An Evening with Anthony Bourdain

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If you’ve been reading this blog for more than, oh, five minutes, you probably know that I am unabashedly inspired by/live vicariously through Anthony Bourdain. No Reservations is one of the two television programs that I watch regularly, and I’ve devoured his books.

So when I was gifted tickets for this past Saturday to a reception and dinner at E&O Trading Company to launch his new book, I was ecstatic. And what’s more, dinner was being prepared by Chris Cosentino of Incanto, Alex Ong of Betelnut and Tim Luym of Poleng Lounge.

Anthony Bourdain in person is much like he is in writing or on television – well spoken with a touch of humored snarkiness, and really tall. I was pretty nervous approaching him, seeing as how I was the first person pushed forward to get my book signed, so I didn’t chat him up as I’d intended. A few glasses of champagne later, however, I went up to him and asked him to consider visiting Iran for his show. He lit up and said it’s at the top of his list for countries he wants to visit and his crew is planning on it for the fifth season. We spoke about that and his visit to Beirut for a a while and let me tell you, I was giddy inside. Giddy enough that I went back a third time and asked him for a photo:

An Evening with Anthony Bourdain

Tony, if you’re reading this, call me, okay? We can go to Iran together. I’ll show you around the best eats. My grandmother cooks a mean ash-e reshteh!

After we snacked on hors d’ourves of fried corn fritters, stewed oxtail, seared scallops, deep-fried tripe with citrus salt, and peanut-ginger bites, a pleasantly buzzed Anthony gave a brief speech on how inside every great cook there is an old Chinese man. He made a couple of jabs at Rachael Ray and her ilk, and we were seated for dinner.

The lighting was too dim to get any presentable photos of the banquet-style food, but we were served the following:

King salmon with serrano peppers, kaiware sprouts, and Meyer lemon ponzu

Green papaya rainbow salad with kaffir lime nuoc mam dressing, pomelo, green mangoes, and toybox tomatoes

Kauai prawn rendang with spicy coconut kaffir lime sauce

Shanghainese red cooked pork belly with jasmine rice “jook”

Hot and sour braised short ribs in an aromatic broth, chilis and mustard greens

Whole roasted stuffed pig trotter with savoy cabbage and mustard

Long life braised E-Fu noodles with conpoy, Dungeness crab, straw mushrooms and Chinese chives

Celebration jasmine rice with aromatic spices and fresh turmeric

Fresh market vegetables, stir-fried Nonya-style

The company around us was great, and we were delighted to have discovered like-minded people who understand the importance of offal and stinky tofu. Afterwards we moved on to dessert, which included:

Grapefruit foam soda

Lemograss chocolate lollipops

Truffles

Mock pork belly (made of yams)

Alex Ong provided everyone with artisanal Filipino sea salt to take home, and the chefs were friendly and gracious enough to sign my menu and take photos too:

An evening with Anthony Bourdain dinner menu

It was an amazing evening. I’m still glowing and can’t wait until the next time Bourdain is in town. Hopefully next time he’ll give a longer speech and you know, take me up on my offer as his tour guide. So what do you say, Tony?

Burma Superstar

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I was at my alma mater a few weeks ago for the Iranians on the Internet conference and afterwards, I met up with a friend to pay a visit to my favorite bookstore, Green Apple Books.

As we were walking down Clement Street afterwards, we spotted a buzzing crowd around Burma Superstar and having heard a lot of good things about the place, decided to give it a try. Ever since I moved out of the Richmond district in San Francisco a couple of years ago, I’ve stumbled upon all these great restaurants that were in my neighborhood the whole time I was living there.

I checked out the menu while I waited for our names to be called. Half an hour later, we were seated. We started with the samusas, which to me tasted like a cross between Indian samosas and Iranian sambuseh:

Samusas

I had the Nan Gyi Dok (Coconut Chicken Rice Noodle Curry) and my friend had the Burmese Beef Curry. Both were delicious.

Nan Gyi Dok

Burmese beef curry

Burma Superstar gets busy and cramped, but in a warm, inviting way. The service is attentive and the food is pretty good (albeit heavy). I’ll be back for more. With all the attention on Thai and Vietnamese cuisine in recent years, Burmese is just waiting to be discovered.

Hearts of Palm Salad with Shrimp and Avocado

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I first encountered hearts of palm at Pampas Grill, a Brazilian churrascaria in the Farmers Market in Los Angeles a couple of years ago. I have no idea how I’d gone so long without coming across the vegetable, but it’s been a favorite ever since then. I used them in making what is now one of my favorite salads:

Hearts of palm salad with shrimp and avocado

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons drained capers
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 cans hearts of palm, drained and rinsed
1 hard-boiled egg, shelled and chopped
1/2 pound cooked tiny shrimp
1 avocado, peeled and sliced
salt and pepper

1. In a bowl, whisk olive oil, vinegar, capers, lemon juice, shallots, mustard, and salt to taste. Cut hearts of palm in half lengthwise. Lay hearts of palm in dressing, turn over, and let stand for 5 minutes.

