song Fang’s signature tea tins 

Third floor seating area. 

Song Fang features both a Chinese and a French tea menu.  The above photo is of the Chinese tea set, with naixiang oolong cha.  The tea was very aromatic, with some floral and even milky notes.  My friend and I absolutely loved the tiny tea cup and the adorable frog ceramic teapot.   

The French teas are served in whimsical Western-style teaware.  I enjoyed the China Blue tea (60 RMB), a pleasantly fruity white tea with coconut, blackberry, and orange.  My friend and I also shared a slice of freshly baked peach cake (40 RMB), which was light, buttery, and utterly delectable.  

Despite the fairly steep prices, Song Fang Maison de The may be my favorite teahouse in Shanghai.  With its charming setting, high quality teas, and knowledgable staff, Song Fang is definitely worth paying a premium for.

Song Fan Maison de The
227 Yongjia Lu, near Shanxi Nan Lu
永嘉路227号, 近陕西南路
Shanghai 200031
(86 21) 6433-8283

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A Memorable Lunch at Blue Duck Tavern

As a summer associate at a law firm, I was lucky enough to go out to many fancy lunches over the past 2 months.  But at the end of it all, the one lunch that stands out most in my mind is Blue Duck Tavern, for its truly spectacular yet unpretentious American cuisine.

The interior is distinctively American, perhaps to reflect its cooking.  Old-fashioned rocking chairs and an open-style pantry greet guests at the front reception.  The expansive dining room features dark oak and wood paneling, and feels elegant without being stuffy or overly formal.

The meal began with the watermelon gazpacho, which I recently waxed poetic about in a previous post.  For my main dish, I  ordered the chilled lobster salad with frisee, avocado, grapefruit, and honey citrus vinaigrette ($15).  It was truly a delightful summer salad, featuring a substantial amount of lobster.  The honey citrus vinaigrette accented the sweetness of the lobster, and highlighted the citrus notes from the grapefruit.  Beautifully presented, and perfectly executed.

We shared a couple sides as well.  The roasted asparagus ($10), topped with bacon, a hard cheese (perhaps parmesan or grana padano), and egg was crisp and slightly charred on the outside, and perfectly seasoned.  Surprisingly, the daily harvest vegetables ($9) were also delicious.  I was expecting your typical boring sauteed vegetables (which is probably why I didn’t take a photo), but what arrived was a gorgeous plate of buttery sugar snap peas and carrots.  The simple preparation–butter, salt, pepper, and a sprinkling of fresh herbs–really highlighted the freshness of the vegetables.

Of course, we had to order the infamous hand cut BDT triple fries ($10), which are quite extravagantly fried in duck fat.  We felt a bit miffed when only a handful of fries arrived at the table, but be warned–a few fries are more than enough.  The fries are very thick-cut and rich, yet not greasy at all.  Definitely worth ordering if you have never tried duck fat fries, but not a dish for the faint of heart or calorie-counters.

I’ll admit we went a bit crazy on desserts.  But at $9 each for a sizeable, delectable portion, the desserts at Blue Duck Tavern seem to be a good deal.  Though I glanced over this at first, the milk chocolate banana s’mores ended up being my favorite of the three desserts.  It was more of a deconstructed interpretation of a s’more, with crumbled graham crackers on the bottom, a caramelized banana custard, and a homemade marshmallow on top.  The marshmallow was blowtorched just before arriving at our table, and had slightly smoky flavor, which accentuated the caramelized banana custard nicely.  Overall, it wasn’t an overly sweet dessert, which is what I normally think of when I think of s’mores.

The chocolate cake with sour cherries was quite decadent and fudgey, but nothing too memorable.  I did enjoy that it was served warm, along with the cold whipped cream on the side.

The apple pie was much larger than we expected, and easily could have been shared by 4 people.  I loved the caramelized sugar on the crust, which added a divine crispiness.  The apple filling was much tarter than usual, and in my opinion, a bit dry.  I like my apple pie filling gooey, or smothered in a bit of just-melted vanilla ice cream.

