Sunday, December 20, 2015

* Eating 52 Countries In 52 Weeks - Week 25 - MOROCCO

The decor in the Moroccan restaurant Marrakesh in Costa Mesa reminded me of Inara's shuttle from the series Firefly. Our good friends and us were seated at low seats and did not know what to do with our legs since we were not exactly on the floor or normal dining chair height. After getting situated and putting in our orders, a belly dancer appeared and danced around our giggly table for a while. Just before the arrival of our food, a guy in a large mustache and a fez brought a large deep pot onto the middle of the table and told us all to put our hands above the said pot. Then he poured warm water to wash our hands at the same time. Following the collective hand wash, we were handed black towels to dry our hands and to serve as our napkins throughout the dinner.

Our orders of tea came is gilded colorful glasses.

Our order of Marrakesh Special had many parts to it - orzo soup, salads, appetizers and grilled meats of many varieties served with rice and vegetables.

After clearing up our plates as best as we could, we were contemplating what dessert to order but the servers beat us to it and brought a mix of baklavas and syrupy cookies for us to enjoy!

Also, we were served tea again as a gesture of hospitality on the house, poured from great heights in another set of beautifully gilded glasses.

Dining at Marrakesh restaurant felt like a combination of time and space travel and we were glad we could do that with our good friends.

بالصحة (besseha)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

* Eating 52 Countries In 52 Weeks - Week 24 - ARGENTINA

What do you do on a gloomy overcast Sunday afternoon in Long Beach to cheer your day up? Of course you go to Argentina where love manifests itself in many forms - love of music, love of dance, love of love and love of food. As Rick put it, Argentinians are the cowboys of South America, and meat is what they eat.

We sat at one of the outdoor tables at the Gaucho Grill despite the wind and looming clouds. We had to go over the pages of the menu several times not being able to choose what to eat. Thankfully they have one menu item that has pretty much everything included in it enough for two people so we finally decided on that.

While waiting for our appetizer empanada, we sipped our Argentinian versions of beer and sangria and scooped chimichurri on pieces of warm bread.

Then came the very light and flakey empanada stuffed generously with spinach and cheese. Of all the empanadas we have sampled so far this definitely took its place in the top three.

A flurry of activity happened at our table with the servers making room on our table for the arrival of the main course Parrillada. We were speechless when they lowered the table-grill in the middle of the table with sizzling pieces of Skirt steak, Filet Mignon, Chorizo, quarter of chicken on the
bone, mollejas, chicken skewer & veggies including a beautiful flower of onion. The two sides of rosemary grilled zucchinis and Rice de Buenos Aires arrived shortly after.

The menu said mollejas were grilled tender sweetbreads so I looked for bread-like things on the grill but when I could not find any I asked my Rickcyclopedia and learned that sweetbread is in fact the culinary name for the animals' innards which by the way tasted so good.

While we enjoyed the delicious selection of meats, "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" started playing and bright sunlight visited our table making us think of Michael...

Soon the song was over, sun was gone, and we were halfway through the grill already feeling very satisfied. We decided to box the rest of the food and share a serving of Panqueque con Dulce de Leche.  These are traditional oven made Argentine Crepes filled with homemade Dulce de Leche served with a dollop of creme and slices of strawberry.

This time we did not have the luxury of lingering for this was a working weekend so left the restaurant in a hurry, thanking the servers while running by them and promising to come back soon.

¡Buen apetito!

* Eating 52 Countries In 52 Weeks - Week 23 - MYANMAR

When you eat so much good food so often, you run out of quality words to describe the level of culinary delight you are experiencing. So when I tell you that the Burmese food was well worth the day trip we endured to Pasadena on the day it was 102 degrees Fahrenheit, and the last 3 miles of the drive took us an hour and a half because of the USA and Mexico soccer match at the Rose Bowl AND that it was the one weekend out of the year when JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratories) open their doors to public, I'm sure it will give you an idea how fantastic the food was.

We ordered so many dishes from the menu, the lady that was taking our order kept saying "that should be enough" while we tried to get one more dish in. We told her we were not intending to eat everything right there but would be taking some home with us and would not be wasting the food she made earlier in the day in her kitchen.

We ordered Tea Leaf Salad made with pickled tea leaves, grains and colorful vegetables.

Fried Samusas filled with vegetables served with red hot sauce

Vegetable Noodle Salad that came with crisps made with chickpeas

 Mont hin Ga - a fish soup that had a lot more than fish

Fried Shrimp

Chicken Potato Curry

Since we ordered more than half the menu she also brought some Burmese falafels she made that morning with chickpeas.

Since Burmese tradition is to bring out all the food to the table at once, our overflowing table looked like this: 

We ordered Tamarind Juice and traditional Burmese hot tea to help wash all these wonderful food down.

When we were done eating, it looked like we hadn't made even a small dent in the food we started with. While she packed the remaining food for us at the table, we told her about our food adventure and she was very excited to hear that her restaurant was the 23rd on our list. She told us she had been in the U.S.A. for ten years and the restaurant's name Yoma was the name of a mountain range in Myanmar.

