Shanghai: Weekend at Madison’s

Top reft: Me & Chef Austin Hu; Top right: Madison Tonic; Bottom: Ginger Carrot Soup

Top left: Me & Chef Austin Hu; Top right: Madison Tonic; Bottom: Ginger Carrot Soup

I’m not going to lie. I really wanted to title this blog post “Why I want to be Best Friends with Austin Hu (and his cousin Garrett),” but I decided that was probably borderline creepster. A few months ago, I wrote about brunch at Madison and how it was one of the best brunches of my life. One month ago, Austin Hu actually commented on my blog and I had a mini freak-out because he liked my blog!

I’ve been dying to try Madison for dinner and now I wanted to meet Austin. When my sister came into town (who is a bigger foodie than I am), it was the perfect reason to book a dinner reservation. At dinner, Madison actually has two sides to the restaurant: a more casual gastropub called Madi’s and the more refined dining experience at Madison.

Seared Foie Gras with Strawberries

Seared Foie Gras with Strawberries

As soon as we sat down, I asked to meet Austin and asked him for his recommendations of what we should order. My sister and I were slightly overwhelmed so when Austin offered to make us a personal tasting menu, we couldn’t refuse! The man made us a nine-course tasting menu. It was so much fun being surprised with each dish. While I won’t talk about every single course in detail, I will highlight my favorites!

Top left: Kanpach wrapped in seaweed; Top right: Pork Belly with frisée and apples; Bottom left: Perch on top of a Kimchi Stew; Bottom right: Duck ragout with Spinach Pasta

Top left: Kanpachi wrapped in seaweed; Top right: Pork belly with frisée and apples; Bottom left: Perch on top of a homemade kimchi stew; Bottom right: Duck ragout with spinach pasta

The definite star of the night was the kanpachi. It was seared perfectly with that raw pink center. The fish is wrapped in seaweed and gently sliced, topped with puffed black rice, mushrooms and fried pickled ginger. I was loving every single bite of this dish and I didn’t want it to end. Everything worked so well together. The cold fish with the crunchy bits of rice made the textures so interesting. Once you added that sweet and spicy ginger into the combination, then it created a party in your mouth.

My second favorite dish was the spinach pasta with duck ragout. The pasta was cooked that perfect al dente texture and the sauce was rich and hearty. I wanted to drink it up. Once you added the slight tangy, creamy crème fraîche-like topping, you had the perfect bowl of pasta. It reminded me of flour + water back home, making me nostalgic for San Francisco.

Top: Squab served two ways. Seared foie gras on top of squab breast with squab confit leg. Bottom: Short rib with a sweet potato purée.

Top: Squab served two ways; bottom: Short rib

The squab was served two ways. Another slice of perfectly-seared foie gras was served on top of the squab breast, while the confit leg was flash fried. The combination with the sweet potato purée was divine. The real winner was the short rib that Austin specially prepared off menu. Keep in mind, I was so full at this point, but I still managed to eat my plate. This was because the short rib was unctuous and literally melted in my mouth. I couldn’t let such delicious food go to waste!

Austin is constantly changing the menu since his food is locally sourced. If you ever see the kanpachi, duck ragout or short rib, order it immediately! After our amazing dinner, Austin actually talked to my sister and I for a good 45 minutes and we even got a tour of the kitchen. I just loved the way he talked about food. It was absolutely fascinating and I felt like I was learning so much (hence why I want to be his eating friend). We also met his cousin, Garrett, who works the front of the restaurant and is super welcoming and friendly.

It was not planned at all. My sister was only in town for less than two days. The next day, we made a last minute decision to go back to Madison’s for brunch. My sister had seen “duck fast disco fries” on the menu and she was sold. Yes, we ate at Madison twice in the span of 12 hours.

BRUNCH AT MADISON

BRUNCH AT MADISON!

The sister and I wanted to sample a bunch of dishes. Between what we ordered and what Austin made for us, we had 8 dishes at brunch. You should have seen the table next to us. They literally thought we were crazy when our entire table was filled with plates and then MORE plates of food came.

