Eat a Duck in Singapore

I recently returned from a trip to Singapore, tagging along with my parents as they attended an aviation conference.  I’d researched the country ahead of my visit to gain at the very least, a basic understanding of the culture and history. It was a British trading post, separated from Malaysia making it it’s own city-state, and resulting in English becoming the official language.  There are four major cultures in Singapore: Malay, Japanese, Chinese and Indian.  As you’d imagine, as a result of this collision of culinary cultures, the food is remarkable.  I was told that Singapore is very much a city of commerce and cosmopolitan life, not the normal nitty-gritty, cheap and dirty Asian experience I have come to crave and love. In fact, Singapore has earned the nickname “Asia-Lite.”  Armed with this information, I sought out Anthony Bourdain per the advice of my dear Diana.  Surely he would find the food culture I was searching for, and boy, did he.

Maxwell Food Center spread

I was the first to touch down, arriving at 7 am. After a morning nap following my 20 hour trip, I set out in search of a meal.  Bourdain’s first stop was the Maxwell Food Centre, a bustling set of hawker stalls all under one roof. One of the famous dishes in Singapore is chicken rice, which is exactly what it sounds like.  Chicken on top of seasoned rice with various condiments. I chose the Hong Xiang chicken stall, which came highly recommended by Bourdain and did not disappoint. The chicken was beautifully moist laying on top of a bed of steaming rice.  The lady at the stall took out a spray bottle and sprayed my entire dish before handing it to me.  I don’t know what it was, but I assume it was a spray bottle of delish. Accompanying the chicken rice was an extremely thick hoisin sauce and chili sauce. It was heaven, a perfect glimpse into what Singaporean food would hold in store.

Our next adventure into Singaporean cuisine was recommended to us by our cab driver. We were headed to Long Beach restaurant on East Coast Park only knowing that we wanted the best chili crab Singapore had to offer.  Obviously picking up on our ineptitude, he recommended drunken prawns, boiled in a cognac stock, the fried rice and black pepper crab. Not all cab drivers are to be trusted, but in this case, our man knew his stuff.  The cognac stock was so smooth, and had us lapping it up long after the prawns had been devoured.

Long Beach spread

Chili crab was the star of this trip. Crab, steamed and smothered in a tomato, garlic, chili sauce. Equal parts sweet and savory, this sauce was everything you could ever want, worthy of being used on any food item throughout the day, we couldn’t get enough. The same driver recommended we order sweet buns with which to sop up the sauce after we were done with our crabs, like I said, he was a smart man. Next came black pepper crab. This is the same dish as chili crab but with a black pepper paste smeared liberally over the steaming crustaceans. This version was much spicier and in your face, and perfect counterpart to its sweet chili crab cousin. While you’re eating these two dishes, be prepared to get extremely dirty. Sauce all over your face, arms and hands, but gladly so.  It proves you’ve truly enjoyed your dish.

It seems inevitable that any tourist to Singapore will hang around Marina Bay for a little while. Within the Marina Bay Shoppes is a great food court featuring various cuisines from around the continent, but of course, I went for dim sum because, well, I am Jimmy’s sister. The siu mai and shrimp har gao were up to par. It was a perfect, close spot to beat the heat and grab some delicious food as well.

Iced coffee is definitely a must when exploring Singapore. It is HOT, crazy hot, and the combination of ice and caffeine kept me running. It’s available pretty much anywhere, but I preferred to grab it at the hawker centers.

Marina Bay dim sum

Since the shopping is near legendary in Singapore, my Mom and I hit up Robinson’s, the big department store, where we discovered delicious snacks like green tea kit kats and squid jerky.  On the basement level of Robinson’s we stumbled upon a gyoza restaurant called Gyoza-Ya. There was a hefty list of delicious things to try but we had to settle on a select few.  We started with chilled eggplant with miso paste. Give me anything with miso paste. The eggplant was delectable, tender, but almost too difficult to grab with chopsticks, as the thick, savory miso paste made for a slippery affair. Next was cucumber with miso paste. Those delicious Asian cucumbers. You can really tell the difference. The miso paste on this dish was presented in little pearls that broke apart in your mouth, spreading the heavenly miso all over your palate. I ordered what was described on the menu simply as “Ramen Egg.” I thought it was going to be some sort of egg drop ramen soup. I’m so glad I was wrong. The waiter sets down a chilled soft-boiled egg on a plate in front of me, and I look at Mom not knowing exactly what to do. What I can infer after taking a bite is, the egg was soft-boiled, and then marinated in some sort of ramen stock or soy sauce? I don’t know for sure but holy whoa it was delicious. The white of the egg flavored with sesame paired with a silky, runny yoke on the inside was perfection. I want it for breakfast daily. Of course we ended this lunch with both vegetable and pork gyoza. It was Gyoza-Ya after all.

Gyoza-Ya spread

Still, the chili crab lingered in our mouths and brains.  So this time, we sought out Jumbo Seafood restaurant, recommended by multiple former Singapore residents. We ordered all the usual suspects, chili crab, black pepper crab, fried rice, shrimp in miso paste (I can’t quit the miso paste) and steamed Snapper with cilantro.  The crabs here were much larger than at Long Beach, but I’m at a loss as to which restaurant prepared them better. I just want access to chili crab at all times.

Jumbo spread

Our flights were extremely late at night, so our last dinner was back at Maxwell Food Centre, since the parentals hadn’t been. This time I had ban mian, a soup with pork and rice noodles and of course, plenty of condiments with which to customize your dish. I washed it all down with starfruit juice, something I’d never seen before but had to try. Our meal was accompanied by three old dudes drinking beer with their portable radio blaring, chilling at the table next to us, like I assume they do every night. True, Singapore doesn’t have an abundance of cultural sites, but it definitely makes up for it in an abundance of delicious foods.