If you are looking for someplace to host a special meal, Blue Duck Tavern should certainly be your pick.

Blue Duck Tavern
1201 24th St. NW
Washington, DC 20037
(202) 419-6755
Blue Duck Tavern on Urbanspoon

Splendid Sunday Brunch at Supper

As I’ve said before, I’m not a huge fan of brunch.  It takes a lot to excite me enough to write a review on eggs and pancakes.  But every now and then, there are some brunches that blow me away, that have me swearing I’ll wake up early every Sunday morning for it.  Brunch at Supper had this very effect on me.

Both the ambience and the food make Supper one of the most pleasant dining experiences in Philly.  The restaurant is deceptively spacious.  Boasting two floors, the first floor is bustling and lively, with patrons sipping bloody marys at the bar and eager diners watching chef Mitch Prensky and co. in action through the open kitchen.  By contrast, the second floor offers a much quieter, more serene environment, perfect for a relaxing and leisurely Sunday brunch.

Even more splendid than the setting was the elegantly rustic brunch fare.  Chef Mitch Prensky incorporates local, seasonal ingredients and Southern flavor into his dishes, updating many tired, overdone brunch classics into something magical.  Take his Supper Benny ($15), for example.  While retaining the requisite poached eggs and hollandaise sauce, he replaces the english muffin with buttery grit cakes and adds mustard greens and country ham, which is more reminiscent of prosciutto than Honeybaked.  The result is better than the original, especially with the sides of crispy breakfast potatoes and crusty bread.


The same can be said for Supper’s chilaquiles navidad ($14) and dixie biscuit ($13).  The chilaquiles were zesty and smoky, with the addition of chorizo and tomatillo-braised corn tortillas.  Two perfectly poached eggs sat atop the tortillas, making for a hearty meal.

The dixie biscuit was even heartier (and artery clogging, in a good way): two scrambled eggs, country ham, and pimento cheese tucked inside a flaky buttery biscuit, served with creamy grits on the side.  It was love at first bite with the biscuit, and the grits were addictively delicious.

In addition to savory egg dishes, Supper offers “sweet stuff” as well, including red velvet waffles, gingerbread pancakes, and a cereal buffet.  I will definitely be back to try the rest of the menu.  And when I do, I’ll blame Supper for successfully converting me into a brunch addict.

Supper
926 South St.
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 592-8180
Supper on Urbanspoon

**Note: Just fyi, this is my 100th post!  Thanks to my readers for your support!

Komi: The Meal of a Lifetime

Words (or my words, at least) cannot do Komi the justice it deserves. How can I even attempt to describe the epic 19-course tasting menu (plus wine pairings) that, for once, left me speechless from its brilliance? I’ll try to keep this post short and sweet and keep my gushing to a minimum.

Komi chef and owner Johnny Monis has created a gastronomic temple to his native Meditteranean cuisine, putting his own flair and technique on a mesmerizing array of Greek-inspired dishes since the restaurant’s opening in 2004. At 7 years old, Monis knew he wanted to be a chef. His first taste of the industry was working at his parents’ pizza restaurant in Alexandria. He workes at the venerable McCrady’s Restaurant in Charleston, SC and headed the kitchen at Chef Geoff’s before venturing out on his own to open Komi.

At Komi, diners play entirely by Monis’ rules, which luckily, tends to be in the former’s favor. Monis offers one $125 set menu, which begins with a series of light mezzethakia (Greek for small plates) and progresses to heavier, more substantial main dishes. Of course, he will accomodate diners with dietary restrictions or allergies; but if it’s simply a matter of not wanting to try new ingredients, then take my advice and trust Monis. Adventurous eaters will be more than rewarded.

