Sunday, February 07, 2016

Shan Shan Noodles, Parsippany, New Jersey

Shan Shan Noodles is my kind of place. It's small, it's homey, friendly, fun and unpretentious, serving good, inexpensive ethnic food. The menus come in several versions, of which the photo menu is helpful to Chinese food gringos to decide amongst the tempting offerings.


Picture menu
The room is relatively small and cozy. We were first brought a complimentary small dish of cold, lightly dressed sesame oil cucumbers, as well as the first of seemingly endless pots of hot tea. (Lipton's, you know?)

We started with an outstanding cold appetizer, Sliced Pig's Ears in Spicy Sauce. This had the near perfect balance of crunch and zesty sauce, spiked with both chili and Sichuan Pepper.


Our next course brought a bamboo steamer containing six Xiao Long Bao soup dumplings. Each steamed dumpling carries a morsel of meat and a soup spoonful of hot consommé. These were just average, but decent. They are eaten by picking one up in a deep-bowled Chinese soup spoon, then biting a notch in the dumpling's skin, slurping out the hot consommé, then eating the morsel of pork within, as well as the delicate dumpling wrapper.

Bamboo steamer 
Xiao Long Bao
They were accompanied by a small dish of tasty dipping sauce in which fresh ginger dominated.

Choosing our main, noodle-bearing dish was difficult. We finally decided on a big bowl of Spicy Shredded Pork with "Paper" (?) Noodles.


While we waited, we watched through a large window the chef swing and stretch noodles for each order that came to the kitchen. This is an amazing skill which I'd only seen before on Internet videos, but THIS WAS THE REAL DEAL.

See the slide show for maximum effect.
(The Picasa Web slide show isn't appearing in Chrome, but it does show up in Safari and in Firefox. Or, go here.)
The Shredded Spicy Pork Noodles arrived. They were quite good, but not our favorite dish. The noodle component was very good, of superior texture. We enjoyed every bite, especially after kicking up the spice level a notch with some Hot Red Oil provided on the table.


An order of four Fried Pork Dumplings arrived somewhat tardily, but we happily polished them off. A few drops of black vinegar, soy sauce and hot red oil, from jars on the table made them even more enjoyable. I prefer those more browned and crisp on the bottom, but, who's complaining?


Satiated, we called for the check. (Major credit cards are accepted. (There's a $15 minimum for credit card use.)

The total was amazingly low. All of the above, plus a can of Coke™, for $25.68, plus a generous tip. The check, please.

We'll return to Shan Shan Noodles as soon as we can.

RATINGS are graded on a 1 to 10 scale; 1 being dismally deficient and 10, a rarely attained award.

Food: 8

Service: 7. Friendly, energetic, enthusiastic although could be more attentive in wiping up spills on the table, of which there were several. English is a second language for several staffers, so be patient.

Ambience: Simple and cozy.

Cost: Inexpensive.

Restroom: Clean and serviceable

Parking: Free, in front.

Booze: No alcoholic beverage license.

Keywords: "Use your noodle. Eat at Shan Shan soon and often."

Location: Shan Shan Noodles
333 Route 46, Parsippany, NJ, United States



Hours and days: I couldn't find this out. I'd guess from 11:00 a.m. until about 7:00 p.m. Call or email them for more exact info.

Contact Info: Freephone: +1 9732877399
Telephone: +1 9732877399
Fax: +1 9732877399
Email: samarrashan@gmail.com


Saturday, January 23, 2016

¡Viva La Tradicíon!

Last Thursday afternoon, six of us friends gathered at the Restaurante La Tradicíon, in Pátzcuaro. 


Entrance across from La Basilica
Guess which brave couple had the iguana soup
This relatively new restaurant features comida de la Tierra
Caliente. Their motto is "El Verdadero Sabor de Apatzingán".

La comida Calenteña is characterized by bold seasoning and flavors. If you like El Mandil in Pátzcuaro (although El Mandil does not cook in the style of La Tierra Caliente) or Restaurante Carácuaro  and, more recentlyor Fonda Marceva in Morelia, you will likely enjoy a meal at La Tradicíon



In two our visits there, we have always been given an especially warm welcome and kind attention. This is a restaurant completely without pretensions but with minimal décor. Some of the décor consists of awards and recognitions of the Chef, Isis Anahi Velásquez González. You can see them in the slide show at the bottom of the page.


