Thursday, December 24, 2009

Real Deal: Old Jesse aka Ji shi 老吉士(Shanghai)

Jesse Restaurant Jesse Menu
As a Chinese American, who grew up eating nothing but Chinese food, lived in Hong Kong for 4 months and currently lives 20 minutes to Monterey Park, CA where I can frequent Taiwanese, Hong Kong Café, Shanghainese, Szechuan and of course Cantonese restaurants, I thought I was well versed in Chinese food. In fact, I proclaimed myself, an expert - VA, the Chinese food expert.

That is until my dinner at Old Jesse, where my expert card was revolted after a Shanghainese dinner with an amazing blend of sweet and savory flavors that was foreign to my palette. . How can I be an expert and have never tasted authentic Shanghainese flavors? In fact, I was always uninspired by the “authentic” Shanghainese cuisine in the states, but it is the real deal at Old Jesse and the real deal was amazing.

Old Jesse was recommended to me by a Shanghai expiate, who told me that Old Jesse is commonly regarded to be the best authentic Shanghainese food in the city. (Please don’t confuse it with New Jesse who serves a modern interpretation of Shanghainese food.)

Old Jesse serves traditional food, but it is not located in an old school food stall. Old Jesse is in a small, clean, minimalist, yet warm space located in the outskirts of the French Concession on a quant, quiet street.

The restaurant is always busy. Apparently, old money and Chinese A-listers are regular clienteles, but as a tourist, I wouldn’t know one even if they accidentally bumped into me. Reservations are recommended. Be sure to make it a few days ahead of time. Luckily my mandarin-speaking mom called a few days before we arrived in Asia and made a reservation for 7:30 on a Tuesday night for 4 people.

Do your homework; the waiter was bad at making recommendations, so I took a mental survey at the other patrons and ordered the most popular dishes that were ordered around me.

Jishi’s Salted Chicken - Tough and dried with an alcohol taste like a drunken chicken. I was not a fan.
Jishi’s Salted Chicken Braised Pork in Brown Sauce
Braised Pork in Brown Sauce - Fatty pork in a sweet, savory, oily sauce. This pork was amazing, except, I had to control myself from eating too much. I could feel my arteries clog up.

Fried Sword Bean with Potato - (Vegetarian dish) Green beans and potatoes swimming in oil, mixed in the same sauce as the pork. The dish was yummy, but there was too much oil for my taste.
Fried Sword Bean with Potato Gluten and Mushroom Pot
Gluten and Mushroom Pot - Various types of mushrooms sautéed together with oil. I feel like there was a little butter too, but I’m not sure if they use that in Shanghainese cooking.
Shaken Shrimp Jesse Restaurant
Shaken Shrimp - Mini, fresh peeled, sautéed shrimp. It was tasty.

I loved the pork dish the most! It was a great food experience and I enjoyed it. We spent about 300 RMB for the meal. It was well worth the price tag.

Shanghainese food in America is watered down for the local plate. I realized that I am not well versed in Chinese cuisine, like me, the food I eat is Chinese American. Maybe one day, after more time in China, I will be well versed in Chinese food too.
Jesse, Inc Business Card
Old Jesse
41 Tianping Rd., near Huaihai Lu French Concession
+ 82 21 6282-9260

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Disoriented: NanXiang Steamed Buns Restaurant 南翔馒头店 (Shanghai)

Yu Yuan Juicy Pork Crab Dumplings
Because of my cheap Chinese parents, we arrived in Shanghai at the most awkward time – 12 am. After almost 24 hours of no sleep, when I finally went to bed, it was the best sleep of my life. I woke up the next day, disoriented – not knowing where I was and what time it was. When I finally realized that I was in Shanghai, I panicked and called my parents in the next room
“Mom! Mom! ! It’s 2 pm! We’ve missed the 1st day in Shanghai! “

My mom in her sleepy voice said back:
“It’s 7 am!! You can get up and explore Shanghai, I’m going back to sleep for 2 more hours!”

