Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wedding Feast - Fifth of Six for 2010

A month or so ago, I attended Judy and Sam's wedding reception at Casa-Imperial Fine Chinese Cuisine (名門金宴)near Warden & Steeles in Scarborough. The couple is a family friend of mine and I'm extremely happy to see them finally tie the knot. They are a perfect match and really deserve to be with each other! Judy and Sam have since relocated to Vancouver to start their new lives together *BOO!*, but I'm glad that I will have a place to stay when I do go visit there *HINT HINT!* LOL =D

Casa Imperial is not your typical Chinese restaurant / banquet hall. First of all, it is not in a Chinese plaza - instead, Casa Imperial is located in a stand-alone, classic and old-style house. with a pull in driveway and its own parking lot. Nothing else is attached to it. This exact location was also a steakhouse before (which I've never been).

Secondly, the ambiance in the restaurant is a lot more quiet and subdued compared to your usual Chinese receptions. The decor inside is all very "Victorian". There is no indication that you are in a Chinese restaurant at all. Check out the lamps, mirrors...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!

Every year, it is a tradition that my mom and I make mooncakes for Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節). We make them around 1-2 weeks before the actual day because the mooncakes are not ready to eat right away - they need time to "settle".  We make around 50-60 mooncakes every year to give to friends, relatives, and also for ourselves to enjoy. We also take orders too. One year, we made over 100 mooncakes because a lot of our friends ordered from us. Yes, they are THAT good! Once people try our mooncakes, they always come back and tell us that the quality of our mooncakes is far better than the commercial ones. My Mom and I make the traditional kind of mooncakes, lotus seed paste (considered to be the most luxurious kind of filling) with two/three/four yokes. No contemporary, "healthy version" mooncakes for us. I mean, come on, it is only once a year that you get to eat mooncakes, might as well indulge on the traditional ones! Props to Ray for the lovely picture on the left =)

What makes our mooncakes so much better than the ones that you find at commercial outlets is that we use 100% lotus paste, as pure as it gets with no additives whatsoever. The mooncakes they sell in restaurants / bakeries / supermarkets contain "watered-down" versions of lotus paste, which is necessary for them to cut costs (they often use white kidney bean paste as filler). This is because lotus seed paste is EXPENSIVE! But since our mooncakes are homemade, we do NOT cut corners. Therefore, our mooncakes are very moist, rich and dense, unlike the dry and hard mooncakes you find elsewhere. We also throw away egg yolks that are not in perfect condition -they need to be big, round, with a nice golden orange color. My mom gets these salted duck eggs and lotus seed paste straight from a supplier that supplies to numerous Chinese restaurants in the GTA.

Lotus seed paste.

Salted duck egg yolks that were first rinsed with Chinese wine then placed in the oven.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Post 12: Curry Soon Tofu at BCD Tofu House

Last day in L.A =( For lunch that day, my brother took me to BCD Tofu House. He has been to BCD Tofu House before on a previous trip to L.A. and wanted me to try it out. Apparently BCD Tofu House is quite popular in California. It is a chain that was first established in L.A back in 1996, and since then has expanded to Korea, Japan, and various Southern California locations. I find it impressive how BCD Tofu House actually started in the U.S. and went expanded back to Asia (most food franchises work the other way around). So props to Hee Sook Lee (CEO of BCD Tofu House)Hey, maybe BCD Tofu House will eventually make their way to Canada too, who knows.

"We sold over 10 Millions of Tofu Soup". Gahhhhhhhhh! They need to check for grammar!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Post 11: Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ

Gyu-Kaku is a pretty well-known Japanese BBQ chain in the United States. They have numerous locations in California, Chicago, New York, and Hawaii. They have over 700 locations worldwideLike I said in the my previous posts, people in the States really seem to love table top grilling and is definitely more popular there than in Toronto.

After coming back from our SF/Napa Valley/Yosemite road trip, we were yearning for some good Asian food once again. Our family friend took us to Gyu-Kaku at Huntington Beach for their Happy Hour Special.

This particular location is opened for lunch everyday from 11:30am with your choice of BBQ lunch sets, all-you-can-eat courses and lunch time happy-hour.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Post 10: Yosemite National Park --> The Cheesecake Factory in Fresno

Early next morning, after having our complimentary breakfast at the hotel, we started our drive to Yosemite National Park. We all felt really refreshed after a good long night's rest and were ready to do some nature-y stuff and enjoy the outdoors. The whole ride there was very scenic and beautiful. We were essentially on mountain roads the whole time; the turns and the hilly ups and downs made the whole ride anything but boring (huge contrast to the boring straight highway roads we were used to). It definitely kept my brother awake for the whole 1.5 - 2 hour drive!

A picture of the mountains (taken from inside the car).

Yosemite National Park is one of the first wilderness parks in the United States and is best known for its waterfalls.  Within its nearly 1,200 square miles, there are also deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, and a vast wilderness area. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Post 9: Diamondback Grill in Sonora --> Columbia State Historic Park

Not much went on during the day after we left Robert Mondavi Winery. Our original plan was to visit Yosemite Park later on that day, but the drive from Napa Valley to Yosemite was a lot further than we thought, and when we checked in at our hotel at Yosemite, the concierge told us Yosemite Park is still an hour to an hour and a half away from the hotel, and that it is better for us to wake up early the next day and go to the park then. Boo-urns...a waste of a day for sure. Well, nothing we can do about this, except to go visit the "downtown" of this little town called Sonora.

We walked around a bit, trying to figure out a decent place to eat. Not many good restaurants there it seems. We stopped in front of Diamondback Grill, peered inside the windows, a bit hesitant to go in. While we were lingering outside the place, a local walked by us and told us that Diamondback Grill is the place to go, that the food is really good, and we won't regret it (or something along those lines). Well that was all it took for us to venture inside and give this little restaurant a try.

When we walked in, we were reassured that this place couldn't be TOO bad since there were quite a bit of people there already (couldn't see pass the glass windows when we were outside because of the reflection).

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Post 8: Carpe Diem Wine Bar --> Robert Mondavi Winery

By the time we were done at Artesa Winery, it was close to 4pm. Most wine tours end around that time so we needed to occupy ourselves with something to do before dinner. We dropped by Napa Premium Outlets, walked around a bit (didn't buy anything but was very close to at Cole Haan hehe), and headed to downtown Napa for food around an hour or so later. 

Downtown Napa is really really small, and honestly not much to do or see there. But we figured anywhere downtown is worth a visit. My brother wanted to go to a wine bar and Carpe Diem was the one we finally ventured into. It was still relatively early at the time, so the dining room was pretty deserted, whereas the bar near the entrance was filled with people.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Post 7: Artesa Winery at Napa Valley --> Boon Fly Cafe for Lunch

The next day morning, we left San Francisco and headed towards Napa Valley Wine Country. I don't know too much about wine, but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy it! I've been to a few wine tours at Niagara and was extremely looking forward to going on a wine tour at Napa Valley (haven't been to one outside Niagara). 

When I say I don't know too much about wine, I really don't; my limited knowledge consists of knowing what I like, and what I don't like.

Red Wine
Like - Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon
Dislike - Merlot

Like - Pinot Grigio, Riesling
Dislike - Chardonnay

Knowing what I like and dislike is usually sufficient since I'm not trying to be a wine connoisseur or anything =D

We headed to Artesa Winery after checking into our hotel. Artesa was a winery highly recommended by the concierge at our hotel. 

The architecture of the winery was incredibly stunning and beautiful. In order to not ruin the pictures with my at most "average" vocab, I'm going to take the words from Artesa's website where they described their Winery:

"Artesa Winery is a study in the harmony of natural and manmade spaces. Designed by renowned Barcelona architect Domingo Triay and built in the early 1990's, the avant-garde structure was conceived to blend seamlessly with the surrounding landscape.

The naturally insulated winery is set into the highest hill of its 350-acre estate, with a protective covering of reserved earth and native grasses. A sweeping staircase set between twin cascades of water and fountains leads to the winery entrance..."

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Post 6: San Francisco Japantown --> Ramen at Tanpopo

The Japan Center, or Japantown (Nihonmachi), in San Francisco, is home to numerous of shops, boutiques, restaurants and other businesses that provide tourists (as well as locals) a chance to explore Japanese culture right in the city. Click here if you are interested in reading more about the history of Japantown and how it came to be.

When we arrived to Japantown, a lot of stores were already closed for the day. After spending a full day at Fisherman's Wharf, we took the cable car back to the city and rested at the hotel a bit before coming out to Japantown, so it was around 6 something by the time we went. Super cloudy skies and it even started raining. Rain! In San Francisco in August! It was almost unheard of =(

Anyway, it wasn't hard for us to find parking in Japantown. Probably because it was a weeknight. We parked at Laguna street =)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Post 5: Pier 39 at Fisherman's Wharf --> Dreyer's Ice Cream

After lunch at Scoma's, we were all feeling a bit warmer and ready to venture outside. Still overcast skies though but thankfully no rain. Pretty packed with tourists as we walked down Fisherman's Wharf. Lots of gift shops, street performers, and various things to see along the way to Pier 39. I can imagine how nice it would be to walk around on a warm sunny day. Too bad =( It's okay, it just makes me that much more determined to go back to San Francisco in the near future.

This post will mostly consist of some pictures I took at Fisherman's Wharf but will also include a little snack I got at Pier 39: Dreyer's Ice Cream. I used to have Dreyer's when I was in Hong Kong (before I immigrated to Canada) and since Canada doesn't carry Dreyer's Ice Cream I was excited to see it at the Pier. Although I was super full from my ahi tuna sandwhich, I needed to get it, at the cost of possibly not having an appetite for dinner.

Along the way to Pier 39, which is practically the opposite end of where we had lunch, there were a few places that I stopped by. One of them is this chocolate / candy store. Loved the chandeliers in there, made the place so "enchanting" and "magical" =)

Friday, September 3, 2010

Post 4: Riding on the Cable Car --> Scoma's

Cable car! A MUST for any San Francisco trip in my opinion. I guess many people think the same way as me since the line up to BUY the cable car tickets and the line up to GET ON the cable car altogether probably took an hour and a half (on a Tuesday at 10 in the morning). Remember, it was cold and windy that day too and many tourists still ventured out (I guess we also had a lot of time on our hands). The fare is  $5 each way and we took the cable car all the way to Fisherman's Wharf. $5 probably seems a bit steep for a one way fare but it was totally worth it. Believe me. If you do go make sure you find room on the side of the cable car so you can stand on the edge like in the movies (if it gets filled up just wait for the next cable car).

Speaking of movies, when I see these cable cars it reminds me of the TV show FULL HOUSE way back in the day. You know when they show the streets and houses of San Fran at the beginning? And the whole gang on the cable car? Yeah. For some reason whenever I see cable cars I will immediately think of that show (and then go on to think about how innocent those Olsen twins were and how they are now). 

Here's a picture of my feet =D

The San Fran streets are pretty crazy to say the least - the ups and downs, the narrow and steep roads - there were times when it felt like I was on a roller coaster going down those streets ...I felt my heart lift up outta my chest!  That's how steep it was

It would be nuts if Toronto had these streets, or any place with snow for that matter. I also think about about parallel parking uphill on these streets driving a manual car, and how stressed out I would be if I had to do that everyday.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Post 3: Patxi's Chicago Pizza in San Francisco

We arrived in San Francisco the next day around 5pm. The drive from L.A. to San Fran was quite long, especially due to the mad traffic getting out of L.A. Doesn't matter what time of day, L.A. is full of traffic >_<

Holy crap, San Fran was freeeeezing when we were there (I know I sound like such a whiner right now haha).  Like I was telling everybody when I got back, the locals had on fall jackets (saw a guy with a down jacket actually) and wool hats, and the people with T-shirts and shorts were the ill-prepared tourists. And this was August people....AUGUST!!! Where did their summer go??? The locals said this year is messed up in terms of weather, yeah tell me about it, it was only around 12 degrees Celsius when we got there and what made it worse was the crazy gusty wind. 

Anyway after checking in to the hotel, we just wanted some good food nearby. Nearby is the key because it was way too cold to venture far. The concierge suggested a Japanese restaurant, a Thai restaurant, a pizza place, and a steakhouse nearby. Since we already had Thai yesterday night, and weren't feeling Japanese or steak, we decided on pizza. The concierge recommended Patxi's, which he claims is the best pizza in the area.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Post 2 : Yakitori Crazy at Kappo Honda

After doing some major outlet shopping the second day at Desert Hills Premium Outlet, we were pretty beat. It was hot that day (the outlet is literally in the middle of a desert) and it was huge (there was a east wing and a west wing). Although we spent almost the whole day there (necessary for there is 130 stores), I only bought a pair of sandals. Not much sales going on at the time since it was still August, and hot, so people are still buying summer clothes.

For dinner, we went to Kappo Honda, a izakaya style restaurant in Fountain Valley, which is around a half an hour drive from Foothill Ranch, where I was staying. Kappo Honda specializes in yakitori, and I really mean specialize. You will understand what I'm talking about later.

The place is decorated like a typical Japanese izakaya, with wooden beams and floors and booths sectioned off. We were seated in a private room (this is my view looking out from the room) where we had to take our shoes off and sit cross-legged on cushions. Not recommended if you don't have flexible leg joints.