La Tradicíon entry hall
As you shall see further along, not every dish we had was perfect, but the overall food quality, the hospitality, and the bargain prices make La Tradicíon worth many more visits.

Inside the entryway, a blackboard announces the specials of the day.



(We'll get to Caldo Chamaquero later.)
The dining room is not especially attractive,
but the two smaller dining rooms toward the front are cozier and have a Colonial ambience.

Some of us began our meals with copitas de mezcal, while others of us had pretty micheladas.



Two varieties of mezcal are offered:
one locally made, the other from Oaxaca.

In addition to the plate of orange and lime sections, we were brought a plate of sliced carambola, or star fruit.





The restaurant had a lot of star fruit on hand.
Star fruit also graced the mugs of micheladas.
You can have any beer you want, as long as it's Victoria
A boiler in the corner near our table ...

... startled us as it came to life, gurgling noisily. Just part of the experience. It didn't last long.

A couple of us started with bowls of Consomé de Pollo, included in the price of some meals.



Pure and simple chicken stock
Our Washington, D.C. and Pátzcuaro friend ordered  a sumptuous plate of Enchiladas con Guilota, A guilota is like, or is a quail.


Amazingly, this came with fresh vegetables, steamed al dente!
His lovely wife ordered Bisteces a la Mexicana, which looked attractive, but as it is not a dish specific to La Tierra Caliente, I didn't take a photo.

The other couple, our Alabama and Pátzcuaro friends, both bravely ordered Caldo Chamaquero. Our waitress explained the it was a soup that contained not only shrimp and crab, but also iguana. 


For some reason (peek), the combination held no appeal for me.


I was offered a taste, but declined this generous offer. Our friends reported that the iguana was the tastiest thing in the soup, but the shrimp were greatly overcooked, and the crab had been cooked to beyond existence, but the broth was tasty.



Caldo Chamaquero. Kinda scary looking.
It should be noted that many of the dishes are guisados (stewed or sauced foods), the back side of the menu has dishes "para preparar", such as the bisteces a la Mexicana enjoyed by our friend.)
My wife and I both chose Mole de Pollo, although I requested a half order of pollo and a half order of Frito de Puerco, the latter a favorite of mine from a first meal at Fonda Marceva.


Doña Cuevas' Mole de Pollo (muslo)
Don Cuevas' Combo Plate
I asked for morisqueta, steamed white rice, which I prefer as a blander backdrop to the complex flavors of the mole and the frito. The mole itself was more picante than sweet, as I like, although there was a slight metallic taste to it that distracted somewhat from my full enjoyment.

The Frito was good, but I like Fonda Marceva's better.


RATINGS (A 1 to 10 scale is used. 1 being irredeemably bad, 10 being nearly unattainable, but highly desirable.)


Food: 6-7


Service: 8


Ambience: 4


Price: Very inexpensive. Our total bill came to $620 pesos, for six persons. That included a beer, two micheladas, a couple of mineral waters, five cafés de olla (skippable),  a huge clay pitcher of Agua Fresca de Carambola, and 6 full meals. That converts to less than $6.00 USD. We gave the waitress a generous tip in addition to the above.


Hygiene: Looked o.k. to me.


Safety Message: Watch Out For The Floor Irregularities In The Main Dining Room. They could wreck your day if you trip.


Parking: street parking, wherever you can find it.


Hours: Mon Tues Open; Wed Closed; Th Fr Sa Su open, 9:00 a.m to 6:00 p.m.


Location: Calle Arciga, south of the corner of Calle La Paz, Pátzcuaro, Michoacán. Note that place marker on the map is somewhat to the south of the actual restaurant location.






Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Caponata Caper Challenge


Caponata photo by Massimoweb, posted on WikiPedia.org
Caponata is a cooked vegetable melange or relish, specifically, eggplant based, a more savory, sweet and sour cousin to ratatouille, originating in Sicily. It's usually served cold, or at room temperature. For a more formal and detailed description, please consult Wikipedia.org.