We sampled the banana-stuffed French toast, donuts, duck fat disco fries, cornbread, poached eggs, scotch eggs, flower pot sourdough bread (dinner menu normally only) and finished it all off with a S’more sundae.

Left: Duck fat disco fries; right: Donuts

Left: Duck fat disco fries; right: Donuts

There was so much goodness happening on the table that I will honestly try and recap as best as possible. Duck fat fries were so amazingly good. They were seasoned, crispy on the outside but still soft and chewy on the inside, and served with a rich gravy. The donuts were like churros that were light and fluffy without being oily. Austin explained that they were Jewish-style and I could not get enough of the raspberry sauce which accompanied the donuts.

Cornbread

CORNBREAD!

I talked about my love of the skillet cornbread in my previous blog post, but I had to mention it again BECAUSE I learned that Austin coats the bottom of the skillet with caramelized honey! Dear me, no wonder it tastes so good. The sweetness of the honey cuts the savory cheese, bacon and Tabasco butter.

Top left: Duck Scotch eggs; Top right: Flower pot sourdough bread; Bottom left: Poached eggs

Top left: Duck Scotch eggs; Top right: Flower pot sourdough bread; Bottom left: Poached eggs

The flower pot sourdough bread is on the dinner menu, but they were cool enough to make us a batch. I miss good bread. When the sourdough came out warm, I literally was sitting at the table listening to the audible crunch of the bread. My sister was smelling it to see how sour it was. We looked like a couple of crazy people fondling bread. BUT THE BREAD WAS OUTSTANDING. While not as sour as the bread back home, I was more than happy to pair it with the warm, creamy chive butter.

The poached eggs are Austin’s favorite dish. I can definitely see why because the hollandaise sauce was mind-blowing. We learned that Austin adds his own homemade XO sauce to give it that slight kick. I really enjoyed the mustard seeds that popped in your mouth– almost like caviar. The sauce was creamy and lemony, without being too heavy. The poached eggs were served on top of pork trotters and toaster muffins. We were digging the combination of the eggs with the more gelatinous texture of the pork trotters. I discovered the best combination was taking the sourdough bread and sopping it in the hollandaise sauce.

The Aftermath

The Aftermath

A HUGE thank you goes out to Austin and Garrett Hu for being such amazing hosts and also for not judging two sisters for totally pigging out at their restaurant. Madison is definitely one of my favorite restaurants in Shanghai (and not just because Austin and Garrett are so cool), but because the food is absolutely delicious, the ambiance is fun and the cocktails are also inventive.

And now, I will end this blog post with a photo of the S’more sundae. If you were able to read this blog post without salivating, I commend you.

Madison: S'more Sundae

Madison: S’more Sundae

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Valentine’s Day isn’t really a big holiday in China. This is partly because China has their own Valentine’s Day (七夕), which is July 7 on the lunar calendar. I knew about China, but my friend told me that Brazil celebrates their “Lover’s Day” on June 12. Who knew there were so many different days celebrating love around the world?

Henry Cavill Valentine

I digress. This year, I decided to go back to the age old tradition of when you’re in grade school and you would trade Valentine’s Days cards with your friends. I still remember picking out the “better” cards and setting them aside for my best friends. February 14 was the best and I’d come back with a big shoebox of red, pink and white cards. If I was really lucky, some of those cards would be filled with Life Savers candies.

Rather than give my friends heart-shaped letters, I decided what could be better than a Valentine with an extremely attractive man on it? Granted a lot of these are inside jokes, but I honestly had way too much fun making them and had to share (side note: friends’ names have been changed to protect their privacy).

Claire loves Henry Cavill. I honestly had no clue who the guy was and I have yet to see Man of Steel. I originally wanted to do a play on “Baby, you’re my Kyrptonite,” but then I was too inspired by the Fortress of Solitude. Because let’s face it. What girl doesn’t want to be whisked away by Superman to his castle?