 

Blackbrick – Miami, FL

I think it’s high time we got back to our roots here at Eat a Duck. I mean it’s been what, TWO posts since we featured dim sum around here! Well not to worry, we’d never let the dumplings disappear for long, and neither will Richard Hales, chef and owner of Blackbrick, Miami’s sorely needed dim sum mecca. Chef Hales, best known for the popular Korean joint, Sakaya Kitchen and its mobile counterpart, Dim Ssam a GoGo, clearly saw the gap in Miami’s dining landscape. Until now, finding truly great dim sum was a chore at best, and nearly impossible at worst.

Sure, you’ve got Mr. Chow on Miami Beach, but who wants to drop $13 on a plate of siu mai? Alternatively you could make the trek out to Tropical dim sum on Sundays for one of the only dim sum cart services I’m aware of, but neither of these options are ideal. What Miami needed was a centrally located spot, within a few minutes drive and preferably near other like-minded restaurants for obvious food crawl possibilities! Chef Hales found the perfect spot, nestled right in between the design district and Wynwood, two of the hottest neighborhoods in town.

Blackbrick spread 1

At first glance, the large Target shopping center where Blackbrick is located may seem like another bland, prefabricated Florida “village”. Clearly though, someone did their homework. Instead of bringing in the typical corporate restaurants like Brio, P.F. Changs and Cheesecake Factory, they opted for independent, local talent. Granted, there’s still a Five Guys and a World of Beer, but for the most part, the dining options in Midtown are something to be excited about.

Blackbrick is one of the places warranting the most excitement, not only for the crew of Eat a Duck, but for food lovers around the country, even being nominated for Bon Appetit’s 50 Best New Restaurants in America. The reason behind the buzz is no secret, as Blackbrick combines tradition and creativity seamlessly.

Blackbrick dim sum

Their dim sum selection, while not exhaustive, is of a quality you won’t find anywhere else. Each item is cooked to order, so while the wait may be more than some veteran dim sum-o-philes are used to, the resulting flavor makes it all worth it. The wrappers of the har gow and pork siu mai are perfectly cooked, tender and toothsome. The fillings are equally well executed. The shrimp and scallop dumplings are fresh, leaving none of the low-tide aftertaste some lesser establishments might offer.

A couple of instant favorites are the fried pork cheek dumplings (pictured in the first spread) with its succulent filling and drizzle of slightly sweet sauce, and the jade Peking duck dumpling, an idea which I’m upset I haven’t found until now. Both of these manage to find their way to my table during each visit. Do we have any bao fans? Blackbrick makes a mean steamed bbq pork char siu bao with that wonderfully sweet meat filling. A couple of these for breakfast would start any day off right.

Blackbrick spread 2

But Blackbrick isn’t simply a dumpling house. Looking for some comfort food, why not take a look at their selection of fantastic fried rice that will expand your opinion of what the dish can be. Not content to match your neighborhood Chinese take out joint, Chef Hales spikes his rice with things like rock shrimp, lobster tail and duck. Another exciting option pairs bacon with kim chi made by sister restaurant Sakaya Kitchen.

The Chinese brunch, once dominated by dim sum alone is now joined by a bevy of options including a breakfast fried rice of sausage, eggs and country potato, shrimp and grits made with cornmeal congee, bacon and a poached egg, and my personal favorite Chinese fried chicken and fortune cookie waffle with a scallion, ginger maple syrup. Don’t forget the salt and pepper tots! Here they’re prepared simply with peppers and onion, achieving a level of spice that gets your brow moist but keeps you coming back for more.

My favorite dish however, might be Blackbrick’s take on Dandan Mian, a Sichuan dish usually consisting of a spicy, chili oil tinged sauce, minced pork and scallions. Here it resembles a Chinese version of ragu alla bolognese. This is one of those dishes I could eat for the rest of my life and be a happy man. Chef Hales chose bucatini, a stout noodle that can stand up to the mountain of fiery pork and scallions.

Blackbrick spread

After a half-dozen visits to Blackbrick, it’s solidified itself in my pantheon of go-to Miami restaurants. Over the past few years, the food scene in there has grown by leaps and bounds, leaving behind the tired, stodgy cuisine of the late 1990s and early 2000’s in favor of a vibrant blend of traditional fare, executed well and bold new creations destined to become classics. Blackbrick is indicative of this trend and stands among the leaders of great dining establishments in South Florida.

Click to add a blog post for Black Brick Chinese & Dim Sum on Zomato

Momofuku Noodle Bar – New York City, NY

Waiting in line is rarely enjoyable. I know from experience how baffling it can be for some to fathom that you’d ever choose to wait, and for something as simple as food no less. Somehow though, certain places continuously attract throngs of people to form incredibly long lines with the hope of securing a meal. There’s a soup kitchen/first world problems joke in there somewhere, but I’ll let that one lie.

Momofuku Logo

I ran into this situation recently in New York. It was getting close to dinner time and, as is usually the case, I’d procrastinated and failed to procure a reservation. It’s Saturday around 5 pm, we have to make it to Governor’s Island in a few hours for a show, hey why don’t we try to get into Momofuku! Brilliant.

Momfuku crowd

We arrived at quarter past to a line of more than 30 people eagerly waiting for the doors to open like so many suburban garage sale hunters. Not long after we assumed our place at the back of the line, we were approached by a German tourist and his family. “So is this place worth the wait?”, he asked, “these people certainly seem to think so”, I replied with a gesture to the patient crowd in front of us. Apparently that answer was enough for him to stick around, good man.

If you manage to pass through the doors, and if your party is small enough, you may be seated at the bar. I highly recommend this if you have any say at all, as the entertainment value of watching the chefs assemble the various dishes of the moment is worth the wait alone. We managed to catch a beautiful bowl of shrimp and grits being plated with military precision right before our eyes.