I first became acquainted with this delicacy in my Brooklyn boyhood, in a canned version made by Progresso Foods. Several years ago, Progresso stopped making caponata, but  a canned version, made by Cento is available still. Progresso is owned by General Foods, which might explain the lack of caponata in its product lineup.

But if you are up to the somewhat challenging process, you can make your own, as I do.

Note: this post will not have a step-by-step, illustrated recipe, all too common on some food blog sites, where such critical steps as adding salt or pouring water, are tediously recorded in lush, digital images. (Usually after a lengthy preface by the blogger about her—and I use "her" deliberately—mother-in-law's cat, best friend's ex, or some other blather.

(I'd better stop here, or be guilty of that bad style myself.) In fact, it will not have a recipe at all, but I will link to another site.

My regular, go-to recipe is in the indispensable cookbook for the do-it-yourself cook, Better Than Store Bought. You can find it available on Amazon.com and other sites.


But this time, I decided to try a slightly different recipe, one I found on SimplyRecipes.com Simply Recipes is an excellent, reliable, no-frills recipe site.

Simply Recipes' caponata is very similar to that of BTSB's. The differences are that SR's doesn't have any sweet peppers; only green olives, and no oil-cured black olives; and it adds the silly extravagance of toasted pine nuts. I consider adding pine nuts the equivalent of burning money. $549 pesos for 680 grams/1.5 pounds at Costco.mx. Also, SR's recipe does not bake the caponata, which for me is a plus, for good reason. (See below.)

Note that I prefer to multiply the quantity and freeze the results. Why use just one eggplant, when four will yield bountiful results for your freezer? But prepare to work.

 My loyal readers will recall that last Thursday, my oven door glass suffered a shattering end. We waited hours yesterday for the Sears Service Tech to arrive, and when I eventually called Sears, I learned that his service call was scheduled for Wednesday, not Tuesday. So, three quarters of my day was wasted, when I could have been making caponata.

Furthermore, I was out of celery, which for me, is essential in caponata. Worse, I was out of empty freezer containers. So, late in the afternoon, I made a fast run to Lower Pátzcuaro, where I arrived just in time as the vegetables and fruits stand next to Don Chucho's tienda was closing. But I scored a very large and fresh bunch of celery. Still, the base ingredient is eggplant, and I had four nice ones, purchased in Morelia last Thursday, but they were nearng their use by date.

Borrowed eggplants image
Serious celery, $40 pesos
The freezer containers were easily obtained at our local Bodega Aurrerá supermarket, although I had to lower my standards and buy other brands than the Joy brand I prefer. (Sorry, some image links are broken, and won't be repaired.)

Back at the rancho again, we set to work. It was around 5:30 p.m. First, Sra. Cuevas washed and drained all the new containers. I then cleaned and disinfected the celery. Next, I washed, dried the four eggplants into nifty little cubes, salting them to drain out any possible bitter juices. (Our friend, Jennifer Rose will tell you that the salting is unnecessary, but my bitter experience is that for me it is necessary.) The cubes were set to drain for an hour in a colander set over a bowl. Meanwhile, I prepped the other vegetables: onion, garlic, celery, sweet red peppers, etc.

A quick hour later, I drained, rinsed and patted dry the eggplant cubes. There was at least a cup of brown liquid in the bowl from the salting. FEH!

Probably the most challenging part of making a large quantity is cooking it in two skillets, and trying to keep the ingredients and seasonings evenly balanced between both. The single bottle of tomato Passata Rustica I added was insufficient, so I opened a precious can of Cirio Pomodori Pelati and roughly crushed the contents. In went the wine vinegar, a bit of salt and sugar. The two simmering skillets were stirred often for over half an hour, as I prepared the final additions.

Olives, fresh basil, a bit of minced anchovy, hot red pepper, then a seasoning adjustment after a few tastings. It was a bit sweeter than usual, but still, simply a recipe better than store bought.

All done by about 8:30 p.m. I scooped it all into two stainless steel bowls in order to blend any textural and flavor differences. Then Sra. Cuevas and I washed up the various pots and utensils.

