Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Philly Bilmo's

We didn't dine out for many meals while in Portland, and only one of those was not Chinese food - our lunch at Philly Bilmo's (in Vancouver, WA). Funny how we came all the way from NYC to go to "an East Coast deli." The nice thing about Philly Bilmo's is that they use Amoroso bakery bread that they ship in from Philadelphia, so it's authentic.

Philly Bilmo's had cheesesteaks, hot and cold subs and hot dogs on the menu. We both decided to get cheesesteaks instead of subs. A's dad got the roast pork hot sub on garlic bread (no photo) which A thought was very tasty if a very, very small bit dry, but the barbecue sauce added a nice sweetness and more than enough moisture to get through the mildly dry pork.

We split a small side of fries with A's parents. They were thin and crispy. Not bad, but nothing very special.

M got an 8" loaded chicken cheesesteak, which had sliced chicken, onions, peppers, mushrooms and cheese. The primary difference between the loaded and the regular were all those extra vegetables, and M is always looking for more vegetable options. M was surprised that it was sliced grilled chicken instead of chipped chicken like a regular cheesesteak (which we've gotten before in a chicken cheesesteak sandwich). The sandwich wasn't bad, but she would just call it a grilled chicken sandwich instead of a real cheesesteak sandwich.

A got the 8" loaded cheesesteak which had the same ingredients as M's sandwich except it was beef instead of chicken. The meat and cheese had the perfect amount of saltiness and tenderness to taste really good. The onions and peppers added sweetness to balance out the salt, and the mushrooms added more texture and moisture. The beef was nicely chipped, and in the end this was a very good cheesesteak.

Our lunch at Philly Bilmo's wasn't bad, but with so many places to visit and a limited amount of time on our visits, we're not sure if we'll be back. Not a bad option though if you're in the area.

Philly Bilmo's, 2100 SE 164th Ave, in Vancouver, WA.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Spizzico di Pizza

Trader Joe's has lots of fun hors d'oeuvre-type snacks, and we like having one or two in the freezer at any given time for convenient snacks or light meals. The other day we tried the Trader Giotto's Spizzico di Pizza ($2.99), which looked on the box like mini pizzas. For whatever reason, despite the package photo, I thought all along that they were going to look and taste like Bagel Bites, which I really like. Once I took them out of the package, I realized they weren't like that at all, and I was going to have to judge them on their own merits and not hope they would be a knockoff of Bagel Bites.

Each piece of pizza was small and disc-shaped. Once baked, they were like crispy bread circles topped with a little tangy tomato sauce and some melted cheese cubes. They weren't that flavorful unless you had a bite with lots of cheese and tomato sauce. What makes the Bagel Bites different (and I think, better) is that the base isn't just a crispy disc but has texture of its own, some softness in the middle and crispiness on the sides, and it holds all the toppings over the entire width instead of just in the center.

Buy Again? Probably not. They weren't bad, but (1) other TJ's snacks are better and (2) Bagel Bites would be better in our freezer if we wanted mini pizzas.

HK Cafe

Our first day in Portland continued with a family dinner full of delicious Cantonese dishes at HK Cafe, not far from where we stuffed our faces with dim sum earlier in the day. I've grown up going to family dinners at Cantonese restaurants, so many of the dishes we had were very familiar to me. I think this was the first time I'd gone out for a Cantonese dinner with A's family so it was like both worlds colliding!

The meal started out with some soup, a clear broth with, I think, fish stomachs and other fish parts. From what we remember, this was pretty good. It was a thick soup with lots of flavor in the broth. The fish stomachs had a soft yet crunchy texture similar to a sea cucumber that's been stewed. The stomachs themselves didn't have much flavor though.

One of our favorite dishes at dinner were these salt and pepper fish. I'm not sure what kind of fish they were, but they were small like sardines. They were deep fried so that you could eat them whole, heads, tails and all.

In addition to the salt and pepper seasoning, which gave the fish a little bit of a kick, the dish came with plentiful amounts of onions, scallions, and jalapeño peppers, which made wonderful toppings for our rice bowls. This was definitely something we would love to eat again.

There was this casserole dish which had beef, tofu skin, and vegetables. I don't remember that much about it except that I wasn't a huge fan of the meat in it and I thought it was a bit tough. It didn't make a lasting impression on A either. He prefers the casseroles that my family orders with lamb or beef tendon.