After my recent experience with shrimp and grits on our Orlando crawl, I wish I would’ve ordered it here, but I have no regrets. My choice of buns, in the shiitake and shrimp variety were more than satisfying. The former dressed simply with hoisin, scallion and shreds of cucumber was like a vegetarian Peking Duck. The latter topped a seared shrimp patty with spicy mayo, tart pickled red onion and crisp iceberg (I’m not usually a fan, but it worked here, well-played Mr. Chang).

Momofuku apps

Not to be overlooked were the pig tails which give you everything you want in a pork product. Fatty, gooey flavor packed cartilage hanging precariously off shards of crisped flesh.  A humble sprinkling of scallion and chili is enough to highlight the taste and wake up the tongue. The small bowl of pickled Asian pear helped to calm the spice with a little sweetness. Little did I know how much I’d miss those soothing pears as the next two dishes whipped my little gaijin behind.

Momofuku chilled spicy noodles

This bowl here, it’s sneaky. Do not be fooled by the word “chilled”. There’s nothing chilled about this dish except for the temperature of the noodles and maybe the nonchalant manner of the waitress as she places it in front of you knowing full well what you’re in for.

The chilled spicy noodle bowl is one of those dishes that lures you in with addicting flavors, sweet glazed cashews and savory bits of Sichuan sausage. You feel a small burn starting in the back of your throat, but it won’t stop you from greedily shoveling more of that taste into your mouth. But the burn keeps building with each bite, and not even the perfectly fresh spinach can quench the inferno that’s engulfing your insides…and yet, you return to the noodle siren as it calls you back again and again, no regrets.

Momofuku rice cakes

There’s a saying about fighting fire with fire. I can tell you, it doesn’t apply to food, as ordering a spicy dish and following it up with an even hotter one, is ill advised. Momofuku’s rice cakes are like little Japanese gnocchi from hell. They arrive piping hot and drenched in an angry red chili sauce that will turn your tongue to ash. Ok so it’s not quite that hot, but popping a couple of these guys in your mouth while it’s still in re-entry from the atomic noodles is not a smart idea. David Chang doesn’t mess around, he’s managed to balance the flavor and spice so carefully so that you won’t be able to stop eating it no matter how much you wish you could. Pro tip, do not order these two dishes back to back, but definitely do order them.

For all the hype, Momofuku delivered a meal that met, and at times exceeded my expectations. This is simply Asian fare done right, and if you appreciate that sort of thing, a 45 min wait is no big deal. I look forward to visiting Chef Chang’s nearby hideaway, Momofuku Ko, but there are no cameras allowed, so no post for you!

Momofuku Noodle Bar on Urbanspoon

Orlando Food Crawl 2014: Part II

ead-orlando-food-crawl-2014 2.0

We arrived early at East End Market just in time for Sangria Hour over at the adjoining Txokos. While most of the crew had to cure their shakes, I set out to explore the market while waiting for a couple of chumpy stragglers to vacate our spot at Kappo. Not that any of us are big tymers like Bird Man or Mannie Fresh, but we “still fresh” and because of that, reserved the entire restaurant…all eight seats. (For an introduction to Kappo, see our review)

For those who don’t know, East End Market is a food-centric co-op/incubator for small upstarts. The owner has provided a handful of spaces for small business owners to develop and demonstrate their concepts. It’s been a proven success as pretty much every booth is always buzzing with shoppers. I decided to do another mini cleanse with a small glass of lemongrass, starfruit Kombucha from Joybird Juicery.

Out of all the places on the crawl, the crew was most looking forward to Kappo. All eight members of said crew are live free or die harder with a vengeance sushi connoisseurs. If you want to experience the experience we experienced, you need to set it up through their email process. I’ve had a nice back and forth with the reservations department coordinating this and previous visits with excellent results. They have hospitality down on all fronts in a dynamic way, from planning to meal execution.

Let me reiterate, if you’re looking for the girlfriend experience in a way that only food can provide, phrases such as, “money is no object”, “foie-forward”, “don’t hold back”, “bring the uni” and “its imperative you make it rain shaved truffles” need to be part of your conversation when you set up meal.

Just so we’re clear, you may or may not be able to have a meal in a similar scope to what we had. We ate omakase style. There are no menus. We have no say. The whole idea is to trust the chef. If you want to order off of their pretty incredible menu, I think your best bet is to go to the first come first served weekday hour where everything can be had a la carte. If you want a meal only a small group of people will ever have, do what we did. You’ll feel like Jeff Bridges and Tommy Lee Jones in the 1994 action thriller, “Blown Away.”

Starting with the first course, they were definitely “foie-forward” with a lavish preparation of cured duck liver torchon, hidden inside a caviar jar with dollop of beluga, and a small layer of preserved kumquat marmalade underneath to add some sweetness as well as acidity.

Kappo spread 1

And so began the debate of which course was best at Kappo. It would be hard to top to the silky foie, except maybe with the most luxurious chawan mushi ever assembled. The custard, flavored with dashi, had a deep mahogany layer of truffle demi-glace that was so heavily reduced it approached life-threatening levels of pungency and earthiness. I almost started believing in umami. The custard itself was nice and wobbly, not too dense, which played perfectly with a couple of tongues of Atlantic uni that hovered gently over the truffle sauce. We assumed that the dish set in front of us was complete as is. We were dead wrong. The chef started walking around with a handful of whole black Alba winter truffles, shaving them with a microplane in the general direction of our bowls, without fear of consequence. This might have been the moment where my, “It’s imperative you make it rain shaved truffles” comment came into play. James wasted no time positioning himself to have truffles shorn straight into his mouth. Chef obliged with some paper-thin wafers as he pulled out the industrial strength slicer. I felt like Kurt Russell in the 1992 fire related action-thriller motion picture, when I was surprised to find truffles floating in my sake due to the “Backdraft”. Studying shaved truffles up close is such a beautiful and mesmerizing thing, like the most delicious Catacomb you could ever traverse. You should try it sometime.