Ryan Gosling Valentine

I seriously had never heard of Sambal until maybe a couple of months ago. It’s an Indonesian hot sauce that you can’t really find in Shanghai. Ann has to smuggle it in or get friends to smuggle it in for her. I have never seen anyone eat hot sauce straight from a jar. That’s how much Ann’s love for Sambal transcends everything. She can literally take a spoon and just eat Sambal (much like a person eats peanut butter straight from the jar). Originally, this Valentine said “Hey Girl, I made you some bacon,” but it absolutely had to be changed to Sambal for Ann.

Daniel Henney Valentine

In case you don’t recognize him, this is Daniel Henney– popular Korean American model and actor. He was the face of Shiseido Men in Japan and also the handsome American doctor in the popular K-Drama, My Lovely Sam Soon. I work in the optical business and just had to use this cheesy pick-up line on Amanda. It was too good not to use.

Bradley Cooper Valentine

This is probably the most obscure Valentine because it’s really an inside joke. Katherine is Dutch and introduced me to Tattas be like. Tattas be like went viral in Holland and features a bunch of memes that people post on Facebook. The memes make fun of Dutch people by playing up their stereotypes. Katherine had to sit next to me and translate each photo for me to actually understand what all the references were. Anyways, this one goes out to Katherine because Bradley Cooper is a gentleman and would never split a check with her.

Hope you enjoyed my homemade cards! Go out and enjoy the day with that special someone. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Dutch Pies in Shanghai

Dutch Pies in Shanghai

Dutch Pies in Shanghai

The great thing about my current company is that it is super multicultural so I’m meeting people from all around the world. One of my co-workers/friends is Dutch and we started having a whole conversation about Dutch things in America. All I could think about was “going Dutch,” Dutch Crunch bread and Dutch apple pie. When I mentioned Dutch apple pie, she told me there was a bakery called Dutch Pies in Shanghai that specialized in homemade pies.

Shortly afterward, the link to Dutch Pies was sent to me and I found myself salivating over my keyboard at all the different varieties. I wanted to try them all (imagine the Pokémon theme song going on in my head– “Gotta Catch ‘Em All”). We ordered an apple pie that week and I introduced her to the age old American tradition of eating apple pie à la mode. I was seriously shocked when she had never heard of heating apple pie and adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. I felt like she had been deprived her entire life from enjoying a classic American dish.

Grandma's Apple Pie at Dutch Pies

Grandma’s Apple Pie at Dutch Pies Shanghai

The apple pie is absolutely amazing. It is quite honestly one of the best apple pies I’ve ever eaten in my life. I’m usually not the biggest fan of crust, but this crust is buttery, flaky and with a little bit of a “cake-y” texture. The inside of the pie was filled to the brim with fresh apple slices and raisins dancing in a cinnamon swirl glaze. When we warmed our pie up, the entire room smelled like buttery, cinnamon goodness. After adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream, I was literally in pie heaven. Correction: I also had a cup of black coffee to accompany my pie. Now, I was in pie heaven.

Since then, we’ve started and invited members to the Dutch Asian American Pie Club (DAAPC) where we plan on conquering the full roster of pies. Our second pie was a cherry rice pudding pie. I had never had rice pudding pie before, but my Dutch friends tell me it’s a local specialty in their home country.

Inaugural DAAPC Club Pie: Cherry with Rice Pudding Topping

Inaugural DAAPC Club Pie: Cherry with Rice Pudding Topping

The cherry rice pie was slightly disappointing compared to the apple one. I really enjoyed the big pieces of cherry, but the filling was too wet and so the pie was soggy. This may have been my own fault though because I didn’t refrigerate it before serving it. But I felt like the crust wasn’t as tasty as the apple one. The rice pudding was really interesting. It was much lighter than I expected and almost tasted like tapioca meringue. My fellow DAAPC members told me that the consistency and taste of the rice pudding wasn’t quite right.

