Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Charm Rice & Noodle

It was a cold night, the kind of cold night I don't remember in November. (Can you tell I grew up in Southern California?) My thoughts were about something warm; my thoughts were about not going anywhere far away. The kitchen was the closest thing, of course, but I was not in the mood to cook. I suggested we try Charm, a relatively new Thai place in a Pasadena strip mall that I'd noticed not long ago on a trip to Subway.

It wasn't busy when we walked in. The guy behind the counter gave a sweeping gesture indicating that we could take whatever table we wanted.

We started with an order of Kanom Jeeb - chicken, shrimp and water chestnuts steamed in a wrapper. I liked this but Elizabeth did not. She is not a fan of water chestnuts, and she detected a tofu-like taste in the dumplings. (I did also, but that doesn't bother me like it does her.) So I got to eat most of these. I wouldn't mind getting them again, but I will explore other appetizers next time.

We also got some potstickers. The menu claims they are grilled but I saw no evidence of that; they seemed steamed just like the Kanom Jeeb had been. At any rate, they were very tasty and we devoured them.

The first of our entrees was the Khao Garlic Shrimp - shrimp sauteed with garlic sauce and fresh vegetables. Elizabeth liked these more than I did. I loved the veggies, but the garlic sauce was too salty for me and the tiny shrimp tasted like the defrosted-and-quickly-cooked shrimp that usually make me cringe, the kind of shrimp you get in a $1.99 Lean Cuisine.

The second entree was Khao Gai Tod - rice with crispy battered pieces of chicken and a sweet sauce. (I'd originally ordered a noodle dish but was told that was unavailable at the moment.) We both loved this. The batter was crunchy enough to rattle your teeth and the chicken was tender and juicy. The "sweet" sauce wasn't really sweet, which is a good thing. (Although in my experience, "sweet" often simply means something that isn't full of salt.) Neither of us would hesitate to order this again. 

I will certainly return to Charm at some point and try some more appetizers, and hopefully the noodles that I want will be available next time. It's not the best Thai food I've had, but it's good and it's very close by. And it warms me up on these frigid nights when the temperature gets below 65 degrees.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving Weekend Eats

Green Street Tavern
Last year I wrote this, but I will repeat it here (in fewer words): my parents got married on the day before Thanksgiving, so every year they celebrate on that Wednesday, regardless of the date. Their anniversary is a moveable feast. Last year we all went to Arroyo Chop House, a good dinner with the price tag that should have accompanied a great dinner.

This year my brother and I were discussing where to eat; his idea was The Melting Pot. I ate there once years ago and thought it was good but no more fun than eating Trader Joe's "Swiss Beer Fondue" at home. Then I got an email from Green Street Tavern. Every Wednesday night they pair dinner and a glass of wine - something they have chosen to complement the food. This week's was "Ribeye Steak & Tomaresca Neprica" for $21. I immediately knew that's where we were going.

My mom started by ordering a small bottle of champagne, her anniversary tradition, while my dad, brother, Elizabeth and I split a bottle of Campo Viejo Tempranillo.

Elizabeth and I split a bowl of their Conquistador bisque. In the past I have called this the best soup I have ever had, and it indeed was, but not on this occasion. It was still very good, but much saltier than I remembered it. Hopefully the recipe (or chef) hasn't changed.

My dad and brother each got orders of carpaccio to start. My brother called it good but not the best he's ever had. However, they both finished their plates without offering me a bite, so they must have enjoyed it plenty.

My brother ordered the raviolis, stuffed with ricotta and oregano and served with grilled green onions and romesco sauce. My brother said the flavors were outstanding but the raviolis had been sauteed after being cooked and they were too tough around the edges. But he cleaned the plate so I assume that was a minor complaint.
Elizabeth ordered the salmon. More than two years ago we ate dinner at GST and she had a piece of salmon that we both agreed was the best salmon either of us have ever had. The recipe isn't the same as it used to be, but it's still quite good.

My mom, dad and I all ordered the special. The meat was advertised as 8 ounces but I'm not sure what scale they were using; both my dad and I thought it was well over that weight. And it was delicious. On the side was a skewer of grilled potatoes and onions, some pears, braised kale, and a balsamic-mustard reduction. Getting this plate with the accompanying Italian red wine for $21 was a fantastic deal. 

Over the last few years we have changed the restaurants we eat at for this anniversay dinner (last year was Chop House, two years ago was Yujean Kang's, three years ago was Gale's, etc...) but I have a hunch we will be returning here next year.

Thanksgiving Dinner
Thursday afternoon, Elizabeth and I headed over to the house of our friends Ed and Dawn, in the upper canyon in Sierra Madre. We sat out on the patio for a while and admired the view, sipping wine and eating cheese.

There were about thirty people there, but enough food to feed twice that many.