The chefs kept the pace with a warm and cold sunomuno style salad with a heaping pile of cured salmon roe and marinated then seared scallop as the base. More uni fulfilled the request to “bring the uni”, this one coming from the Pacific. You could really tasty the subtle nuances between the different regions the sea urchins hail from. The Atlantic was more buttery, almost without that sense of coming from the sea at all, which did pair well with the custard. The Pacific was briny, with a stronger presence which worked just as well with in the sunomuno preparation. No salad would be complete without roughage. Chef placed a single nasturtium leaf coated in spritzing of kaffir lime essence. It reminded me of the way morning dew sticks to a flower just before sunrise.

The next dish was a fried enigma. What was this? One bite of the milky interior and I knew immediately. Milk poached sweetbreads fried in coarse panko crumbs for maximum texture. They were served with small heap of pickled julienned Asian pear, and a pungent nutta sauce of hot mustard, vinegar and blanched baby bok choy to create perfect harmony.

Kappo spread 2

Next was the sushi course. We were treated with a sampling of Artic char, flounder and waqyu strip loin, all topping the most succulent nubs of tranquil rice at just the right lukewarm temperature. I imagine if I ever got a chance to try out a 3 Michelin star sushi joint, the rice would be similar. The fish and beef weren’t ice cold and neither was the rice. I think serving cold sushi masks the true flavor, thankfully they were both at a more resting temperature. It goes to show that if you’re working with a superior product, you don’t need to put it into a cryogenic sleep to keep it fresh.  I can confirm  our resident “rice” guy Thai was spotted shedding tears of joy.

Yes, you can go to Kappo and only eat sushi, and I know that you’d go home praising yourself for the amazing decisions you’ve made. With that said, if you don’t allow the chef to breathe in a way that promotes creativity, you’ll miss out on a rare experience. The meal was inherently Japanese, as this is technically a Japanese food stall. Though, the influence of French, Korean, Italian and American for that matter, all played out seamlessly during the course of the meal.

Finally, as part of the chefs tasting we were served dessert. The chef handling pastry is a master. She keeps the flow of the meal intact by not killing the senses with overly sweet morsels, and she presents the final treats like a goodbye kiss. Not with a lame handshake, but with two kisses on each cheek. Starfruit paté de fruit, green tea mochi, pistachio and cocoa-matcha truffles were all delightful in their own unique way. Together they formed a Voltron bonbon.

It was time to say goodbye to the four chef team of Kappo to hit our last stop.

With our bellies distended, we saddled up to a hightop at the ever-loving Cask & Larder. Fullness never stops a true eater from ordering something that sounds tasty. Pogo eyed a scrumptious tamale with roasted goat, buttermilk curds, and pickled sweet peppers, while me and James couldn’t resist the lamb ribs, with a sticky BBQ sauce, smoked collard greens and quick B&B pickles. The rest of the table was not going to let us down.

Cask & Larder goat tamale

They pooled together what room they had left in their tummies and ordered an impressive tower from the raw bar. Rock shrimp scampi, roasted oysters with slivers of uni, oysters on the half with mignonette, steamed cherrystone clams with tostones and an aji amarillo aioli, and slabs of raw tuna coated with tahini, chiles, Asian pear and crispy maitake mushroom threads.

Cask & Larder spread

We had a round a victory drinks to mark another successful conquest, one of which happened to be the best gin and tonic in town. It’s always sad saying goodbye, but then again we’ve already begun plans for the next adventure, so that softened the blow. We all miss Todd, and while we’re glad he’s living his dream with his dreamgirl, it doesn’t diminish the fact that a big part of what made the Tampa food scene so lively, isn’t in Tampa anymore.  We miss him so much, we miss his scent. When this all gets sorted out, I think we should all get an apartment together. Til’ next time, old friend.

Orlando Food Crawl 2014: Part I

The triumphant return of an original  member of the Four Coursemen gave us an excuse to plan an all-out attack on the flourishing Orlando food scene. I don’t want to give him a Big Head Todd, but in all honestly, he was a true forerunner of social eating and food blogging in the Tampa area. He was the first person to really reach out and try to help us get our name out to a larger audience, without trying to buy our stomachs, and for that I give him 5 stars. So what can you do for a man who eats everything? Feed him.

I like to think we toured Orlando thoroughly the first time, especially since we were dining at the height of the city’s food revival. At that time, places such as East End Market, Cask & Larder and Pharmacy were in their infancy, still working out the kinks, but that didn’t stop them from serving up tasty food. For the most part, the main goal of our last trip was eating at places that none of the Tampa crew had tried.

ead-orlando-food-crawl-2014 2.0

I think of my two Orlando food crawls as Paul McCartney albums. The first one was like “Band on the Run”, a masterful effort from start to finish. Our most recent one was something of a greatest hits collection. I feel comfortable saying that they were “All the Best.”

What would be considered “The Lakeland crew” got a late start. I realize punctuality is important, especially when you’ve got half a dozen full service restaurants to visit. However by 10 AM, our bellies were beginning to grumble, so we swung by The Bread Pedlar for a morning bun to prepare our stomachs. It’s not our fault we happened across a random pincho stand raise up like a phoenix, setting fire to the sun. Or should I say, setting fire to our plans of making it on time to Highball & Harvest to meet the rest of the crew. The pincho pusher told me that it would take 2 minutes, which turned into 20. Finally, with a skewer of BBQ’d Chicken and a couple of Plátano Relleno con Carne hand pies in hand, we finally got out-of-town.

Meanwhile, at Highball & Harvest, Kurt, Todd and Thai wasted no time and began eating and drinking with gusto. The highly regarded “Chicken and the Egg,” a fantastic take on chicken & waffles with a sunny side up egg and house made hot sauce, didn’t survive long enough for us to sample. They also ordered “Pig-n-Potatoes”, which was their version of hash for a highly sophisticated southern gentleman. Instead of corned beef, braised pork cheeks were used.