I laid out the new freezer containers, and filled them in 20 minutes. The lids were marked with a Sharpie pen on masking tape. I let them cool, uncovered, at room temperature for a couple of hours, while I went to bed.
 Then I arose, lidded all, and put them in the fridge.

The yield was about 10 freezer containers of varying sizes.

Original photo coming soon to this web page. Watch for it!

A lot of work—for all this? It's worth it.
See below.


Caponata, fit for a capo.








Friday, January 15, 2016

The Inevitable Entropy of the Kitchen

en·tro·py
ˈentrəpē/noun
1.
PHYSICS
a thermodynamic quantity representing the unavailability of a system's thermal energy for conversion into mechanical work, often interpreted as the degree of disorder or randomness in the system.
2.
lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder.
"a marketplace where entropy reigns supreme"
synonyms: deterioration, degeneration, crumbling, decline, degradation, decomposition, breaking down, collapse.
Definition # 2, above applies here.
A thesaurus may make it clearer:
"entropy
noun
life is a struggle against entropy: deterioration, degeneration, crumbling, decline, degradation, decomposition, breaking down, collapse; disorder, chaos."
Just as with human bodies, our kitchen equipment eventually wears out, then fails. We struggle to maintain order and function.

In Mi Cocina Mexicana, there has been a recent acceleration of deterioration. Some failures have been minor, and relatively easily remedied, others have not.

First there was the worn out flat paddle beater for the Kitchen Aid stand mixer. A few years ago, I ordered a replacement from Amazon.com, but in my haste, I got an incompatible beater that didn't fit my mixer. So I soldiered on, using the worn down old paddle. But just before Christmas, I ordered the correct one at Cristalería Corona, in Morelia. It took two weeks to arrive, but it was life renewing. I love to browse Cristalería Corona.
KA 5-qt stand mixer beater paddle
Then there was the beaker, or vaso, for my MAN™ blender. It had cracks in the base and had become leaky. I went to the ferretería (hardware store PLUS) in Pátzcuaro where I'd originally purchased the licuadora, and they told me that it would be in in a few weeks. A month and a half passed, but no vaso arrrived. As a stopgap measure (chuckle), I went to the biggest ferretería in Pátzcuaro, and bought a cheap replacement over the counter. It was o.k., but of lesser capacity.

Mine came with one vaso, but now I have one slightly smaller extra
I again checked again at the original ferretería, and it still hadn't come in. So I went to yet a third hardware store (all of which are conveniently near each other.) and got a MAN compatible, full sized, 1.5 liter vaso. It was very inexpensive, but best of all, it works fine.

Now I present the Turmix ™ Juice Extractor, Modelo Platinum Automático. I bought this in May, 2015, from Costco.com.mx on line. The feed tube broke in the first day of use, but Turmix México replaced it under warranty, although I had to wait two weeks for delivery of the replacement.

Extractor partially disassembled

Extractor ready to juice
A few days ago, I prepared to extract juices, but I couldn't start because a vital clamp was broken. I again contacted Turmix, and they were very solicitous. This time, I went to one of their sales and service stores in Morelia, Proveedora del Hogar.

PDH Morelia  (from Google Street View)
In 10 minutes, I had a replacement clamp, although it was red (no importa), but it's plastic, and I don't expect it will endure long. Moreover, the remaining metal clamp is showing a small crack, and it's only a matter of time until it fails.

But all the above anecdotes pale in contrast to what happened in our kitchen yesterday. I had just taken two beautiful loaves of challah from the oven, when I heard a noise, When I turned around, I was dismayed to see that the outer, tinted glass of my GE "hudibrastic" (Felipe Zapata's adjective) oven had fallen out, into smithereens.

Crap!
This was a real downer, as you can imagine. We briefly dealt with the grossest debris, and further cleanup continues today. Now that I have more or less composed myself, I will attempt to call Sears' service department at Altozano, or wherever,  to see about a repair or a replacement. Unless it is still under warranty, this is not going to be a cheap fix.

I was really bummed out by this disaster, and feeling sorry for myself, but a bout of "Retail Therapy" (as our friend, Jennifer calls it) at  Morelia's Costco soon afterward made me feel much better.