Roast chicken is usually a fixture in a Cantonese dinner, but I don't remember if I ate any of this. I usually go for the white meat pieces, but I think they were gone by the time I looked for them since the chicken wasn't very big and I had been so obsessed with eating the salt and pepper fish. A had a couple pieces of the dark meat and thought it was just like almost any other Cantonese roast chicken that we've had in other meals with my family. It was topped with fried garlic which is another nice topping for the rice.

A well-rounded Cantonese dinner always has leafy green vegetables, preferably with lots of garlic. These pea pod greens were plenty garlicky and so good. One of our favorite healthy vegetables though shockingly expensive. HK Cafe delivered a good version of these.

They also ordered some fish with sugar snap peas, carrots, and mushrooms. This was good, but there wasn't anything really special or different about this dish from other places. It was simply prepared but it was fairly healthy and the vegetables were crisp and fresh.

Some of the more interesting dishes you can get at Cantonese restaurants involve pumpkin. I've only had a variation on this dish a couple of times, but this was a pumpkin stuffed with braised (I think) meat (not sure what kind) and pieces of the pumpkin that were scooped out. It had a nice sweetness from the pumpkin, and that balanced out the saltiness from the braising liquid/sauce that everything was cooked in. The meat was okay, a little on the tougher side again (but just remember that I have a bias against that and probably notice it more than other people do).

My family usually orders this Japanese tofu dish where the tofu is cut into rounds and served with lots of vegetables, especially mushrooms. We like that dish so much that we added it to our wedding banquet menu. This version was different, but really good. There were greens on the bottom, but the tofu came in large columns instead of smaller round slices. We've always heard it described as Japanese tofu, but the restaurant explained that it's egg tofu (which after some research is actually just another name for Japanese tofu). It's made by beating eggs into the tofu mixture prior to pressing so it adds some richness and creaminess as well as keeping the tofu from falling apart despite its silken texture. It also came topped with some sort of scallion, onion, and mushroom saute.

There was a dish of stir-fried shrimp with mushrooms, carrots, and chives. I love chives and this dish was full of them. This was fairly standard but good.

The meal ended with a sweet tapioca soup with taro. We've noticed that many Cantonese restaurants don't really end the meal with red bean soup a lot of times these days. There's a lot of tapioca soups. This one was not bad.

Having quite a bit of experience with Cantonese dishes in the States, I would say that the food at HK Cafe was pretty good. The quality of the ingredients was, for the most part, quite good, and everything tasted really fresh. Our favorite was clearly the salt and pepper fish, but many other dishes like the tofu and greens were also well done. Those were probably our top 3. We left quite satisfied!

HK Cafe, 4410 SE 82nd Ave, in SE Portland.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Going to Brugge

I may have mentioned this before, but something about traveling always makes us (mostly me) hungry. Not sure if it's the constant moving around with heavy bags, or boredom, or something else, but we usually end up getting a snack at whatever transportation hub we're at. Before catching the train to Brugge, we stopped at the small grocery shop at the Antwerp train station to pick up a sandwich and some candy. If I remember correctly, we just made the train.

We split the sandwich once we were on our way. Like most European sandwiches, it wasn't especially packed with stuff, but it was better than some thin ones we've encountered in our travels since (like this one). It was "geroosterde kip" (roasted chicken) in creamy dressing with tomato and lettuce, and pretty good for a to-go packaged sandwich. The addition of the lettuce and tomato made it taste really fresh. From what we remember, the chicken salad wasn't bad either.

But our greatest find at the Antwerp train station store was the bag of Haribo smurfs, which I've mentioned before. We didn't end up trying them on this train ride, but they quickly became one of our favorite candies. For the longest time after the trip, we couldn't find the Smurfs here in the States and it was really frustrating because we liked them that much. We can get them here now but they're not the ones made in Germany (I think they're from Turkey) so they don't taste quite the same (but they'll do). We love the sweet berry flavor.