Highball & Harvest spread 1

We were greeted with hisses for our tardiness which quickly morphed into warm greetings as everyone was just so happy to see each other again. There were a few scraps left of the hash we gobbled up like Oliver Twist scrounging about for another bowl of gruel. There were a couple of fantastic Parker House rolls left with a side of apple butter butter. You really must order them with any meal at H&H. The only way I can properly describe these rolls, would be to flash back to the days when we all used to go to buffets as youngsters and eat our weight in those awesome yeast rolls, which is pretty much the only redeeming quality of said establishments. The H&H rolls were like that, only x10 better.

As everyone got comfortable, another round of drinks were ordered by the boys as us late comers played catch up by ordering some food. Coming out of the kitchen first was a  Southern sampler spread, consisting of smoked fish dip, pickled root vegetables and pimento cheese with various crackers. Also ordered was a canister of fried pickles and onion strips with secret sauce. The smoked fish dip was great as were the pickles. We also got a single baby pork belly slider with BBQ kimchi from the bar menu to sample between six of us. The thing was no bigger than a silver dollar, but it managed to round the table twice as each of us attempted to take smaller and smaller bites so as not to be the glutton.

After we slowed on the sampler, our main plates arrived. I must have gone through burger withdrawal, as it had been nearly 2 weeks since #ApocalypseCow. James and I went with their burger, made with ground short rib topped with pimento cheese, smoky bacon, B&B Pickles and mustard. There was something eerily familiar and comforting to me; as if it were a burger I had from many years past.

Highball & Harvest spread 2

Pogo chose a beautiful bowl of red Canaveral shrimp and grits with a thinned out tomato based BBQ gravy. The rest of the boys shared a plate of chicken fried chicken with silky potato purée, sweet pickled green beans and watermelon rind. What a happy accident it was to try the shrimp and grits. For me it was the best plate of food we had at H&H, though we heard rumors that the chicken and waffles was in fact the best, we may never know. I don’t think any one of us expected to love this place as much as we did. I’m very excited to go back for more. Just make sure to validate your parking before you leave the hotel, because it’s pretty steep otherwise.

After some McLaren ogling, we headed to Winter Park, the center of our food crawl battleground. Of course this exercise was obviously first about eating good food. However, the more subtle theme of the day was reconnecting with friends. We took a slower, more relaxed approach and decided to trim off a couple of places we just simply did not have time for, which also gave us an excuse to hit Prato sooner. If you haven’t heard of Prato by now, you either: 1. Don’t like Italian food, or 2. Don’t know us. We’ve covered what I firmly consider the best Italian restaurant in state at length; with not one but two posts as well as the myriad Instagram photo bombs. At this juncture, we were joined by Theresa and Joel, a couple more Bay area peeps who really know their stuff.

Prato apps

Between the eight of us, we nearly ordered the entire menu. Not only did the waiter gift us some of their signature meatballs, but with eight people ordering, real estate on our table was at a premium. We have a rule that forbids the ordering of more than one dish at each place to avoid overfilling. That that rule quickly went out the window as multiple pasta courses were checked off by James and Kurt. If I had to guess, they had nearly half a dozen between them, and they weren’t the only ones. There was pizza covered with cured meats, fresh mozzarella, herbs and an over easy egg for dunking the crust into. Theresa pulled a rabbit out of her hat with her smokey, Italian style Reuben sandwich. Joel, who we found out is indeed a real person (long story), snuck in some soft stracciatella bathing in a pool of warm olive oil with perfectly placed droplets of aged balsamic. Spread that stuff over some crunchy bread and it will make you go crazy enough that your tongue will try to beat your brains out.

Prato spread

I kind of lost track of all the pasta we ate. Whatever they had, we ordered it. If you’re looking for the best pasta area, made in-house and by hand, Prato is the place for you. Just take a look at this rundown.

  1. Giant raviolo filled with soft ricotta and a yolk with parm and brown buttered bread crumbs
  2. Squid ink campanelle with New Smyrna Beach clams, Canaveral shrimp and roasted cherry tomatoes
  3. Cavatelli with beef cheek ragu, butternut squash, greens with a runny horseradish crema
  4. Beet ravioli stuffed with goat cheese then topped with crushed tomatoes, herbs and toasted pine nuts
  5. Chive bagli amatrciana dusted with buttery bread crumbs

Prato pasta

That tied up the first half of our crawl like a nice farfalle. Stay tuned for Part II, featuring the incomparable Kappo and the young gun, Cask & Larder!

Saus – Boston, MA

Writing up tasty meals in one of America’s greatest cities is a tough job, thankfully, my little sister is up for the task. It’s been a while, but we’ve got another guest post on deck from the author of Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill. Take it away Lobe!


Diana and I just took a trip to Boston. Mostly for the rich history, but also to explore the food! We asked the proprietors of Eat a Duck to guide us in the right direction, food­wise. They gave us a chunky list to choose from (two restaurants which will be featured here later) and we chose Neptune Oyster Bar as one of our first stops for lunch. Neptune doesn’t take reservations, so we figured going for lunch would give us a better shot at getting a table. Upon arriving, waiting at the front of the restaurant and being ignored by staff for an entire five minutes, we were informed that it would be an hour and a half wait. So we bailed, and headed to Saus instead.

Saus Frites

Saus was exactly what we needed. A comic-­clad “street food” shop offering all manner of frites, poutine, snacks and sandwiches. I chose the plain frites with “SamuraiSaus,” a chili and mayo combination with the shrimp and scallion fritters with a deliciously refreshing chili dipping sauce, fittingly named “green monster”. The shrimp and scallion fritters tasted like the shrimp cheong fun from La Maison Kam Fung in Montreal, only fried (‘murica.) I couldn’t decide whether to dip the fritters in my Samurai Saus or the green monster sauce. Both complimented the fritter and left a lingering heat.

