Tag Archives: food

Oh the Florida sky.

If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plan.

In my case, if you want to see God roll in the aisles, plan your trip to the Z in TripIt. My mini-moon in Florida Keys could have been the ultimate beach trip, with sunset rendezvous with dazzling glasses of mojito, floating among the whimsical Florida Reefs, playing pirate ghosts in shipwrecks, or parasailing with the wind.

Nah! He sent his pariah named Winter Storm Jonas.

On the day I planned to go diving in John Pennekamp State Park, all water activities, even kayaking in semi-concealed mangrove tunnels. I got really upset! I’m like a spoiled kid when things didn’t go accordingly. But this was no hollow plan. I have wanted to go to the park since I read about the underwater Christ of the Abyss statue and ship remnants that settled there. It’s a chance for me to put my PADI certification in use, and it’s different from other water sites I have snorkeled/dived in.

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John Pennekamp that day.

2 days later, we woke up at 6.30 for our tour to Dry Tortugas National Park, only to be greeted by a cautious ranger. She informed us that the catamaran was still running, but the ride would be very rocky, and snorkeling would be “out of the question”. Despite my longing to see this unique, superlative park, the kinetosis in me cried no. I knew my limit: Dramamine wouldn’t help much, and I would get too cranky and exhausted to enjoy the scenery. Plus, what’s the point of seeing a mesmerizing palette of blue without being to touch it?

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On the Seven Mile Bridge. The GoPro shook like crazy, I had to do multiple shots to get one or two almost neat-looking photos.

Still, we still had a lot of fun dashing through the Overseas Highway and exploring the Keys. It was no California’s State Route 1, but with a Mustang Convertible, the drive was still a classic. Here are some of our interest encounter along the way:

  • Python Challenge: NOT SAFE FOR GEEKS! The wildlife in Everglades National Park is being threatened by the invasion of non-native Burmese pythons, so people are participating in a removal competition. I propose captured pythons be packed and sent oversea to Asian countries, where python fat is used as a kind of alternative medicine (notably burn treatment), but apparently Everglades pythons have high levels of mercury and not recommended for consumption. (Not that Asians care)
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    Kids for scale! This is a humble 13-feet.

  • Robert is Here: a well-known fruit farm in Homestead, FL. Well, for me, it was a sanctuary. There were star fruits, canistels, rambutans, full-sized jackfruits, SUGARCANE JUICE! Sapodillas were twice the size of a regular one, and soursops were twice the prize. I particularly love how the tastes are described: pineapple cotton candy, egg custard, fruity flan… Growing up eating these tropical fruits on a daily basis, I kind of took them for granted, never thinking about how foreigner would perceive these tastes. It’s like… describing colors to blind people.
  • Big Pine Key / No Name Key: I was adamant about dropping by this tiny island to spot the endangered Key deer. We saw 4: a lonesome, mellow buck, and a group of 2 does and 1 tiny fawn. They are tiny and intrepid, but I kept my distance, with respect to their habitat.PicMonkey Collage
  • Bahia Honda State Park: some guides say this state park is passable. I’m glad I didn’t listen. Not much activity was going on the day we came (stormy stuffs), but the beach was sophisticatedly turquoise. I think it’s one of the more beautiful beaches in Florida Keys. It also gave a great view to the old Bahia Honda Bridge, and better, access to the bridge itself.
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The “here and there” view. The clouds looked like watercolor strokes.

  • The Spice & Tea Exchange Key West: a “franchise” that specializes in, well, spices and tea. I purchased a bag of Wuyi tea with relatively good quality (not on a par with my favorites Ten Ren, Harney & Sons, or McNulty though). I have higher hopes for the spices, and can’t wait to try the salmon rub made from black tea and peppercorn.
  • I almost forgot the most important thing: food! While the seafood here is so fresh you can hear fishermen singing, the execution didn’t wow us. We went to restaurants on both the widely praised and the locally recommended sides, enjoyed our meals overall, but neither of us got that euphoria in the tummy. The only memorable dish, for me, is the Asian-fusion tuna tataki, seared rare tuna and wakame salad, at Bagatelle.IMG_20160119_181949 (2)
  • And yeah, conch fritters!

For now, I think I’m done with Florida. Temporarily. Maybe I’ll be back a few years later to explore the off-beaten paths this sunshine state has to offer. But in the mean time, 2016 will be the year of lakes and mountains!

