Monday, April 18, 2011


Hi - I've moved to a new location, please follow me at


Sunday, April 17, 2011

A New Kind of Fried Chicken - Bon Chon Chicken

When I moved to the Falls Church area a little over 3 years ago, I was introduced to the concept of Korean Fried Chicken! It first started with a place in Annandale called Cheogajip Chicken (or I like to refer to it as Pizza and Chicken Love Letter) and then we eventually stumbled onto Bon Chon Chicken on Little River Turnpike. And man, we have been hooked ever since. This is not your typical southern fried chicken. Instead, the double fried process and the spicy coating brings this chicken to a whole new level. The cooking process creates the most crispy shell -- a very savory and spicy coating -- and a super moist interior. There is no real batter for the chicken, so when you bite into it, all your get are the delicious spices and incredibly crispy skin. And since it's deep fried in olive oil, you can feel good about eating a "semi-healthy" dinner. And instead of being served with sides of biscuits and gravy, you get pickled radishes and a coleslaw with a sweet ginger sauce. And trust me, after eating a few pieces of the spicy flavored chicken, your taste buds will want some relief and cool down with the radishes and coleslaw.

So for dinner tonight, we were craving some Bon Chon. We normally go to the location in Annandale, but had heard of a new one opening in Fairfax, so we went to check it out. For those of you who have never been to Bon Chon, here are a few best practices to follow:
- If dining at the restaurant, call in your order before hand since it takes the chicken 30-45 minutes to cook.
- There are only two flavors offered -- soy garlic and spicy -- and the spicy is very spicy, so I'd recommend getting an order of each so you can switch between the sweet and savory and spicy flavors.

So back to the subject at hand, the chicken from the Fairfax location. With the first few bites, it tasted like the same Bon Chon we were obsessed with, but not quite. We got two orders of the large spicy chicken. And I must say, on first impression, I felt that that chicken was spicy, but also had a really good soy garlic undertone as well. The spiciness wasn't overpowering, so I could eat a few pieces of chicken without taking a pickled radish break. But it dawned on me that the chicken wasn't completely the same as the location in Annandale. I kept noticing that the meat was a little bit drier and the skin was a tad overcooked. But I wasn't completely disappointed. It still had the same crispiness that I've come to enjoy with Korean fried chicken and the spicy and savory flavors were on point. But I don't think I'll order the chicken from the Fairfax location again, especially since the Annandale location is only 10 minutes from me. However, looking over the menu, the Fairfax location had some really delicious looking tacos, so I definitely want to go back and give those a try. After what feels like a long hiatus from Korean Fried Chicken, I was satisfied with dinner, and even have some left over for a snack tomorrow!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Embracing the Flavors of India at Rasika Restaurant

Our good friends were celebrating their 4 year wedding anniversary yesterday and asked us if we wanted to join them for dinner. I can't pass up a dinner invitation, especially if it's to a place I haven't been before, but have heard really amazing things about. So we were all set, dinner for a party of 4 at Rasika Restaurant in Penn Quarter.

As soon as you walk in through the glass doors, your senses get enveloped in the tantalizing smells of the various spices and curry combinations. And since I like to do my research in advance before going to a new place, most of the reviews about the decor were spot on. The atmosphere is very chic and hip, and definitely a good combo of upscale and modern. As we were seated at our table, looking around, the place was buzzing, and we had a pretty late dinner reservation. So I was pleasantly surprised at how packed it was for a Thursday night. Our waiter was super friendly and gave us some amazing appetizer and dinner recommendations. And since none of us had dined here before, we ordered based of his suggestions.

First up were the calamari and deep fried baby spinach. The calamari was cooked in a concoction of onions, garlic, ginger, green chillies and the perfect amount of lemon juice. I think the sauce was what made this appetizer so appealing to all of us. It was a great mixture of mildly tangy, herby and spiciness. And what really impressed me was how clean and really fresh the dish tasted. Our waiter had also said that their baby spinach dish -- palak chaat -- was a sure crowd favorite, and he was not kidding! The dish was baby spinach coated in a light cornmeal type batter, deep fried and served with a sweet yogurt sauce, tomato and date chutney over top. Let me tell you, it did not taste like any ordinary spinach! The combination of the fried spinach and sauce made it taste completely different, but oh so savory and delicious! We enjoyed it so much that we had to order another serving for the table!