Don't laugh: your oven door glass could fall out, even as your teeth and hair fall out. It's a race to the finish line.





Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Taquería de Birria "El Venadito"

Sigh... Birria!

The weather in the Pátzcuaro area has turned cold, not only at night, but mornings are also chilly, at least until around 11:00 a.m. There are not many things one can do about the decline in temperature: put on more warm layers of clothing, drive 3 1/2 hours to The Beach (the Pacific Coast), or get a big bowl of steaming hot birria.


First, read a definition of birria.

There are numerous places in Pátzcuaro to get birria. Probably the most well established is the local chain of Birrerías Don Prisci's, with its flagship restaurant at "El Parian" (a place most expats wouldn't recognize), that is, close to La Estacíon. (Think of the second class bus stop for Uruapan.) Another is just inside the Mercado in Centro. I consider Don Prisci's the standard of birria, and I eat there from time to time. Don Prisci's birria is unique in that it contains finely diced mixed vegetables.

There are  also numerous little mobile carts selling the stuff, of variable quality, and, also in the Mercado, over to the left, as you enter from the Plaza Chica, there's a concentration of small carts,. Some, if not all, may actually be selling cabeza de res, or cow's head soup and tacos.

That's fine by me, although our neighbor, Sra. Salud, tells me that the cabeza soup and tacos tend to be greasy because of the fat from the brains.

Some time has passed since I came upon the best birria in Pátzcuaro. It leaves the others behind in el polvo.

Situated close to the intersection of Calle Ibarra and the Libramiento (peripheral road), There's a rickety looking birria stand. It often has a line of people waiting for a seat. Seats that are hardly comfortable, but worth the minor discomfort to eat this birria. When I saw the stream of customers, I knew then that I was on to something very good.

Taquería El Venadito in warmer weather
It was only this morning that I found out that it's called "Taquería El Venadito". The menu is simple: little tacos and big tacos, and the generous platos de birria, (bowls of soupy stew) available in chico ("small", $40 pesos) and grande (big, in fact, very big, $70 pesos). You can also get a plastic cup of the transcendent, near boiling hot, picante consomé. It is this consomé that is the primordial soup in which the substantial pieces of slow cooked beef await you in your plato de birria. To eat a plato de birria at El Venadito will both satiate and restore you.

Vaso de consomé. Beware the salsa!

For lighter appetites, there are the generously stuffed tacos.
Tacos outside
Taco inside
A few tips: ask for "poca salsa", because Jorge, the Boss Taquero, is very generous with the muy picante salsa. You can add more on your own as you like. But get "Toda la verdura", which means chopped onion and cilantro.

(Despite the word "verdura", you won't find any diced mixed vegetables in your plato de birria.)

Taquero Jorge takes an order
I recommend that you request "carne maciza", or solid meat, if you are averse to fat and organ meats. But the organs are there to be enjoyed if you wish to. That's the next step for me.

The spiced meat is slow cooked in the steamer well
Jorge chops meat
The platos come with a basket of just made, hot corn tortillas. They tend to be a bit undercooked, but I never have any trouble eating a stack of them. Refills are free, on request, or when offered.

Tortilla and verdura prep area
Birria  chock full of meat (unlike at some other places)


Drinks: an adjacent drinks stand offers refrescos (sodas) and basic fresh juices. You pay for these separately when you are finished.

RATINGS

It's difficult to rate El Venadito by usual measures. But, here goes.

Food: 9

Service: 9  It's fast, once you can get the taquero's attention. But don't expect any frills. But, yes! There are napkins, dispensed from overhead packages, salt, toothpicks, two kinds of self service salsa. One is a smooth yellow salsa composed of tomatillos and chile Perón. The other is the oily, brown, evil looking and potent but delicious salsa macha. Just a few drops will serve you well. There is also a bowl of finely chopped red radishes.

Hygiene: It is often messy but safe. The food is served very hot. The person who handles food does not handle money. Just don't suffer from consuming too much chile or salsa.

Bring your own hand sanitizing towelettes.

 Cost: bargain!

Hours: I don't really know. Maybe 8:00 a.m. To 1:00 p.m., or when the food runs out. Probably closed Sundays.