Saus Shrimp & Scallion Fritter

Diana ordered the “Legit corndog” and plain poutine, something I think she’d been craving for quite some time. The corndog’s perfectly crispy batter made for a truly “legit” corndog. The poutine was classic. Delicious gravy drenched cheese curds over crispy frites. Both snacks came with quick pickles and pickled onions. The pickles were on the rare side, with enough of a cucumber twinge to make the pickle sweet and counter all the salt we were consuming.

Saus Legit Corndog & Poutine

The staff was wonderful, candid and prompt with our order. The walls were covered with framed Tintin covers (Jimmy would be pleased) which made me feel right at home. The location of this establishment is also pretty choice, it’s on Union, next door to the Union Oyster House and Bell in Hand Tavern. If those two historically rich restaurants can’t seat you right away, and you’re starving, make your way over to Saus and get satiated. You won’t be disappointed.

Saus on Urbanspoon

Painter’s Palate – Sarasota, FL

The following is an excerpt from a conversation I had with a newly acquainted food friend.

JP: Hey do you want to go to lunch?

JT: Sure, where are we going?

JP: This place called Painter’s Palate.

JT: What kind of a name is that? What kind of food do they serve?

JP: Thai-Italian fusion…

JT:…oh dear god.

Admittedly, fusion cuisine doesn’t have a great reputation here Eat a Duck HQ, so I kept my hopes in check as I made my way to the newborn restaurant from the folks behind Sarasota’s Thai outpost, Drunken Poet. I was the first to arrive, so I had a moment to study the menu, hoping to glean some information on the upcoming meal. I was happy to see that most of the menu was rooted firmly in Southeast Asia with a few exceptions, like the pizza and tartine sections. Thai pizza sounds enticing…but with marinara sauce? Brie and curry tartine? Suffice it to say I was concerned about Painter’s Palate. Thai-Italian fusion, a name that gives no clue about what kind of food you might find, an empty dining room, things were looking grim.

My concern didn’t have time to change to worry before my compatriots arrived. Since we were the only diners, we asked to see the dinner menu as the lunch version was missing a couple of items we had heard good things about. The first glimmer of hope came as we read through the appetizer section…and then proceeded to order every item, along with a spicy basil pizza for good measure.

Any worries I had were immediately assuaged when an order of duck rolls arrived. An intriguing tartar-like sauce bound the crispy, golden rolls to the plate. I was knocked out by the succulent duck meat, juicy and full of spices. The Thaicos followed and were another early hit. Healthy slabs of lightly seared ahi tuna topped with fresh seaweed salad laid in a crisp shrimp chip were delicious. In my opinion it could have done without the imitation crab underneath, but it didn’t take away from the dish.

Painter's Palate apps 1

The crispy wings were a small misstep as they seemed to have been left in the fryer a touch too long and the accompanying jar seemed to contain straight duck sauce. I can’t blame the chef too much since we did bombard him with a large order, at the same time as I said, we were the only ones there. At the time, Painter’s Palate had been open less than a week, so I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

The appetizers continued to arrive at machine gun pace. Crispy shrimp in a creamy sriracha sauce were a unanimous winner. Perfectly cooked with tender meat and a nice crisp fried shell. I found this sauce to be much tastier than the one that came with the wings.

Painter's Palate apps 2

Simple inari pockets stuffed with more seaweed salad were a welcome, and very tasty reprieve from the fried assault…which was continued by two fantastic Thai “corn dogs”. The now familiar creamy sauce was present to brighten up the panko breading and was helped along by a refreshing hit of kaffir lime in the dog itself.

We heard the chef hails from Belgium, so it was only right to sample his frites. They cut them thick at Painter’s Palate, leaving a soft interior , a good fry and were paired, as is the custom, with a clearly homemade mayo. It was a touch salty, but a strong citrus note helped offset.

The aforementioned red curry and brie tartine arrived to three pairs of raised eyebrows. Unfortunately this dish fell flat due to the clunky ingredient combinations. Three pieces of toasted bread topped with melted brie and bacon weren’t bad in and of themselves. However they sat on a warm bed of spinach, peppers, tomatoes and walnuts all in a red curry sauce which was noticeably missing any curry flavor.

Tartine, frites, spicy basil pizza

The spicy basil pizza arrived to settle our debate about marinara sauce at a Thai joint. This did not suck. Far from it in fact. It was a beautiful pie, with a crisp crust, not underdone despite the copious amounts of ground beef and sweet caramelized onions riding on the dough. A fried egg was a nice touch but didn’t add much to the flavor. I actually think the pizzas could take to Thai flavors quite well. Get rid of the cheese and marinara sauce and throw in some spicy red curry, shrimp paste pizza and pickled lemongrass. I’m no chef but I can see the possibilities! I’d like to see the chef get creative here, they’ve got that pizza oven, so why not stray from Italy in lieu of Thailand?

In restaurant terms, Painter’s Palate is still in its infancy, only a couple of weeks old, but they’re already off to a great start with some truly impressive dishes. If they can tighten up some small mistakes, rework that tartine section and really commit to exploring what’s possible when Giuseppe and Pravat put their heads together, they could have a real hit on their hands. This place deserves to be packed, so beat the hipsters and get to Painter’s Palate before it gets too cool!

Ray’s Seafood Market & Restaurant – Essex Junction, VT

If you’re a regular reader here at Eat a Duck, you can probably rattle off the foods we enjoying writing about most. Pork, duck, foie gras, cheese, wine, steak, sushi, dim sum, the list goes on. Well now isn’t the time to stray from our faithful list of guilty pleasures. I only want to talk about one thing today, lobster, specifically lobster cozily stuffed in a buttered bun. I’m talking lobster rolls.