Our train snack was the perfect amount as we completed our train ride to Brugge. After we got there, we couldn't find a bus and walked to our hotel with a very nice man from California who had spent the day in Ghent, checked in, and got settled in our new town. We couldn't wait to explore Brugge!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Taste of Jewish Culture

I don't know what it's like in other cities, but one of the ways you know it's summer in New York is an endless barrage of street fairs. Avenues and streets closed one or both days of the weekend with many of the same vendors showing up week after week. Some are different like the Ninth Avenue International Food Festival which has a lot of local vendors, and sometimes there's just something special in the middle of a regular fair, like today's Taste of Jewish Culture put on by The Workmen's Circle.

We were really excited about the vendor list as there were some great places lined up, and one place we knew we wanted to stop was Taim. We keep meaning to bike down to one of the shops, now that the truck doesn't stop by us anymore, but haven't found time this summer. Their truck was at the first corner we got to, so we immediately ordered a falafel sandwich to share.

Their special today was harissa falafel. I had never tried it before, but A had it once before. The harissa falafel is a little zestier and a little spicier than the regular green falafel, but just as delicious. We got it with everything, so they loaded on the vegetable toppings and the s'rug. We don't remember there being any pickles or amba (chutney sauce) though.

After taking a break in a public atrium with our falafel sandwich, we headed back out to the fair and checked out the other food options. The most interesting one was from Shelsky's, a Brooklyn smoked fish and appetizing shop. They were serving stuffed latke boats topped with your choice of either chopped liver or smoked whitefish salad. They both sounded delicious.

We opted for the potato latke topped with smoked whitefish salad and sriracha. This was so good, and we quickly wished we had opted for the 2 stuffed latke boat deal (saving $1) so we could have tried the other variation. The latke had soft creamy potato inside and the fried exterior was just crispy. The whitefish salad was fantastic, and it's clear why Shelsky's is known for their fish. The salad wasn't fishy at all. It just delivered great smoked fish flavor mixed with some vegetables like celery. The bit of sriracha on top gave it a good bit of tangy spice. This was a really delicious treat.

Instead of going back for another latke boat, we stopped by Baz, which has a restaurant located in the Little Italy area. They opened earlier this year and we were excited to try the food since the sample plates on the table looked good.

We opted for the sampler of bagel bites so we could try as much as possible. Each sampler came with three mini bagel halves (it looked like plain, poppy and pumpernickel), and they were topped with nova and onion, cream cheese and cucumber, and egg salad and tomato. The bagels were pretty good, a little chewy, and the toppings were tasty. Our favorite was the nova, followed by cream cheese, and finally the egg salad. It was a little pricey though, for 3 mini bagel halves (much like their regular restaurant menu).

One great part of the fair was that, while we ate our tasty lunch treats, they had performances from various musical groups on stage. The music was fun. 

Overall, our visit to the cultural fair was good. We were hoping to get a bialy but they weren't selling them solo, only in packs of 6. That was disappointing. We didn't go to the food fair to shop for food, just to eat lunch. But we had some really tasty treats, especially our favorite falafel sandwich and that delicious latke boat.

Quick Burger

We left Amsterdam on a sunny day with blue skies and arrived in Antwerp, Belgium, where it was cloudy and drizzling. Our final destination that day was Brugge, but first we had to switch trains at the Antwerp train station. We figured that, since we had to get off in Antwerp, why not take a few hours and explore the city? After all, who knew when we were going to be back in Antwerp?

Antwerpen Centraal

Even though we had pancakes and herring and fries that morning, we were hungry and looking for a late lunch when we got to Antwerp. Walking down the avenue from the central station, there were lots of fast food outlets. We're not huge fast food eaters at home, but love the chance to try fast food chains (or even special fast food dishes at American chains) in other parts of the world. M had previously heard of Quick, the Belgian burger chain, so we decided to give it a try.

We decided to skip the extra long giant burgers (basically two burgers in one) and other unhealthy things like cheesy sticks. Instead, A got a combo with a burger and fries, while M opted for a "big kids" meal.

A went with the supreme pepper burger.

A was intrigued by the name which was the biggest reason he got this particular burger. What made it so supreme? What was the pepper aspect? He had so many questions. In the end it was just a cheeseburger with pepper jack cheese. There wasn't anything too remarkable about the ensemble, but for a fast food burger it was pretty good quality with pretty good flavor.

Quick had two levels of kids meals, including one for "older" kids, so M went with that one and got a king fish sandwich for her main meal.

This was basically like a McDonalds filet-o-fish, except she liked it a little better. It was cheesy and the fish was good (for a fast food place). It was topped with shredded green lettuce.