Finally she proudly offered her Coconut Jelly dessert that looked like tiny icicles and tasted like nothing else we ever had before. So subtly flavored and refreshing!

Since our internet searches did not return any equivalent phrases for Bon Apetit, we asked her what they would say in Burmese. My efforts in writing down what she was saying was in vain but her translation was "Enjoy your meal". When we got up to leave she cheerfully waved us off and asked us to visit again just like she would with her house-guests.

စားကောင်းပါစေ (Enjoy your meal in Burmese)

* Eating 52 Countries In 52 Weeks - Week 22 - EL SALVADOR

Pupuseria serves El Salvadorian fast food at the speed of much relaxed and un-hurried South American time - also known as Inca Time.

After placing our order at the cash register, we found a table where we first received our drinks of Ensalada Drink, Horchata Tamarindo, and the Kolashampan Soda.

At the core of the El Salvadorian cuisine is the Pupusas, small thick tortillas filled with chicken or cheese or potatoes or spinach. We got one of each!

Pupusas are served with a lightly fermented cabbage slaw with red chilies and vinegar dish called curtido.

We also had an order of Salvadorian Tamales filled with lightly spiced dough and chicken meat. Salvadorian version of tamales are much less greasy than other latino tamales.

Since they did not have any desserts that day, we let the fruit salad like ensalada drink and the sugar from the other beverages to curb our sweet tooth. I'm sure we will pay many other visits to this homely establishment on days we need comfort food served on cheerful plates.

¡Buen apetito!

* Eating 52 Countries In 52 Weeks - Week 21 - IRAN

If you are in Costa Mesa and in the mood for some low key dining experience where your tastebuds will hit a high note, you definitely need to go to Darbari Persian Grill. The food they serve is a toned down and dare I say a more dignified version of mid-eastern food with only the flare of saffron colored rice.

The pita bread cut into perfect rectangles kept us busy with little chunks of butter while we once again tried to decipher the authentic names of the food on the menu.

Being intimately familiar with the Turkish relative, I ordered the House Doogh - a yogurt drink with flakes of mint.

Rick opted for hot tea the color of dark amber.

Our appetizers were a sampling of Tah-dig - crispy rice topped with stew topping, Kashk O' Bademjan - grilled eggplant, onion and herbs, Dolmeh - stuffed grape leaves, and Hummus

Funny as it is, Rick's main dishes end up having a giant piece of meat sometimes accompanied with a big knife. Baghali Polo with Lamb-Shank did not have the big knife but the piece of meat was larger than the plate it was served in. The rice tasted as colorful as it looked, beautifully complimenting the the lamb.

My Ghemieh Bademjan was a vegetarian dish with fried eggplants and split peas cooked in a tomato stew. My two-tone rice was very delicious as well.

The lady serving us said that they make their own saffron ice cream and offered to serve us their specialty house dessert Falludah with the ice cream. Falludah is a frozen rosewater dish served with a side of sour cherry juice to be added when eating.

It was unexpected for us have tasty food that is also very pleasing to the eye in such a humble restaurant. 

(nooshe jan) نوش جان

Saturday, October 3, 2015

* Eating 52 Countries In 52 Weeks - Week 20 - PERU

Both Rick and I have fond memories of Peru. We were there at different times long before we found each other and I stayed in Cusco and walked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu whereas he spent his time in Lima. So when we picked Eqeko, we were both excited about having another chance to experience the flavors of this beloved country.

Eqeko serves food tapas style so it was easy to order half the menu. While we waited for the food to arrive we sipped our very refreshing Chicha Moradas made from purple corn.

Cebiche Mixto surprised us with how many different food items were blended this very small dish. The fresh fish, shrimp & calamari marinated in a fresh lime, aji rocoto, garlic & ginger sauce were topped with julienned red onions, minced cilantro, choclo, sweet potato & cancha.

Then came the very pretty looking Causo made from amarillo seasoned potato terrine filled with home made tuna salad & rocoto aioli.

Arroz Con Mariscos a la Norteña was the next natural choice to try out the Peruvian style seafood paella seasoned with fresh cilantro and dark beer and served with salsa criolla.

When the server visited our table to check on us, we asked him what else he would recommend from the menu, he said Tacu Tacu was his favorite. So that was our next dish. This Peruvian bean and rice patty seasoned with aji amarillo & green onions came topped with a fried egg & salsa criolla.

We still had more to eat and needed more beverages to wash down the food. So I ordered the one thing I did not have the courage to try in Peru: Inca Cola! The only way I can describe this bright yellow drink is 'Juicy Fruit bubble gum in a can'.

Rick went with the classier looking choice of Passion Fruit Juice.

Since they ran out of their one dessert for the day, we indulged in one extra dish. Aji de Gallina was shredded chicken dish in a sauce made with Peruvian aji amarillo & walnuts and was the only dish served with a side of rice.

Once I was full, I started paying attention to other things than food and asked Rick if he knew what Eqeko meant. Instead of answering with words he pointed at the wall where the definition of the word was painted in giant letters:

¡Buen apetito!