For the entrees, I wanted to go with a dish that I've always loved, lamb masala. And then we also ordered the chicken green masala. The lamb masala had all the familiar flavors I have come to enjoy when eating Indian cuisine, it was the perfect balance of smoky and hint of sweet from the caramelized onions and tomatoes in the broth. But I think the sure fire winner from dinner was the chicken green masala. It was an amazingly new flavor that I don't think I've come across before. The sauce was super spicy, but worked really well with the undertones of really fresh mint, coriander, and a few other spices that tasted familiar but I couldn't figure out the combination. It reminded me of a typical Indian dish, but somehow just seemed different, but in a good way.

And since we were celebrating an anniversary after all, we had to order dessert! So we ended an absolutely amazing dinner with the chai creme brulee. Now, I've had creme brulee before with some interesting flavors -- green tea and black bean are two combinations that come to mind-- so I was a little hesitant to try another fusion type dessert. However, somehow, the chai combination worked! The flavors were very rich yet the spices were subtle at the same time, so there was nothing overpowering the traditional creme taste.

I am definitely coming back, there were so many things that looked like winners on the menu. If I were to pick one thing that I did not enjoy, it had to be the serving size of the naan. Each order only came with two pieces of naan.  How could I enjoy my savory sauces with just two pieces? Luckily our waiter told us we would need extra orders. And I have to concur with the many reviews I read before my visit, this one was of the best Indian dining experiences I've had. The food was amazing, the wait staff were really friendly and completely helpful and overall, it was a great culinary adventure.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Holy Smokey, it's Guacamole!!

I've never really been a fan of avocados, except if they were a part of my sushi roll. So it's been quite a challenge for me to really enjoy it, even though I know it's packed with nutrition and really good for you. But as of late, I've been having salads with slices of avocado mixed in and slowly, I've come to the conclusion that I don't completely hate them. I'm still acclimating to the taste and texture, but think that after a few more attempts, I just might acquire a taste for them. So I was having a Mexican themed dinner tonight -- main entree were chilli chipotle shrimp tacos with avocado salsa verde. And I, for some strange reason, really had an itch to make guacamole. Now mind you, I've only had this dip twice before, but felt compelled to try and make it in my own kitchen! The end result actually turned out surprisingly delicious. I was enjoying the creamy and smooth flavors of the dip. And one thing that really impressed me was how fresh it tasted! However, I couldn't eat too much, like I said, it's a taste that I'm trying to acquire. I wanted to share this recipe today cause I was super proud of my culinary first!

3 ripe avocados
juice from half a lemon
6 dashes of hot pepper sauce
1/3 cup of finely chopped yellow onions
1 large garlic clove, mashed and finely diced
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 small ripe tomato, seeded and finely diced

Cut the avocados in half, remove the pits, and using a spoon, scoop the flesh out of their shells and cut into large chunks and place into a bowl. Immediately add the lemon juice, hot pepper sauce, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper and toss well. Using a potato masher, roughly mash the mixture. I wanted to retain some texture in my dip, so I didn't mash it up too much. Add the tomatoes and mix well. Taste the dip for salt and pepper and add more if needed. Serve with your favorite corn chips and enjoy a super healthy snack!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Is there a benefit to eating Organic?

Tuan and I have tweaked our diet for almost 2 years now by eating organically and using all natural ingredients whenever possible. What really spurred this movement was watching the movie Food Inc. It just sparked something in me to become more aware of what I'm actually consuming and be more aware of what I'm introducing into my body. Now if we flash back just 5 years ago, I was totally on the other end of the spectrum, eating junk food like it was critical to my survival and stocking my fridge full of pre-made loaded with preservative type meals. I was more focused on convenience and wanted instant gratification from the vending machines. I do see the folly in my past ways, and thankfully, my health has not suffered from it.