The kids meal also included a small order of fries and a dessert, which was apricot sauce in a small squeeze container. Those squeeze containers were popular in Europe at the time, but we didn't see them here as often (even though now they are everywhere in the US). It was sweet with the consistency of applesauce, but it was nice to have a flavor other than apple. 

We don't remember too much about the fries, except that you could get them with ketchup or mayo on the side. They were fine, a lot like McDonalds. After all, Quick is often referred to as the Belgian (or French) McDonalds. The one thing is that they weren't too salty.

The best part of the kids meal for M was the "toy" that came with it. We weren't sure what to expect but when we pulled it out, it was a book with Marvel comics on the cover and the word "agenda" on the binding. It was a full-sized year-long planner! Why don't we have such useful "toys" with our Happy Meals? M would go more often if she could get an annual calendar with her cheeseburger.

Quick, our only meal in Antwerp, wasn't the greatest meal we had in Belgium, but it was a good snack. It also made us think about all the things we wished we had in American fast food - fish sandwiches in kids meals, useful productivity tools as "toys", etc. That's what always happens when we visit fast foods outlets abroad. Why can't we have nice things here?

Turkish Beet and Feta Salad

For our last salad on Turkish night, I went with an adaptation of this recipe for Turkish beetroot and feta salad from Cook.Eat.Blog. It sounded like the perfect accompaniment to the other two salads and, with some adjustments to the ingredients from the original recipe, I could make it entirely out of things we already had at home or had purchased for other recipes that week. Perfect!

For our beet and feta salad, we used:

- 8 oz package of pre-cooked beets, cut into small chunks ($2)
- 1/4 large yellow onion, very thinly sliced ($0.15)
- 1-2 tbsp parsley, roughly chopped ($0.20)
- 1 tbsp dried dill weed ($0.10)
- salt and pepper to taste ($0.10)
- 1 tsp garlic powder ($0.05)
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar ($0.15)
- 1 tbsp lemon juice ($0.10)
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin ($0.05)
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil ($0.80)
- 1/2 cup feta cheese crumbles ($1)

The approximate price of this one was a little under $5. We finished this entire salad that night though, so it's not as great of a "deal" as the chickpea salad, which only cost a little more. But we love beets and it was worth it.

Since the beets were pre-cooked, this salad was really easy to put together. The thing that took the longest was preparing the parsley for all 3 recipes. I really have to figure out a faster way to wash and prepare herbs.

Anyway, you mix the beets, onion slices, parsley, dill, salt, pepper and garlic powder together in a bowl. Once it's mixed, add the red wine vinegar, lemon juice, cumin and olive oil. After all that is stirred together, you just add the cheese and it's ready to go.

This was incredibly simple to make and it was our favorite salad that night. Something about that combination of flavors just popped, especially when compared with the other salads. The only thing we don't always have on hand is the parsley but when we have extra, this would be an easy and tasty way to use it up. We would definitely make this again.


For our last meal in Amsterdam, M and I opted to try out a place we had read as being one of the best fry houses in town. Vlaams Friethuis Vleminckx aka Vleminckx Sausmeester (sauce master) was opened in 1957 and has consistently been ranked near or at the top of the fry houses by local publications. We got there before noon, and based on the line already stretching from their window, it seemed like the publications were indeed correct.

We ordered the fries with their special samuraisaus (Samurai sauce) that was reviewed and recommended by several locations we read. In the end the Samurai sauce was basically just chipotle mayo. It was good, but it was nothing too special. The fries, however, were amazing. Perfectly crispy exterior with a perfectly soft, potato interior. This was fry perfection. I just wish we would have chosen a better sauce or topping (maybe like curry ketchup, mayo, and onions).

All that being said, we did really like these fries and we would definitely return for another cone. The sauce didn't quite live up to the hype, but we've had quite a bit of chipotle mayo in our lives so perhaps this wasn't as special for us as it might have been for other people. However, these were the best fries we tried, even if not the tastiest because of topping choices.  And for that, we raise a cup to you, Vleminckx!