The pies range from 158 RMB to 198 RMB (plus delivery fee if you live outside 3km of Jiangsu Road/Changning Road), but I definitely feel like you’re paying for quality ingredients. The pies are around 9-inches in diameter and the filling is about 1-inch tall. You only need to place an order 24 hours in advance. When I filled my order out online, the person responding was super quick and really friendly. I would totally recommend Dutch Pies to any of my friends in Shanghai, especially if you want to order a pie for a special occasion.

Homebrewing Kombucha

Left: Brewing Kombucha; Right: Close-up of a SCOBY

Left: Brewing Kombucha; Right: Close-up of a SCOBY

Being from California, I’ve fully embraced the kombucha movement and was that person who would pay $5 for a bottle of GT’s Enlightened Kombucha. I liked how it was carbonated without being too sweet AND you had the extra benefits of plenty of probiotics.

However, being abroad has separated me from my beloved kombucha. Imagine my complete and utter excitement when I met a fellow American, Clifford, who brewed his own kombucha. My first reaction was: “Can you teach me!?”

What exactly is kombucha? I didn’t realize it was so easy to make. It starts out as sugary tea and then you ferment it with the help of a SCOBY or “mother” mushroom. SCOBY stands for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.” To me, it’s almost like homebrewing your own beer, but with tea instead. During the fermentation process, the SCOBY eats up all the sugar in the tea, which causes it to grow and also release probiotics. While it may not look like the most appealing thing in the world, the end result tastes good.

Getting my Kombucha starter kit.

Getting my Kombucha Starter Kit

Clifford was kind enough to teach me and give me a starter kit to brew my own kombucha, which consisted of a SCOBY and a cup of fermented tea. If you don’t have a friend who can give you a SCOBY (because let’s face it, who does?), you can go online and buy a starter kit. I’m not going to link to a site because I can’t personally vouch for its quality.

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Shanghai: American Chinese Food at Fortune Cookie

Shanghai: Fortune Cookie

Shanghai: Fortune Cookie

I have to admit that American Chinese fast food is a total guilty pleasure of mine. I love Panda Express. There’s something so delicious about a giant bowl of orange chicken or even better, a giant bowl of leftover cold chow mein noodles. It’s even more satisfying when you eat it straight out of the white and red carton with a pair of chopsticks.

Leave it to two Americans to open Fortune Cookie (83 Changshu Road; 常熟路83号)– Shanghai’s answer to every foreigner craving Westernized Chinese food. With familiar dishes like orange chicken, sweet and sour pork, and hot and sour soup, I was ready to order practically everything on the menu.

Left: Shrimp Chow Mein; Bottom Right: Orange Beef

Left: Shrimp Chow Mein; Bottom Right: Orange Beef

My two girlfriends and I finally decided on shrimp chow mein, orange beef and Tsingtao can chicken. One of my friends has a severe peanut allergy, which makes eating Chinese food in China very difficult (often times the pots aren’t washed out well with lingering peanut oil/peanuts). When we told our server about her peanut allergy, he was really good about checking and letting us know which dishes to avoid. A few minutes later, one of the founders, David Rossi, even stopped by to reconfirm that the chow mein had peanuts in the sauce. It was a level of service that my friend has never found in any other restaurant in Shanghai (part of the reason why she likes to eat at Fortune Cookie).

Top Left: Tsingtao Can Chicken

Top Left: Tsingtao Can Chicken

Staying true to its American roots, Fortune Cookie serves American-sized food. With each bite of food, I was instantly transported back to my days in college when we used to drive for midnight runs to Panda Express. It was total comfort food. The orange beef was crispy, hot and sweet at the same time. The shrimp chow mein was exactly how I wanted it to taste. The Tsingtao can chicken isn’t exactly a dish you would find back in the States (or, at least I’ve never had it). Despite the 45-minute wait for the chicken (they warn you when you order it), it was well worth it. The chicken was tender and flavorful and served with a funky red sauce that tasted like a mixture of fermented tofu, sesame and peanuts.