I'm really happy with this conscious choice we made to be more aware of what we put into our bodies and to support the local farmers in our area. What are the exact reasons for this change? To be honest with you, it's a little bit selfish. It never occurred to me that eating organically and supporting the organic farms would help to promote more humane treatment of animals or to help save the environment. I just wanted to only put necessary and good things in my body. So that actually got me thinking, are there really any advantages and benefits to going the organic route?

Let's start with what I love most -- meat! The living conditions of the animals in industrialized farms can make anyone queasy.  I'd like to have happy thoughts and hope that the animals, even though they are being raised strictly for food, enjoy a life (no matter how short) that is relatively stress-free, free-grazing on the land and not being manufactured in crowded and sometimes deplorable living conditions. Happy animals make happy meat right? Placing the animals in crowded living conditions, not allowing them the freedom of movement, pumping them full of enriched grains and additives to promote quick growth are all for what? All for greed and to fill the pockets of the mass food manufacturers.I'd rather have my hard earned money go to the local farmers who are just trying to earn an honest living. Organic farms are free of pesticides and toxins. They do not clutter up the landfills with toxic waste or pollute the water source with pesticides. It is a conscious choice on their part and I'm happy to support them.

When most people consume fruits and veggies, they do it for the good nutrients and vitamins. But do you really want to ingest the toxins and pesticides as well? Do you really care if your apple has a few blemishes on it? Eliminating the use of these toxins that could potentially pollute the water source and harm the environment should be enough of a reason to pay that extra $0.50 for that apple.And don't you want to taste what an apple should taste like? Instead of eating one that's been prematurely plucked but should ripen just in time before it hits the grocery shelves thanks to the chemicals. One of the things that really surprised us was apple juice. Now I know what apple juice should taste like, but after we got a bottle of organic apple juice, we were startled at the taste -- it tasted just like apples picked from an orchard!

Organic food is costly, but in my eyes, it is cost effective. Think of the expenses you have to incur on doctors and medicine when you’re ill. Now I'm not saying that eating organically will mean no more colds or no more doctor's visits. But healthy eating practices can lead to a healthier life. Precaution is always better and it certainly helps to be conscious about your health. And it is certainly good practice to be cautious and aware of what you are eating, what's in it and where it's from. So all I'm saying is just read labels of the items you throw into your shopping cart and ask yourself is all that stuff you can't pronounce really necessary? And visit the farmer's market every once in a while and just get to know your food source. There are some great ones in our area -- Old Town Alexandria, Falls Church, Clarendon Metro Station, and Dupont Circle just to name a few, so go check one out on a nice day and feel good about what you eat.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Banh Ja’neuk - Sweet Mung Bean Dumplings for Cambodian New Year

We were in Richmond this past weekend to celebrate Cambodian New Year with my family. Technically this year, the New Year begins April 14-16, but the Richmond community celebrated a weekend early. So what does this mean, my mom cooks up a storm in her kitchen! On the car ride down, my brother and I were actually craving the same dessert, the sweet and coconut infused mung bean dumplings. It's actually a glutinous rice flour that has the similar consistency of tapioca and the filling is a sweet mung bean paste. It totally brought me back to our childhood. And my mom was more than happy to make a big pot for us to ring in the new year right!

3 oz split mung beans (can be found at the Asian market)
1 can sweet coconut milk
2 oz pure palm sugar
1/2 cup glutinous rice flour (can be found at the Asian market)
1/3 cup of water
2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
a pinch of salt
1 tablespoon toasted black sesame seed, grounded into a powder for garnish

Soak the mung beans in warm water for at least 3-4 hours -- it's best to soak overnight. Rinse and drain the mung beans. Wrap in a cheesecloth and gently apply pressure to remove any excess water. Place the cheesecloth in a steamer and steam for about 20-25 minutes to soften the beans. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Transfer a small amount of the mung beans at a time to a mortar & pestle and mash to a paste. Reserve 1 cup of coconut milk and pour the remainder in a medium pot over low heat. Add palm sugar, a pinch of salt and 1/3 cup of water to the pot. Stir until the palm sugar dissolves and then turn off the heat and set aside.