Vleminckx, Voetboogstraat 31-33, in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Friday, July 25, 2014


Before we left on our Vegas escape earlier this year, we had a rare weekday lunch when we could travel outside of our usual work zone and try something new. We decided on Hanjan, the sister restaurant to Danji, since people had been raving about it for months. We weren't sure what their best dishes were (other than the special ramen that you can only get late at night), so we picked out one appetizer and two entrees that sounded good.

Appetizer: 'Dak-gang-jung' Chicken Nuggets - crispy fried chicken breast with plum sauce ($12).

We've eaten a lot of Korean fried chicken over the years and we thought this might be similar in flavor and texture. Unfortunately it wasn't. The chicken was very breaded and very deep fried, but didn't have much chicken flavor. It just tasted like non-descript fried food. It had a nice crunch but not much taste. The menu said the chicken came with plum sauce, but it tasted more like sweet chili sauce. The dish was garnished with some microgreens and peanuts. Overall, we were a little disappointed by this dish. We expected more since we know Korean fried chicken can be so delicious. Since this was the first thing we ate, we were hoping the entrees would be better when they arrived.

Entree: Jajang Ramen - fresh ramen noodles with pork belly black bean sauce ($13).

Overall, this dish was just okay for both of us. The bowl consisted of thin ramen noodles with a thick sauce, some slices of pork belly and vegetables (zucchini, onions, leeks, cucumbers, cabbage). The variation in textures made this an interesting dish. We were expecting that thick sauce to be on the sweeter side, based on how jajangmyeon usually tastes when we get it, but it wasn't that sweet. It was more rich and so rich that it was almost bland (if that makes any sense). The pork belly didn't add that much flavor either, just more richness. We went to Hanjan back in January, and it looks like the current menu has "regular" fresh noodles in a jajang myeon dish instead of ramen. But, for us, the ramen noodles weren't really the issue. It's that the flavor was just not that impressive. We were expecting more.

Entree: Wide Noodles with Spicy Gochujang Bolognese - ground pork belly, kimchi, bacon and soft poached egg ($13).

Unlike the jajang ramen where we were both basically in agreement, we had very different opinions on this one. M liked this dish and thought it was like eating a bowl of noodles doused in gochujang. It came with some small pieces of meat and finely chopped vegetables, and was topped with some slivers of cucumber and a soft poached egg. The flavor of the sauce was good if you like gochujang because that was pretty much all you could taste - the tang and the spice of the gochujang. While this was good, the fact that all you could taste was gochujang made this a little bit one-note and it lacked any other flavors to make it complete. However, A didn't get any spice or sweetness from this at all, and just found it tart and vinegary. He didn't taste gochujang at all. We both agreed on one thing though - the noodles were nice and chewy, and had great texture.

Overall, we were a little disappointed by our meal at Hanjan, but maybe it was because we had such high expectations. We had heard such rave reviews of the dishes, but maybe we just ordered the wrong things or the kitchen was having an off day. M liked the gochujang bolognese and thought it was different from anything she'd had before, but otherwise could go without the other 2 dishes. A was just disappointed overall. He didn't really like much of anything that we had eaten, but hopefully we just chose wrong. We might go back and try it again, but will definitely research more closely next time to figure out what we should order instead of just winging it.

Hanjan, 36 W. 26th Street, in Flatiron.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Reduced Guilt Brownie Mix

One Trader Joe's item that always intrigued me was the reduced guilt brownie mix (about $3 if I remember correctly, but we bought it a while ago). Fat free "healthy" brownies? Brownies that you can make in a single serving size in the microwave if you choose? A brownie mix so simple that all you have to do is add yogurt? I like brownies. Sign me up.

We were originally going to make single serving brownies over time, but ended up scrapping that plan and making the whole thing at once. A box of brownie mix plus some vanilla yogurt were the only ingredients needed.

I was skeptical when I started mixing that small amount of yogurt into the box of brownie mix about whether this would work, but after a bit of stirring, there was a nice thick batter.

We filled up a cake pan, popped it in the oven, and a short time later, the brownies were done!

Except... they didn't really rise very much. It looked more like chocolate cake. But for something so quick and easy (and healthy), it wasn't bad. It had a nice chocolate flavor.

Buy Again? Maybe, since it's a healthier option for brownies or a chocolate dessert, but if we're looking for traditional brownies, this probably wouldn't satisfy the craving. It's not like you can replicate a brownie with tons of butter and fattening stuff with a fat-free yogurt based brownie mix.