2.Lift hearts of palm from dressing and arrange on a large salad plate. Add shrimp to dressing in bowl and mix. Arrange avocado on salad. Spoon shrimp and all the dressing over the hearts of palm and avocado. Top with egg, and sprinkle with pepper to taste.

Day Nine in Mexico: Puerto Vallarta

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On my last full day in Mexico, I decided to take it easy. I’d been running around pretty hard for most of the trip, trying to pack in as much as possible, so I figured one day of rest was well-deserved. After stopping at Xocodiva to buy some chocolates as gifts to take back (I bought a chili-lime and a tequila truffle for immediate gratification too), I went back to the hotel and spent the better part of the day in the pool:

Playa Los Arcos pool

The sun never came out much during the trip, but it was nice to hang around in the warm water and lament how it came to be that I was in the same space as a large group of endless spring breakers.

For dinner, I made one last splurge at La Palapa, and I am ridiculously glad I did. I started with an amuse bouche of rice paper-wrapped tuna and bean sprouts:

Amuse bouche of rice paper-wrapped tuna and bean sprouts

If the concept of freshness could manifest itself into a dish, this would be it.

I had the seared sea scallops with orange miso sauce, bell pepper and saffron polenta:

Seared sea scallops with orange miso sauce, bell pepper and saffron polenta

I couldn’t taste the miso, but rather a light tamarind sauce. Which is just fine really, because they were the most perfectly sublime scallops I’ve ever tasted. Sweet, briny and tender enough to cut with a fork.

For dessert, I had the chocolate fantasmagoria with fresh fruit compote and coconut ice cream:

Chocolate fantasmagoria with fresh fruit compote and coconut ice cream

I’m usually not very fond of sweets, but this was ethereal.

I headed back to my hotel early, to pack and get a good night’s sleep before the flight back to San Francisco the next morning. This was my second trip to Mexico, but everything I experienced was new and exciting and as cliched at it sounds, a learning experience. I only wish I’d had more time to spend.

Day Eight in Mexico: Yelapa

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If it weren’t for Yelapa, my trip to the coast might have been a bust. Though I’m not a fan of boats, I had done our research beforehand and knew that I wanted to spend a day in Yelapa. A small village forty-five minutes south of Vallarta by boat, there are no roads that lead there, and no vehicles in town. I bought tickets for the morning water taxi and boarded at Los Muertos pier:

Our water taxi to Yelapa

The ride was bumpy. Really bumpy. The water was choppy and our boat went airborne several times, and passengers literally had to hold on to our seats to keep from falling forward. It probably didn’t help that it began pouring rain towards the end of the ride either. Once we arrived, I knew it was worth it:

Leaving Yelapa

I had heard about a picturesque waterfall in the Yelapa mountains, so I teamed up with a gringo group from New York who I met on the boat and began the hike up through town, not really knowing where we were going, but enjoying every minute of it. Despite the heat and humidity, Yelapa looks like it’s right out of a storybook.

El Tuito River

We used a boat to cross El Tuito River, and after about an hour of hiking, we arrived at our destination:

Yelapa waterfall

We spent the next couple of hours walking back downhill and along the coast, occasionally interrupted by crossing iguanas, crabs, and a donkey here and there. Once we got back to the river, we realized the boat we had used to cross the river was gone, and its owner was nowhere to be found. So what else to do but wade through it? We stepped gingerly through the water, looking for the shallowest parts with the firmest sand:

El Tuito River

I know it doesn’t look like that much water, but it was up to my hips. Plus I’m not the most comfortable person in water, so this was a big deal.

One gets hungry after conquering two fears in one day, so I quickly stopped by Hotel Lagunita’s restaurant for fish tacos before catching the water taxi back to Puerto Vallarta:

Fish tacos at Hotel Lagunita

Back in town, I settled on Brasil Churrascaria for dinner, which turned out to be an delicious choice, except for the Vallarta Adventures sales pitch towards the end of the meal. I’ll take this perfect top sirloin, thanks, but I’ll pass on the provocatively dressed women trying to sell me an eco tour.

Brasil Churrascaria

The accompanying sauces and side dishes were delicious too, though I wish they offered more traditional types of meat (chicken heart, anyone?). I suppose that’s not standard tourist fare, though, and I can’t really complain about the chicken wings or fillet.