For many, Maine is the Mecca of the lobster world, others might say it’s Boston. When it comes to lobster rolls though, there’s only one place you need to know about. Ray’s Seafood Market and Restaurant in the humble town of Essex Junction, VT. I know, I know, this is almost as sacrilegious as when I said I found the best pizza ever in Atlanta, GA. I’m sorry but it’s true. I’ll give you a second to wrap your mind around it. Alright…

Ray's Exterior Ray's Entry

This little seafood shack is located just one exit north of Burlington on Interstate 89. If you manage to find it tucked away behind a Tae-Kwon-Do studio and the Go-Go Gas station, you won’t see any flashy signs touting “World’s Greatest Lobster!”, or any goofy quotes from this years Zagat guide plastered on all the windows “So good it should be against the CLAW!”. No, all you’ll see is a comfy looking sky blue eatery with a little lobster cut out above the door, subtly foreshadowing great things to come.

When you come through the doors you’re welcomed by the briny aroma of the sea. Large vats of crustaceans are front and center, proudly displaying the recent catch. A couple of bays devoted to lobster, maybe one for crab, all filled with potential delicacies. The large freezers to the right contain even more amazing seafood from scallops and octopus, to whole belly clams and shrimp, perfect for your fryer at home when you’re hankering for a po’ boy. Now I wouldn’t fault you for raising an eyebrow after taking a first glance around the place, it is a bit kitschy, what with all the fake crabs, fishing nets and glass buoys strung about like nautical Christmas decorations, but after dining here countless times, I wouldn’t change a single thing. In the end, all that matters is the food and Ray’s delivers.

Ray's Seafood Market Interior

So let’s get to it! I take it most of you have tried a lobster roll at least once in your life. No? Well let me lay out the basics for you. The classic lobster roll consists of a buttered bun, mayonnaise, salt, pepper, possibly a dash of Old Bay, and lobster meat, preferably from the tail but a little claw is fine as long as it’s fresh. That’s it, nothing fancy, nothing complicated. Those two things that the Ray’s roll lacks, are the exact two things that have ruined every other lobster roll I’ve tried elsewhere. Everyone seems to think “my god it’s lobster, we must dress it to the nines!”. So they add onions and celery and lettuce and all kinds of other ingredients and seasonings until the lobster gets completely overshadowed. Now if I’m going to spend $12-$20 on a lobster roll, by golly I want to taste my lobster! The folks at Ray’s get this, they dress it as simply as possible, using just enough mayo and spices to bring out the amazing flavors that lobster is capable of.

Lobster Roll & Fries

Understandably, many of you live nowhere near Ray’s, but we here at Eat a Duck are looking out for every eventuality. Say you find yourself on your way to Montreal to check out some of our wonderful Canadian recommendations like Maison Kam Fung or L’Express, but oh no, your plane gets caught in a terrible blizzard and has to divert to Burlington for the night. Well Ray’s is no more than 10 minutes from the airport, ready to supply you with soul warming lobster rolls to cure your air travel woes. Ah, now who’s thinking ahead? You’re welcome.

So if you or a friend or family member or even a sworn enemy (hey everyone deserves a tasty lobster roll) are ever heading to Burlington, and you even slightly enjoy a lobster here and there, make sure you check out Ray’s Seafood Market & Restaurant.

Ray's Seafood Market & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sakaya Kitchen – Miami, FL

If you know me, you know my food habits. One of those being my obsessive need to sniff out the best eateries in town, particularly when I’ve just moved to a new one. Part of this quirk is innate, it’s something I’ve done for years, and part of it was encouraged by Logan,  a legendary food detective in his own right. When the two of us get together, very few restaurants worth visiting elude our noses, and this past visit was no exception.

The gang was all together, Logan, Lobe (my sister, a.k.a. Sara) and myself. We embarked on a late night wander around downtown Miami with the intention of finding some tasty, yet-to-be-discovered places to get a great plate of food.

After hitting up a sleepy conveyor belt sushi joint, we turned a corner and there it was, Sakaya Kitchen, an Asian brasserie/gastropub of sorts, just the thing we were searching for. The enormous neon pig in the window was enough to motivate a brisk walk across the street. Upon entering, we were faced with a gargantuan floor to ceiling menu containing countless dishes, all of which seemed to involve pork, duck, beef, shrimp or some combination of those.

Now for those of you who have had the pleasure of eating out with Mr. Crumpton, you know that there are times when everyone orders for themselves, and there are times when you put yourself in his capable hands to take care of the ordering. Even a knowledgeable food-lover such as myself knows the proper time to cede control of the meal, and I can honestly say that I have never been disappointed when Logan takes the helm. This was one of those times, so my sister and I took our places at the table and let the man go to work, not quite knowing what we’d be enjoying.

He joined us moments later with a smile on his face as if to say, “mission accomplished”. Moments later our number was called and it was chow time. Logan plopped the tray in front of us as we got our first glimpse of the feast. A cracklin’ duck herb sandwich with black plum, quick pickles and scallions was first to catch my attention. The succulent duck had an awesome char on the tips but was moist and tender at the center. Pair that with the crisp quick pickles, scallions and savory plum sauce, I could’ve told you this would be a winner without even tasting it.

Bahn Mi Buns. Nothing more really needs to be said, but I can’t help myself. The boys and girls at Sakaya Kitchen did these right and stuffed them full of pork belly, paté de tete, kimchi carrots, spicy mayo and cilantro. If I were a big wig executive putting on a presentation for my investors, a platter of these is all I’d need to impress. The flavors were spot on, sumptuous pork belly, refreshing veg, and an electric mayo to tie it all together. I’m no prognosticator, but I see more Bahn Mi Buns in my future.