Unfortunately, another one of Monis’ rules is no photography allowed in the restaurant–which means I’ve got to rely on good old-fashioned writing to describe the meal. While every single one of the nineteen courses was fantastic, there are a few that really stood out to me:

  • Taramosalata: A bite-sized sphere of warm, toasted brioche topped with Greek yogurt, chives, and roe. The roe brought a salty brininess that was both enhanced and subdued by the cool, slightly tart yogurt.
  • Sorbet: Not your average palate-cleansing sorbet. Shiso leaf sorbet sat atop a bed of cold smoked salmon, with candied pine nuts interspersed. Beautiful interplay of textures and flavors: intense sweetness from the sorbet balanced by the salty salmon, with accents of crunchy pine nuts throughout.
  • Souvlaki: I mistakenly thought souvlaki could only be made out of chicken, but boy, was I wrong. Monis served his using pork belly–perfectly seared and crisp on the outside, luscious and fatty on the inside. My boyfriend and I wished we could have eaten 10 more of these.
  • Tagliatelle with sausage, mushrooms, and blueberries: An unlikely flavor combination that was breathtaking in its exquisiteness. Every element of this dish just worked: the handmade pasta melted in your mouth, the housemade sausage added gentle heat to the dish, and mushrooms and blueberries provided earthy notes that brought everything together.
  • Katsikaki: Komi’s infamous roasted goat shoulder. I’m not usually a fan of goat; I find it too gamey and stringey. But Komi’s rendition converted me. The meat was so tender, falling off the bone with a mere poke of the fork. The exterior also had a nice crust, full of zesty, salty flavor. Served with an aray of condiments (eggplant puree, oregano salt, hot sauce, pickled cabbage) and the best, doughiest, butter-laden pita bread I’ve ever had, it was certainly the most memorable and surprising dish of the evening. No wonder it’s one of their signature dishes.
  • Loukoumades: I became a devotee of these Greek donuts drizzled in honey after the Saint Sophia Greek Festival. Komi’s version stayed true to the original, pairing them with Greek yogurt gelato. A whimsical tribute to Monis’ ancestral home and a lovely way to end the meal.

That, my friends, was not even half of the meal! It was a truly epic evening of marathon eating.

We gilded the lily even more by opting for the wine pairing ($68). Sommelier Kathryn Bangs chose 5 wines for us, starting with a sparkling white and progressing from there. My favorites were the Refosco/Mavrodaphne Mercouri Estate, Ilia Greece 2004 and the Moscato Blend, “Bigaro” Elio Perrone, Italy 2009. The refosco was a pleasant red that tasted almost like it had tropical flavors–hints of banana even. And the Moscato was divine–a crisp, ambrosial effervescent dessert wine. This ruby-red dessert wine was truly a gem: floral, light, and refreshing.

The service and the decor made us feel right at home. Servers were always on hand to refill water glasses and answer any questions about the food, never doing so in a pretentious manner. And with only 12 tables in its spare yet inviting dining room, Komi provides one of the most intimate dining experiences in DC. It’s exclusive without being snobby, lavish without being over the top–traits seen far less often than they should be at restaurants of this caliber.

And now, the million dollar question (or more precisely, the $193+tax question): is Komi worth the hefty price tag? I will admit, I hesitated many times about making the reservation, and vacillated between ordering the wine pairing or not. It’s just so expensive, I thought, how could one meal be worth that much?

But after that revelatory 19-course meal, where every course was even more extraordinary than the last, I can wholeheartedly say…YES.  It’s worth it if you have the means or a special occasion to go. (Like the Obamas’ date night .  Or I went for my birthday! And it was truly a memorable birthday at that. Here’s to hoping Komi needs a poster girl in the near future!)