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Travel tidbit: In Nashville, cobia is the new black (tuna)

I’m not a fancy eater, but I’ve had my fair share of fine dining to know what to expect on a dinner menu. And even with that knowledge, deciding on the dish is still a fierce battle. Great chefs always have that finishing touch that defines the aftertaste of their food. Many times, what linger at my taste bud are not necessarily the meat, but the garnish, condiments, sauce and sides (and it’s not a bad thing, because you can grill that cut at that temperature for that long, but one distinctive addition and your food will turn to a whole new direction).

Etch is a young and prospering addition to the food scene in Nashville. Exhibit A: it will appear in most “top restaurant” lists you find on Google. Exhibit B: even the bar seating was full, and we went on a weekday. Exhibit C: it donates $1 to the local food bank for every sale of the signature appetizer – roasted cauliflower with truffled pea pesto, salted almonds and feta dip. In 2014, $22,012 was raised. With Saturday dinners only and Sundays closed, that’s 76.69 dishes served per day (#ididthemath).

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Roasted Cauliflower – truffled pea pesto, salted almonds, feta dip

As first-time eaters, we ordered the popular: the roasted cauliflower (why not eat good and do good both), butter tasting (came in 4 ramekins, the butter stayed loyal to its creamy texture, but each contained a unique twist). Then a strange name caught my attention: Cobia. In a moment of pretentiousness, I stealthily looked it up online. Turn out, just like Nashville, it is also one of the up-and-comings. Other names include black salmon, black kingfish, sergeant fish, and – prodigal son! Those extravagant names might have something to do with its sizes – an average cobia is huge and often mistaken for sharks. Most cobias are farmed and under management, so it’s sustainable. It’s delicious, so it makes a nice alternative white meat. Cobia has been making it ways to several lauded restaurants, but only a few keeps it on as a regular (check out The Gramercy Tavern if you’re in NYC). Even fewer has managed to make a big hit like Etch.

Cobia - turkish spiced, brown buttered oranges, capers, olives, raisins, almonds, feta, beignet

Cobia – turkish spiced, brown buttered oranges, capers, olives, raisins, almonds, feta, beignet

Let me start about the fish itself. In the words of my friend who took a bite of my plate, “it taste[s] like tofu”. Granted, he was not totally wrong. The texture did resemble that of medium firm tofu, but denser and more luscious. The challenge with fish, I find, is that it could easily taste bland and dry. Pan-searing, thus, helped contain the flavor and moist.

The Turkish spices brought out the sweetness of the white meat. Admittedly, I didn’t know what exactly was in that spice mixes, but they weren’t too bold. Citrus fruits are commonly used with seafood, but here, brown-buttered oranges were more than just a garnish – it was a featured component. The sourness was prevailing, but relieved by the generous portions of raisins and almonds. And then there were capers and olives, each a little salty and bitter. It was an almost-perfect blend, except that the orange sauce was sourer than my taste bud could take.

And I think that was when the most interesting attribute came into the picture: the beignet. I think it was made chewy on purpose, because when I dipped it in the orange sauce, it got not only softer, but also lessened the sauce’s immensely tangy citrus flavor. With the big pastry and extra sauce, I had the happy ending that every culinary tale needs.

So, if you are ever in Nashville, stuff yourself with a Southern feast, wander around food trucks, or challenge your tummy with the hot chickens, but consider other eclectic restaurants like Etch. It isn’t widely considered a food city for no reason.

Photo credits: Etch Restaurant’s instagram. I’m refraining from taking pictures of food out of respect for the chef.

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Travel tidbit: Hida Beef of Takayama, Japan.

Hida Beef on Houba MisoHida beef is a treasure of the Gifu prefecture, beside onsen and the Japanese Alps. It is widely regarded to have comparable quality to Kobe or Matsusaka beef. This beef is grilled over magnolia leaf on top of a burning charcoal stove, topped with soybean paste. The texture fits one of those “melt in my mouth” food description clichés, because it is so tender and delicate you are afraid to take the next bite. The taste is an amalgam of the earthy flavor from the leaf, the minimal and slightly fermented miso and of course, the joyful fattiness that just imparted your umami.

I had this dish in a small family restaurant named Kotaro, a capacity of 4 tables at most. I was tasting the delight while the other couple talked about how they was recently ripped off in Vietnam. Even that harsh truth of reality couldn’t bitter down the juice.

Maruaki is a popular Yakiniku restaurant with a selection of beef at a variety of grade levels (up to A12).  Look at the beautiful, sleek marbled patterns!

Don’t they sparkle like the first ray of sunshine after a long winter?

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