Restaurant Review – Tacubaya

I’ve been reading Jen’s blog, use real butter, for nearly five years now. Whenever I wanted a break from studying in college, I’d look up her blog to read about her new adventures and drool over her amazing food photographs. Her kickass attitude and triumphant battle with cancer has inspired me to be a strong, independent woman like her.

So, when I saw her post about Tacubaya in Berkeley a few years ago, I vowed to myself that I’d go there someday, not knowing (but hoping!) I’d eventually be going to Berkeley for grad school. It took me almost a year to get my butt down there, but I finally paid the taqueria a visit after getting a pedicure on Fourth St. (It’s definitely not your hole-in-the-wall taco joint like the ones in the Mission or the taco trucks in Oakland, probably because it wouldn’t fit in with the classier, more posh part of Berkeley that is Fourth St.)

Despite having grown up in New Mexico, I am rather loath to eating Mexican food (although New Mexicans make a clear distinction between Mexican and New Mexican food). Perhaps growing up surrounded by tacos, burritos, and enchiladas (which I still cannot eat to this day after rather unappetizing versions served for school lunch) has dampened by desire for Mexican cuisine.

Tacubaya was much different than most Mexican restaurants I’ve been too. The food was very fresh, crisp, and surprisingly light. A lot of Mexican dishes can be heavy, loaded with beans, rice, or potatoes. It was actually quite refreshing eating the food at Tacubaya.

They offer a wide variety of tacos, from the traditional taco al pastor to the more exotic taco de lengua. Intrigued by the tongue taco, I knew I had to order it. The pieces of beef tongue were pretty moist and juicy, not as chewy as I would have guessed. However, I couldn’t think about what I was eating too much because the thought of eating a tongue did gross me out a bit. The taco was very light and refreshing, just what I’d want from a taco. If you’re ever in Berkeley, definitely check out Tacubaya on Fourth St! I know, why would you go to the Bay Area for Mexican food? But trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Restaurant Review: Momofuku Noodle Bar

I recently visited New York City and one of the top places to visit was Momofuku. Having heard so much praise for David Chang’s restaurant, I made sure to eat there at least once. Last Monday, I visited the Momofuku Noodle Bar in the East Village for lunch with a friend.

Because one of the most talked about dishes served at Momofuku is the pork buns, I knew I had to try them. An order comes with two fluffy white buns filled with a large slab of pork belly, hoisin sauce, scallions, and pickled cucumbers. When I first saw them, I was a bit shocked at how much fat was in the pork belly. I know that’s the best part, but for me, a thick layer of fat was not really that appetizing. Although the fat was buttery and melted in my mouth, I had a hard time eating all of it and felt there wasn’t enough flavor in the meat. The buns could definitely have used more sauce and more pickles, which were a nice way to cut the richness of the fatty pork belly. Don’t get me wrong, the pork buns were good, just not as good as I had imagined from people’s raving reviews.

My friend and I ordered the Momofuku ramen to share, and I’m glad we did. The ramen comes in a huge bowl and was more than enough for the both of us. The broth was a bit salty for my taste and had a slight bitterness. My friend suspected it came from seaweed, which makes sense since dashi, which is a traditional Japanese cooking stock made from kombu (dried seaweed), is usually the base for ramen broth. The ramen noodles were a bit more springy than those I’ve eaten before, almost as if they weren’t cooked enough. The springiness made it a bit harder to chew the noodles, but I suppose I’d rather have springy noodles instead of soggy ones. Another unusual thing about this ramen was that it had a poached egg instead of a soft-boiled or hard-boiled egg, which is commonly found in ramen. Neither of us understood why a poached egg would be served because when we split it open, all of the yolk spilled out into the soup. Although the egg yolk did make the broth taste better in my opinion, it didn’t really make sense to have a runny egg in soup.

Now, I’m probably being a bit more critical than I ought to be. Don’t get me wrong, the food was pretty good and the service was great. But I was expecting a bit more out of Momofuku. I’m sure it was really good when it first started, which is why it probably earned so many accolades. But now, all of those reviews have built up the expectations for Momofuku to be so high that it’s difficult for it to continue to amaze diners. At least, that’s one of my theories. What should probably be praised more than the food is the fact that Momofuku and David Chang reinvented traditional Asian dishes and brought them into the spotlight again. He’s helped mainstream pork buns and ramen  and thanks to him, people think of ramen as being more than just instant noodles.

Picnic Time – Korean Style with Kimbap and Egg Roll Ups

The first time I tried kimbap, I was actually in China. I had been living there for a month already, and although I enjoyed eating Chinese food, I was getting a little sick of eating it all the time. Luckily, I found a little shop that sold kimbap, which is sort of like the Korean version of sushi. However, kimbap usually has meat instead of fish and more vegetables than Japanese sushi. The clean, crisp taste of kimbap was a delicious and welcome break from the rather oily, heavy Chinese food I had been eating the past month.

Kimbap is the perfect on-the-go meal. I’ve read that Koreans usually pack kimbap for lunch or as a snack for hikes or picnics. You can put whatever you’d like into kimbap. Usually, the standard ingredients are carrots, spinach, pickled radish (takuan), and marinated beef (bulgolgi). I decided to use marinated baked tofu instead of beef and added in some strips of egg. I loosely followed these recipes from Serious Eats and spoon fork bacon.

Making kimbap is pretty straightforward. Cook the rice and add in some rice wine vinegar and sugar. Saute the vegetables (spinach and carrots) and slice all of your ingredients into strips. Place a sheet of seaweed onto your sushi mat and pat rice on top. Lay all of the ingredients in rows on top of the rice and roll. Pretty simple, right? However, don’t underestimate how long it’ll actually take you. It took me about an hour to make the kimbap. The rolling was the hardest part since all the ingredients start flying out as you roll.

The best tip I found for making kimbap was coating the knife in sesame oil before cutting the roll into slices. This step made it so much easier to cleanly cut through the seaweed and rice.

Another cute snack food to pack on picnics is egg roll ups. They’re basically an egg pancake with chopped vegetables (usually carrots and green onions) that’s been rolled up. The recipe I used is based off this one. It’s so simple!

Whisk together eggs (one or two) and chopped carrots and green onions. Then pour mixture into a pan and swirl to get a circle with even thickness. Flip the pancake once the eggs have set and cook for another minute or two. Slide the pancake onto a plate and quickly roll the pancake up. Let cool for 5 minutes, then slice and serve.

The egg roll ups are much easier to make than kimbap since they only have a few ingredients. But like kimbap, rolling is the hardest part. To get the shape to stay, you have to quickly roll the egg pancake while it’s still hot and let it cool as a roll before cutting into it.

Since both kimbap and egg roll ups are eaten cold, they’re the perfect snack to take on a hike or picnic. One Saturday, my friends and I planned to go to a local chalk art festival held in Berkeley. Since it was such a beautiful day, I figured it’d be fun to have a picnic in the park where the festival was being held and decided to pack up kimbap and egg roll ups. My friends loved them and were so impressed! If you want to try a new picnic dish that’s simple and easy while still being impressive, definitely make kimbap and egg roll ups. Everyone, from kids to adults, will love these rolls of deliciousness!