Fortune Cookie Shanghai

The three of us polished off everything. If there had been leftovers, we would have gotten one of those classic white and red take-out boxes. Of course, there were fortune cookies to end the meal and each one had a funny message inside. While the prices are a little high compared to what you would pay in the U.S. (64 RMB for shrimp chown mein), it is totally worth it if you’re craving Chinese fast food. It’s the perfect restaurant to go with your expat friends when you’re all feeling just a little bit nostalgic for home.

Bay Area Homecoming

San Francisco's Dolores Park

San Francisco’s Dolores Park

Going home for the holidays was too wonderful. I was spoiled by warm weather (mid-60’s), good food, family and great friends. I wish I could have extended my trip longer, but in a blink of an eye, I was on a plane heading back to Shanghai.

I just wanted to share a few of the food highlights from the trip home. This was in addition to having prime rib for three straight meals in a row. We had two prime rib roasts for Christmas Eve dinner, which lead to an abundance of leftovers. I definitely did not complain.

Gochi Mountain View: Sashimi, Agedashi Tofu, and Onigiri

Gochi Mountain View: Sashimi, Agedashi Tofu, and Onigiri

Gochi is one of my favorite restaurants and they serve Japanese-fusion tapas. The original location is in Cupertino and there is always the longest line if you don’t have a reservation. They recently opened a second location in Mountain View. It seems a little bit easier to make a reservation since it’s newer.

Gochi: Unagi Clay Pot Rice

Gochi: Unagi Clay Pot Rice

They have some funky dishes on the menu like Japanese pizza and potato gratin, but my favorites are definitely the more traditional items like agedashi tofu and onigiri. The BEST dish is their clay pot rice and my personal fave is the unagi rice bowl. I love how you get the crispy parts of the rice all mixed in with eel, seaweed and veggies. I like to order a side of dashi broth because nothing tastes better than finishing a meal with a clean, light bowl of soup.

San Francisco's Foreign Cinema

San Francisco’s Foreign Cinema. Top Right: Heavenly Scramble; Bottom Right: Tuna Salad Sandwich

I miss San Francisco so much that it makes my heart aches. I’m sure that sounds overly melodramatic, but San Francisco is honestly my favorite city in the entire world. Since my time was limited, I made a point to have brunch at Foreign Cinema. Foreign Cinema has an awesome courtyard area and at night, they project old movies against a huge wall. While their dinner is slightly lackluster, they have one of the best brunches in the city.

Foreign Cinema: Pear & Currant Homemade Pop Tarts

Foreign Cinema: Pear & Currant Homemade Pop Tarts

At brunch, Foreign Cinema always has a daily selection of homemade pop tarts, which have fresh fruit fillings like pear and currant or mango and pineapple. The pop tarts are always divine. The maple-glazed bacon is also a must-order. I really enjoyed my dish, the “heavenly scramble,” which had fresh dungeness crab and brussels sprouts.

Bi-Rite Creamery

Bi-Rite Creamery

No trip home would have been complete without a visit to Bi-Rite Creamery, San Francisco’s premier ice cream store. My favorite flavors are always the salted caramel, ricanelas (cinnamon ice cream with snickerdoodle pieces) and balsamic strawberry (only available in the summer). With the warm weather, the line for Bi-Rite was extra long and wrapped around the building like three times. The wait is worth. Trust me on this one.

San Jose's Boiling Crab

San Jose’s Boiling Crab

I know it’s a chain, but I love Boiling Crab. How can you really go wrong with huge bags filled with Cajun-spiced shrimp, crawfish, dungeness crab and corn on the cob? Wash it down with some ice tea and accompany it with some rice and fries– you’ve got one killer meal. I was really appreciative of all my friends who came out to see me (I think we had a table of 11). I feel like it’s a bonding experience when you grab a group of friends who have to roll up their sleeves and eat with their hands.

And now, I will end this post with a picture of my favorite sandwich in the entire world. Turkey sandwich on sourdough roll with extra veggies and spread from the Village Cheese House in Palo Alto. It was the first thing I wanted to eat as soon as I got off the plane.

Turkey Sandwich from the Village Cheesehouse

Turkey Sandwich from the Village Cheesehouse