Yes, I was kind of full from eating so much cheese, but it's still Thanksgiving, you know? I made myself a big plate and ate everything on it. This might set the record for most different things I've had on a plate at one time: ten.

November 28th, 1986: I saw Michael Jordan play in person for the first time. May 19th, 1995: I saw Dylan live for the first time. November 25th, 2010: I saw my first turducken. My life is now complete.

There is a joke here but it probably isn't funny to you if you don't know Ed. At any rate, I drank several Coors Lights after the wine.

One thing I've learned as I've gotten older is that once I have a beer, I shouldn't drink anything else for the rest of the night. So even though everyone was raving about this Frog's Leap wine, I didn't try any.
I ate way too much food to leave room for dessert, but I took pictures of Elizabeth's and our friend Min's desserts because, really, what would pictures of Thanksgiving dinner be without dessert pics?

The view does not suck.

Tops Chili Cheese Fries
We had spent the night at my parents' house, close to the party, so that we could have as much wine (and, uh, Coors Light) with dinner as we wanted, and also to watch the UCLA football game on Friday. Before the game I went down to Tops and got us some chili cheese fries, which Elizabeth had never tried before. She liked them just as much as I do. (The picture isn't great; I couldn't find my camera when leaving the party the night before so I had to use my phone's camera. Turns out the camera was hiding under a napkin and I was able to get it back Friday night.)

It was Tops, though, so of course there were plenty of leftovers. The next day we snacked on them - when I had my camera back in my possession - and I took one more photo. 

La Estrella
After seeing all my taco pictures the other day, Elizabeth very much wanted to go to La Estrella. So I took her there Saturday afternoon. She got two carnitas tacos; I got another of those pastor tacos that I loved so much and a fish taco. Everything was great - my fish taco was a massive pile of fresh, fried fish. I cannot believe I haven't been going to La Estrella for years.

Elizabeth loved the carnitas, and she echoed my thoughts: "If I'd have known how good fried pork is, I would have been eating it all this time."

I still wanted a little bite after my two tacos so I asked Elizabeth if she would split some boneless wings with me. We stopped by Church's and I ordered a six piece, sweet & spicy boneless wings. After a few minutes the guy behind the counter apologized and told me he dropped my wings on the floor. (He even showed me the trash can he'd thrown them in, as if somehow I might have suspected him of lying about that.)

So we waited a few more minutes and got our order: he had thrown in quite a few extra wings, I assume as an apology for making me wait so long. (Although the thought did occur to me that maybe he also gave me the wings he had dropped on the ground.) The wings were delicious, as always, although we had to do a couple errands after we ate and the leftover wings perfumed the car for the next 24 hours. 

We had a good plan for Saturday night - go out and have a couple drinks then go for a nice dinner somewhere. Almost like something grownups would do. But while we were at happy hour, I got caught up watching the USC-Notre Dame game, Elizabeth was enjoying pear martinis (I took a sip and hate to admit it was actually delicious) and long story short we ended up getting McNuggets and watching TV for our "romantic" evening. That's how we roll.

(BTW, when asked what kind of sauce I wanted to accompany my nuggets, I had replied "hot mustard," as I always do at McDonald's. But the girl gave me honey mustard, which I had never tried before. It turns out McDonald's honey mustard is actually quite tasty.)

Golden China
My brother came over on Sunday (with his truck) to help us get a Christmas tree. I offered to buy him lunch at Golden China as a thank you. I have written about Golden China several times; I have never had a bad meal there. This turned out to be quite an exception.

My brother did not want the egg flower soup or hot & sour soup that are served with the lunch specials. He asked if he could have wonton soup instead and was told no. He said he would like to order a side of wonton soup in addition to his lunch special. And the waiter had to pause and think about that before saying yes. At any rate, my brother said the soup was completely bland.

My brother ordered the sliced BBQ pork with broccoli. He ate the whole thing and said it was perfectly acceptable but that he could think of quite a few places cheaper and better. 

My egg roll was good as always, but the fried rice was bland and the salad hardly had any dressing on it.

Elizabeth got the pepper steak. As usually happens with her, this was the best dish of the meal. I ate several pieces. 

I got the orange chicken. I hardly ever order orange chicken anywhere, but I knew there was already going to be steak and pork on the table so I figured poultry would be a good choice. It was perhaps the worst orange chicken I have ever had - sickeningly sweet sauce, overcooked chicken, no crispiness to the batter. I will never order this again at Golden China.

"Sorry this wasn't a better lunch," I said to my brother. "It's usually much better than this."

"Yeah, I'm kind of wishing I hadn't agreed to help you," he said. (He was joking. I think.)

I ate a couple other meals this weekend, but we'll get around to those later. I hope you all had a great holiday weekend.