Location: more or less in front of Papelería Eureka, as shown below, but almost on the corner.

Parking: is where you find it. On the street.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Aquiles' Heel

A view of Avenida Acueducto from Aquiles Terraza
"Aquiles' Heel".

A cheap shot title, I will admit. But, in a way it fairly characterizes our meal at the chic, new Aquiles Terraza on Avenida Acueducto in Morelia.

Aquiles Terraza has its strengths, but it has weaknesses as well. I love the casual rooftop setting, other than the ascent of three flights of stairs necessary to reach the Asian influenced dining area.

Arbor up on the roof
The restaurant offers a selection of Asian influenced (read:"interpretations") dishes. If you are a hidebound traditionalist, you may reject them. But if you have an open mind, it could be very enjoyable. I give them credit for attempting something new in Asian cuisine in Morelia. But the bottom line is this, that three of the dishes we had during or recent visit were flawed. With only a little more care in the kitchen, the flaws could have been avoided.

I recalled the first meal we had at the original location, in the Hotel Pórtico, on Calle Aquiles Serdán 744, in Morelia Centro. (Thus the name, "Aquiles 744".)

Our experience at Aquiles Terraza got off to a good start with our drinks. We began with a Mezcal San Mateo for Sra. Cuevas and a Mezcaliña coctel for me. The latter is reminiscent of a Margarita made with mezcal, but without all the frou-frou, or, if you prefer, the hoo-ha. We both enjoyed our drinks.

Mezcaliña Aquiles. (Photo by Aquiles Terraza)
We chose two appetizers. The first were some excellent Camarones Tempura, coated with panko crumbs in place of the traditional batter. I prefer them this way. The dipping sauce, of fish sauce, lime juice and cilantro was overly assertive for the delicate shrimp, but easy to avoid. (This fish sauce-lime juice theme reappears in my Ensalada Thai, yet to come.*)

Camarones Tempura
The other appetizer, Tako Yaki, was three small balls of octopus in wheat flour "dumplings", and a miss. The interior held raw gooey flour paste and some chewy, nearly flavorless octopus pieces. This item should be dropped over the side.

Tako Yaki
Our main dishes were attractive and promising, but both my Ensalada Thai con Rib Eye  and la Señora's Bipimbap suffered from a heavy hand with the seasonings. My salad had an aggressively citric-fish sauce dressing* and the Bipimbap an overload of bean paste or some similar salty, salty condiment. It was also partially cold.

Ensalada Thai with Rib Eye

Although Bipimpap is traditionally served in a heated volcanic stone vessel, in which all the ingredients are stirred to finish cooking, we don't hold Aquiles to tradition.
(A little research indicates that it isn't always served in a heated stone bowl.) It would be analogous to serving in a heated, Mexican molcajete. But at least the food would have been hot.

Aquiles' Bipimbap
Relief came with an order of Thai Tea, "Cha Yen-Thai". We were surprised that it was chilled, but that was good. The orange color and the chai-like sweet spice flavors were odd at first, but we grew to like it. It helped alleviate the excessively pungent flavors of our food.

Thai Tea
We decided to skip dessert, although I had good memories of a Nieve de Rambutan and a panna cotta at the original location.

Although the meal was flawed, we like the concept and would give it another go. But we would make our seasoning preferences known to the waiter to convey to the kitchen this message: "Lighten up!"

The manger or owner came to our table when we finished, and asked how we liked it. I was able to calmly tell him our opinions. He listened quietly, murmured a few things, and didn't get defensive. But I don't know if our message got through.

RATINGS

Food:6 (Could go to 8 with more careful seasoning.)

Service: 8 Very attentive and cheerful.

Price: $$$  (Each $ represents approximately $100 MXP per person)

Ambiance: "Zen Garden", open air terrace. Nice views of Avenida Acueducto.

Wifi: yes

Parking: yes, immediately below, in a guarded lot.

Location:
Avenida Acueducto 902, south side)
Between Calles Francisco Márquez and Calle Vicente Súarez.
Colonia Chapultepec Norte,
Morelia, Michoacán, México

Tel: 314-7077