Next was the Bo Ssam bowl with grilled shrimp, spicy sticky rice banchan. Bo Ssam for those who don’t know, is slow-roasted Korean pork wrapped with a leaf vegetable. This was more of a deconstructed presentation as the verdant leaf was stuffed next to the pork like a garnish. This was definitely the main event. I wish this shot showed the scale better, because this was a monstrous bowl of pork. So monstrous in fact that I could’ve worn it like a Stormtrooper helmet, and I have an enormous head. I digress. The pork was fork tender, it fell apart faster than the New York Jets playoff bid, and it was smothered with a spicy herbed sauce. The shrimp on the other hand were perfectly cooked and fresh as can be. In my experience, shrimp can be a very problematic protein. So many times I’ve received tough, nearly inedible, fishy pieces of crap. Sakaya Kitchen did not dishonor this animal in the slightest. It was a fantastic take on surf n’ turf. The stash of quick pickles under the mound of rice was a nice surprise, and that coming from a known pickle hater.

We ended things with what sounded like a sure-fire star, a bacon Nutella shake. While it was delicious, we noted a distinct lack of bacon flavor. That may just be because we’re hog hounds, but I think next time we’ll order it with extra bacon, and maybe a side of pork belly for good measure.

I have to say I was very impressed with Sakaya Kitchen overall. In a town like Miami that can leave you wanting when it comes to certain food cultures, Sakaya Kitchen fills a void with an eatery not unlike something you’d find in downtown Manhattan. It’s a welcome addition to the South Florida food scene and I sincerely hope to see more like it. My next goal is to check out their wandering food truck Dim Ssam A Go-Go. Supposedly they use all-natural proteins, organic dairy and even support local farmers! You look me in the eye and tell me that doesn’t have Eat a Duck written all over it! Look out for the review soon!

Sakaya Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill – Austin, TX

Today we’ve got another guest contribution. My little sister Sara just returned from an all-female food fraught fiesta out West, and she returned with tales of Moonshine, Texas style! We hope you all enjoy, and thanks to Sara for the review, our first one from the Lonestar State!

My girls and I recently went on a trip out West to Denver and Austin. The underlying excitement of the trip definitely stemmed from trying local cuisine, making sure to steer clear of any chains. When we landed in Austin, we met up with our friend who lived down the street from our hotel and immediately hopped on Yelp to find a decent place for a late lunch.  The first place that struck us, because of its incredible ratings, was Moonshine Patio Bar and Grill.

photo: www.moonshinegrill.com

We were escorted out to the covered patio and were informed by our incredibly polite and helpful server, James, that we had arrived just in time for happy hour. Half off drinks and appetizers! That definitely helped expedite the choosing process. For appetizers, we chose the Moonshine “Corn Dog” Shrimp with honey mustard and a blueberry swirl, the Southern Fried Chicken and Waffles with maple butter, warm syrup and chipotle gravy, Roasted Garlic Bulbs with goat cheese, roasted red peppers and toast points and the Baked Brie with cranberry-apple chutney and toast points. While we waited for our appetizers we each ordered a signature patio cocktail.  Since, for me, this was the first time being of age in Texas, I had to try my first Mint Julep.  It was smooth with that delicious bourbon bite, a real Texas Mojito.

 Mint julep & James

Shanna ordered the Ruby Slipper Martini, which consisted of vodka, grapefruit juice, grenadine and champagne. Lindsay ordered the Hard Lemonade with vodka, mint, fresh lemonade and a splash of Paula’s Texas Lemon. Even Diana, who detests even a hint of hard liquor, ended up ordering a Hard Lemonade herself.  It’s a dangerous but delicious drink that’s gone before you know it. James brought out two small buckets of popcorn dusted with some mysterious spice (I assumed it was Old Bay), which was a terribly addicting snack to place in the middle of five women.

 

Our appetizers were each incredible in their own way. The baked brie was melting and delicious and each component, the apple slice, caramelized onion and the melty breaded brie on a toast point, completed the dish. The Southern Fried Chicken was Diana’s choice and she stated that she would eat it by herself if no one wanted to share.  Of course when it made it to our table, none of us could resist digging in. The waffles were light and fluffy and went surprisingly well with the fried chicken tenders. I served myself a cut of waffle spread with the maple butter, then a cut of the chicken, drizzled on some gravy and the warm syrup on top of everything to make the perfect bite of Southern comfort food.  The roasted garlic was a no-brainer. It was drizzled with a thick balsamic vinegar.  This was another appetizer that required some assembly. First, a mashed clove of garlic on the toast point, followed by a shmear of smooth goat cheese, topped by a few bits of the roasted red pepper. The “Corn Dog” Shrimp was the first appetizer we heard about via Yelp so we had to order it.  Battered shrimp on a stick always sounds good to me.  The shrimp was cooked perfectly, just juicy enough, and the blueberry swirl in the honey mustard gave a nice zing to the dish. 

Roasted garlic & corn dog shrimp

In an attempt to be semi-healthy on the trip, I ordered The Bohemian wrap, which is Portobello mushrooms, grilled zucchini, red bell peppers, red onion, arugula, goat cheese and eggplant spread wrapped up in an herb tortilla.  It was the best vegetarian sandwich dish I have ever had. It’s rare when I can find a vegetarian dish that completely satisfies, but this sandwich blew me out of the water. As my side, I ordered the red beans and rice to complete my Southern theme for the afternoon.

The Bohemian & Big Red's bits

Diana ordered Big Red’s BLT, apple-smoked bacon, summer tomato and arugula on grilled farm bread.  Diana noted that the farm bread was incredibly buttery and the peppered tomatoes were perfectly juicy, as a bonus, both were locally sourced. I highly recommend this Moonshine to anyone visiting Austin.  After our meal was over, we contemplated going to Moonshine every day for lunch for the duration of the trip. A relaxed atmosphere, impeccable staff, and incredible food, what more can you ask for?

Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon