Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Koume Japanese restaurant - Plantation, FL

Interesting Japanese food

I used to be embarrassed by noisy welcomes at restaurants: some places ring bells, some cheer, and some call out to you. Here, the waitress greets you and then the sushi chefs (with work tables facing the entrance) call out to you in chorus – surprisingly, this actually made me feel welcome. I guess am more American now! (I say that because I learnt the art of exchanging pleasantries with strangers only after moving here).

We went in with a friend, a fellow vegetarian and a regular. He encouraged us to skip appetizers and go with Tofu teriyaki, an entree. An interesting dish - pan seared Tofu served on a bed of sprouts atop a sizzling cast iron platter (reminiscent of sizzlers back in India, I have been hard pressed to find them elsewhere). Once the waitress arrived, I prepped her with the basics - we are vegetarians, so, no meat, no chicken broth, and no fish sauce (special request at Japanese and Chinese joints). To my friend's disappointment, the teriyaki sauce at this restaurant happened to have chicken broth. However, the friendly waitress agreed to substitute it with a ginger soy sauce. In the end the dish turned out to really yummy.

We also ordered vegetable yaki sobe. Yaki sobe literally means 'fried noodles' (reminiscent of Mumbai street side Indo-Chinese Hakka noodles). The vegetables and noodles were served in a sizzling platter and were fried just enough to bring out the burnt flavor but not the taste. They fry their vegetables (ginger, cabbage, onions, and carrot) in butter which took the dish up a notch or two.

Things to try:

Tofu Teriyaki (with ginger soy sauce)

Vegetable yaki sobe

Link to their Plantation location
Koume Japanese on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Laspada's Original Hoagies - Davie, FL

"Best damn hoagies in town"

It was Friday lunch time: Was reluctant to drive twenty minutes one way, only to get food back to work, because the place was too small to seat all of us. But, I knew guys from my workplace who religiously flock to this place. So, this time I decided to tag along.
We were greeted by a long line, over a dozen people, and the sweet smells of a well-functioning kitchen. Detected the "veggie" hoagie on the menu and took my place in the line.
It was more than a half hour before I could bite into the hoagie made to my specifications. It was delicious. I ordered a small (8"), having been warned in advance to not go for the 12" unless I wanted to save it for dinner. I chose an assortment of vegetables and cheese with spicy mustard, oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, oregano (a standard with all their hoagies) on a wheat Italian roll. All their breads are freshly baked at a local Italian bakery.
Simple ingredients like the marinated sweet peppers, sliced dill pickles, and the sliced hot cherry peppers stood out. Even the tomatoes tasted better – they use only vine ripened tomatoes (definitely makes a difference). I liked that the cheese slices were wrapped around the vegetables to hold them in place; made for easier eating.
Having lived in Philadelphia, I know a good hoagie (although vegetarian) when I eat one. I thoroughly enjoyed the meal - will definitely sign up for the ride again!

Link to their menu

LaSpada's Hoagies on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Miss Yip Chinese cafe - South Beach, FL

 Miss Yip, SOBE, FL@

A classy Chinese restaurant

I have walked by the glass walls lined with huge glass jars (filled with interesting knick knacks like sauce bottles, chopsticks etc...) several times in the past few years; made it inside a few weeks back. I am talking about Miss Yip at South Beach, one of the best places for vegetarian Chinese food. I have already been back there since my first visit.

The place was immaculately decorated - tufted red leather seats against gorgeous red printed wall paper, dark wood tables contrasting the patterned white mosaic-like tile flooring, Chinese checkers boards instead of paintings adorning the walls. The place seemed a bit incongruous in South Beach, had a more New York vibe to it. Was already won over; had not eaten anything yet!!

Over my two trips to Miss Yip I have tasted most of the vegetarian items on the menu; have listed a few of my favorites here:

Dim sum - dumplings:
We ordered both the vegetable dumpling and the tofu and vegetable dumpling – the fillings are completely different. What makes these so special is the thick (yet non-gooey) outer rice shell that is steamed to perfection.

Singapore curry mei fun:
Really thin rice noodles sautéed with julienne vegetables and seasoned with curry powder (very similar to the Madras curry powder most Indians are familiar with).

Ma po tofu:
Spicy food naturally appeals to me, so most of my favorite Chinese dishes are from the Sichuan province. Ma po tofu is a staple in most Chinese restaurants and I have had my fair share - this was by far the best version. The bean and chili sauce was sprinkled with jalapeño pepper slices adding just a little more oomph to the dish.

Moo shu wrap:
The menu describes it as fresh steamed crepes served with a wok-fry of minced carrot, onions, bell pepper, bamboo shoot, celery, Chinese cabbage and mushroom with hoisin sauce.
Made an interesting appetizer.

Link to their menu

Miss Yip Chinese Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Food Inc. - Documentary (2008)

Where does your food come from?

I recently watched Food Inc., a documentary by Eric Schlosser. I heard about it during a visit to Chipotle (one of my favorite fast food places) - they sponsored a few free screenings of the film when it released. Chipotle is a great example of how a company can be both profitable and responsible; ironically, McDonalds, which is not known more for profitability and less for responsibility, had a stake in Chipotle till a few years back.

If you have read Fast Food Nation or Omnivore's dilemma, or are conscious of what/where you eat, then most of what you will see is what you already know. Despite that, I enjoyed viewing it.

The film reiterates how important the food choices you make are. I was lucky to grow up vegetarian, and staying away from meat comes very easily to me. That is just one half of the battle, I still spend hours reading labels at grocery stores – and then spend more time googling (real word - made it to the dictionary some time back) the ingredients. I wondered if other people just knew what xanthum gum and the other unpronounceable ingredients meant! Turns out that most of them were different versions of corn.

No matter how many times you hear it, it is astonishing that tracing the source of random items from the grocery store, leads you to corn fields in Iowa. Government subsidized, fertilizer rich, genetically modified, pesticide resistant soy and corn are in everything!! Welcome to CORNucopia!

Link to the documentary's official website

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Talavera (Mexican restaurant) - Coral Gables, Florida

Talavera - Cocina Mexicana

Stopped by for an extremely late lunch at Talavera (the name refers to Talavera Mexican pottery), a Mexican restaurant in Coral Gables with bright orange walls, blue and white pottery, and wooden tables.....

Yeah, the place has all the elements of a typical Mexican joint. It even has an entire wall covered with blue and white murals. I never imagined that you could go all out Mexican (theme) and come out looking so tasteful and classy . You have to visit the place to believe it, not just for the décor, but also for the food.

The friendly wait-staff place a carafe of water (carbon filtered and UV filtered) for free with a note saying they don't believe in serving bottled water and stating a few statistics on how much waste plastic bottles generate.

They start you off with the usual chips and salsa, the difference being that the blue and white corn chips are baked. Emptied (guilt-free) three baskets before the food arrived.

We opted for a dish straight from the lunch menu, twelve bucks each, not too pricey for a Gables restaurant.

We had Vegetarian Huaraches.
Huaraches literally means sandals. A thick piece of corn dough (masa) about the shape and size of a sandal, fried and topped with grilled zucchini, guacamole, salsa, beans, and cheese.
Almost like a flattened Mofongo (Puerto Rican plantain based dish - also vegetarian friendly).

The portion was just right and the flavors perfect. The dish looked very good on the blue and white Talavera plates.

Link to Talavera, Coral Gables, FL

Talavera on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 15, 2010

Coffee Shops (shishas) & Sweet shops - Manama, Bahrain


The image in my mind of sheikhs smoking shishas (better known to us as hookahs) in street corners is real - Bahrain lives up to it. Streets are dotted with coffee shops serving shishas in innumerable flavors, coffee, tea and snacks. Strangely, smoking the shisha seems to be a private activity. You do see groups of men smoking it, but more often than not you see a lone man with his shisha and a pot of mint tea.

Definitely stop by Al Bindaira, perhaps the hippest coffee shop in Bahrain and grab a shisha and a pot of mint tea

Link to their Adliya location

Arabic coffee and Halwa

One of the many guide books we referred to led us to believe that these shisha shops serve Arabic coffee (a special way to brew coffee with cardamom and saffron). We walked in and out of at least a dozen coffee shops in search for Arabic coffee with no luck. The traditional Arabic coffee has now been replaced by the French and Italian versions; cafe au lait, cappuccino etc... You also find a lot of Turkish coffee in Bahrain.

After hunting around for almost ten days we finally found Arabic coffee at a sweet shop and it was an experience well worth the wait. The traditional way of drinking it is having a sip of the beverage and then biting into a date. The coffee itself does not contain any sugar. The sugar-filled date makes up for it.

The sweet shop however served us coffee with Halwa. We had sips of Arabic coffee and followed it up with spoons of Halwa.

Now, Halwas are a delicacy worth trying. The name of sweet shop you should look for is Showaiter - a family that has been in the sweet business for the past hundred and fifty years. Every store had three colors of halwa - green, red, and orange. They were dotted with several cashew nuts. Within these colors there are two varieties; oil based and ghee (butter) based, definitely opt for the butter. The Halwa with its jello like consistency invites you to eat more of it again and again...

Link to the ubiquitous Showaiter sweet shops


You find Baklavas at several sweetshops all around Bahrain but nothing compares to the ones at Saadeddein pastry. They have about twenty varieties: different shapes and sizes of filo like pastries filled with almonds and pistachios. You can try one of each or more (if you know the store keeper) before buying a few to take back home. They stay fresh without refrigeration for about three weeks.

Link to their Manama location

Monday, February 1, 2010

Stiles Farmers Market - Pembroke Pines , Florida

stiles farmers market

I have been to the Stiles farmers market at Oakland Park, Lauderhill a few times before, but today I shopped at the one in Pembroke Pines. This one is a bit smaller but cleaner, brighter, newer, and nicer - I hope it stays this way.  I am thrilled that it is located just a few minutes from my house. I will no longer have to stock up my refrigerator from visits to Costco (where you can only buy a thousand items at a time) and pray that I cook them before they expire. Publix is not bad, but has fewer choices and is definitely much more expensive.
To the giddy me, the variety seemed limitless and the prices unbelievably low. This family owned store keeps the prices low by stocking up on locally grown produce; most of the products are from Miami, Homestead, West Palm etc..
I don't think the produce is completely organic but I take some heart in the fact that the vegetables and fruits are normally sized and colored and not obscenely huge and perfectly shaped.
Just to give you an idea of the variety of produce they carry; today I picked up some broccoli, celery, parsley, cilantro, ginger, sweet potatoes, red potatoes, grapes, both Bosc and Anjou pear, Red delicious apples, green onions, spinach, sundried tomatoes, roasted pickled red peppers, tomatoes, cauliflower, jalapeno peppers - enough vegetables/fruits to last me a week and it cost me just 23 dollars!
Here is a list of all the produce they carry:

Link the location of the Stiles Farmers Market at Pembroke Pines