In a large glass bowl, pour a little warm water with the glutinous rice flour -- it's best to pour a little water at a time and mix to start forming a dough. You should not use more than 1/3 cup of water for the dough. As you form the dough use your hands and palm to knead the dough until soften. Once the dough is formed, divide the dough into 4 equal portions and roll each portion into a long roll with the palms of your hand. Then using a knife, for each of the rolls, make a mark about every 1/2 inch a part; this serves as a guide so your dumplings are of equal size.
Now comes the fun part! Separate the dough by the marking and start forming a quarter size ball. If the dough cracks you can dip your fingers in warm water and press it. Flatten out the ball in the palm of your hand and add about 1/3 teaspoon of the cooled mung bean paste. Then reform the ball around the paste. In a pot of boiling water,  drop the dumplings in batches. Don’t overcrowd the pot. The dumplings will float to the top when it's cooked. Remove them from the boiling water and add to the pot of coconut syrup. This will help prevent the dumplings from sticking together. Once all dumplings are in the syrup, add the reserved 1 cup of coconut milk and 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract and mix well. Turn the heat to medium low and bring to a slow simmer for 2-3 minutes. then simmer for 2-3. Wait until cool before serving. When ready to serve, scoop a few dumplings and coconut sauce into a small bowl. Sprinkle with some powdered toasted black sesame seeds for the finishing touch.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Acadiana Restaurant - a little Cajun inspiration in Chinatown

Last night, my good friend Magda and I went to Acadiana Restaurant to celebrate her new job. She had never been there before so I was super ecstatic to share with her one of my favorite places. I love Cajun cooking, probably due to my love of all things salty and savory! There were a few items on the menu that were a little unusual for Magda, so we steered clear away from those. They actually had a prix fixe menu for dinner, $35 for a 3 course meal, how could you go wrong with that? And we ordered a bottle of wine and got settled in for a delicious dinner.

I started with the trio of deviled eggs and Magda got the spring mix salad. I don't know what it is with deviled eggs, but I have an insane attraction to them, maybe it's cause I grew up in the south? But my trio did not disappoint! Starting from the left, I had the crabmeat ravigote -- superb pieces of crabmeat on top of the creamy and buttery filling; cheddar cheese bacon -- when something comes presented with a piece of bacon on top, there's no criticism to be found; and caviar deviled egg -- which I think happens to be my favorite, the salty caviar works so well with the creamy egg mixture and gives it that extra punch of flavor.
For our main courses, I got the New Orleans style BBQ shrimp and Magda got the cornmeal crusted catfish. The catfish was deep fried to perfection, and it's even inspired me to try and make some deep fried fish at home using a cornmeal coating. It was served in a tomato bouillon sauce with a generous helping of house made bacon.

I was in New Orleans earlier this year and got to devour some of the best BBQ shrimp at Brennan's Restaurant while I was down there. Magda warned me not to compare this BBQ shrimp to the one I ate at Brennan's. When the dish came out, there was no  need to compare, this dish was equally just as delicious! The BBQ sauce is a little bit of a misnomer since it's not the traditional sweet and thick BBQ sauce used for grilling. Instead, it's a lighter flavor full of intoxicating spices that's perfect to dip some crusty bread in. And one of the bonuses of this dish, the shrimp was already peeled, so I wasn't at the table licking the juicy sauce off my fingers, not that I mind doing that at all.
To continue with my theme of going down memory lane to New Orleans, I had to get the beignets for dessert. Magda got the bread pudding for dessert, minus the vanilla ice cream. I'm not a huge fan of bread pudding, but it did look really delicious, and it was apparently served with spiced pralines for that extra kick of flavor. My beignets were as pillowy and soft as I remembered and served with a generous dusting of powdered sugar. It was the perfect end to a great meal.