Komi

1509 17th St. NW

Washington, DC 20036

(202) 332-9200

Komi on Urbanspoon

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LA Edition: A Tam Good Christmas

The Tam

Since I arrived home to LA, I’ve been a bit of a Scrooge. Even though I had ample time to prepare for the holidays, they still snuck up on me all of a sudden. Plus, I was sad to miss last weekend’s massive snowstorm! I would have loved to build a snowman or pelt people in the Snowpacalypse Guerilla Snowball Fight on U St. I called my DC friends for updates and watched news reports on the storm longingly from LA, where it was a warm and sunny 70 degrees. Despite being a California native and spending every Christmas in palm tree-laden LA, I felt like I was missing out on a real White Christmas.

I was in dire need of some Christmas spirit and, luckily for me, it came in the form of dinner at the Tam O’ Shanter. Lovingly know by locals as “the Tam,” this LA institution has been serving up prime rib for over 80 years. The Tam is the oldest restaurant in LA to operated by the same family in the same location–which means, the food and the service is deliciously tried and true.

The Tam's festive entryway

Over the holidays, the Tam O’Shanter transforms itself into a bastion of holiday cheer. Fully trimmed Christmas trees and bouquets of poinsettias adorn every room, a roaring fire greets visitors in the front, and (my favorite part) carolers mill through the dining rooms, taking requests for holiday songs from each and every table. (We requested “Feliz Navidad” and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” this year!) Needless to say, the Tam is the premiere place for family gatherings over the holidays, so I suggest you get your reservation in early.

The carolers in full holiday regalia!

My family goes to the Tam every year for the holidays with our close friend, and every year, the food and service is excellent. This year was no exception. I ordered the cream of mushroom soup and braised beef short ribs with mashed potatoes and creamed corn.

Braised beef short ribs: tender to the bone

The soup was rich and creamy, with a nice earthiness added by the mushrooms. The short ribs were so tender they fell apart with the slightest touch of my fork, and paired well with the buttery mashed potatoes and sweet creamed corn.

Other dishes of note included the juicy California cut of prime rib (a smaller cut) served with Yorkshire pudding, mashed potatoes, and creamed corn and a lighter Mahi Mahi dish. For dessert, make sure to order one of their signature souffles. The souffle flavors that night were peach and chocolate, and of course, we ordered both. They were simply TO DIE FOR: light as air, full of flavor, served hot with a huge dollop of freshly whipped cream. The souffles take 45 min. to prepare, so make sure to order them ahead of time.   (Sorry no photo is available–the waitress cut and served the souffles before I had time to take one! But trust me: it was heavenly.)

I left the Tam full of red meat and Christmas cheer. Though prices at the Tam are not the cheapest (entrees cost between $18-30), I think the splurge is definitely worth it. The ingredients are high quality, service is top notch, and plus, how can you resist being serenaded tableside by carolers?! For a festive holiday experience that is as close to a white Christmas as LA can get, hurry over to the Tam O’Shanter before the end of the holiday season!

The Tam's infamous prime rib

The Tam O’Shanter Inn

2980 Los Feliz Boulevard (across from Best Buy/Costco)
Los Angeles, California 90039
(323) 664-0228

Tam O'Shanter Inn on Urbanspoon

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

(Photo courtesy of http://washington.org/restaurantwk/)

It’s the hap-happiest season of all–and I’m not talking about Christmas. Every winter for one week only, Washington restaurants participate in Winter Restaurant Week, offering 3-course prix fixe menus for $20.10 at lunch and $35.10 at dinner. This year’s event will take place Jan. 11-17, 2010 and reservations are already filling up fast.  For a full list of participating restaurants, click here.

My advice for diners on a budget who are looking to get the best value: If you have the time, go for lunch, because most restaurants serve the same menu for lunch and dinner. Save the tapas restaurants (Jaleo, La Tasca) for another time–you probably won’t spend $35.10 each on tapas anyway. Conversely, if there is a fancy and expensive restaurant you have been dying to try, Winter Restaurant Week is the perfect time to make a reservation.

I’ve already made a reservation at Art and Soul and am SO excited! I’m still trying to decide on one more place…any suggestions from readers??