After a few more hours of sleep, we decided to start the day visiting Chenghuangmiao (City Gold Temple) in the Old City to see the Yu Yuan Gardens. Thanks to my guidebook, we never made it to the actual Chenghuangmiao because I was confused and thought the shopping plaza around Yu Yuan was called Chenghuangmiao. I didn’t realize that there was an actual temple. Oh well.

We first went to the beautiful Yu Yuan Gardens. It was the first of many Suzhou style gardens on my trip. In comparison to the others, it was not as elaborate, well maintained, or big in size.

Then we walked around the two-story, retail tourist trap complex with stereotypical Chinese buildings. This retail part of the Old City is filled with souvenir vendors, western snack shops such as Starbucks and McDonalds, sub-par, over priced Shanghai street food and droids of tourist following the leader with a flag on a stick.

Even, Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant (aka. soup dumplings), situated in the middle of the Old City, seemed like a tourist trap. I’m not one for falling into tourist traps, but I was there and couldn’t resist a restaurant chain named after a city that created the famous soup dumplings.

Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant is a three-story building. There is a take out window on the 1st floor and dinning rooms on the 2nd and 3rd floors with higher quality dumplings at a higher cost.

Due to our time constrains, my parents decided to order from the take out window. Dumplings are a snack anyways. We stood in line around 2 pm and waited about 20 minutes. There is no English menu. Luckily my mom reads Chinese! We ordered 2 trays of the crab/meat dumplings at the 1st window and received the dumplings at the 2nd window. Don’t forget to grab the chopsticks and add vinegar before hungry people mob you.
Steaming Dumplings
Crab Dumplings - The skin was soft, but too thick, starchy and oily. It looked greasier than McDonald’s fries. When I bit into the dumpling, I found a generous amount of meat and only a small amount of crab. Also, instead of the usual burst of soup, I only tasted a bland squirt.
Crab and Meat Soup Dumplings Chenghuangmiao at night
Disappointed. Maybe the 2nd and 3rd floors do serve better dumplings.

I am grateful that Nanxiang created the soup dumpling, but happy that other restaurants have improved on it. Now, that I’m done with this tourist trap, I’m off to find better soup dumplings.
Nanxiang Steamed Buns Restaurant
85 Yu Yuan Rd, Old Town
Shanghai, 20001
+86 21 6355 4206

Friday, November 20, 2009

Thankful: VA's Mac and Cheese (Home Cooking)

Mac and Cheese

Sometimes we take the little things for granted.
A stranger opening the door for you.
Finding a failed meter right in front of the expensive valet. Take that!
Matching socks.
Realizing that your favorite food truck is in front of your office.
This year, on Thanksgiving, I am thankful for my family, great friends and all the little things that put a smile on my face.

Inspired by the Mac and Cheese from bay cities that put a smile on my face after a long week at work, I decided to make my interpretation of Mac and Cheese for my Thanksgiving Potluck. I know that Thanksgiving is next Thursday, but I will be eating my way through the motherland - Hong Kong and Shanghai.

The following is my version of Mac and Cheese. Like me, it is Asian American. I used panko breadcrumbs instead of white bread to create a light crispy topping. And also like me, it tries to be health. Instead of regular pasta, I used gluten free vegetable pasta, but with the 3-cheese sauce, you will never know the difference. Enjoy!

VA's Mac and Cheese

Makes 12 Servings
  • 8 tablespoons Butter
  • 1/3 cup Flour
  • 6 cups warm Milk
  • ¼ teaspoons Nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 5 cups Sharp White Cheddar
  • 2 cups Fontina
  • 1 ½ cups Parmesan Reggiano
  • 1 ½ cup Panko Bread Crumbs – crisper, airier texture
  • 1 pound Vegetable Radiatore Pasta – healthier, gluten free, made of vegetables
  • Salt
  • Pepper

1. Pre-Heat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish, set aside.
3. Place panko bread crumbs in a medium bowl.
Panko Topping
4. Toss with 2 tablespoons of melted butter.
5. Combined ½ cup parmesan reggiano, ½ cup fontina and 1 ½ cups of sharp white cheddar.
Cooking the Pasta
6. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
7. Add noodles and stir well to separate.
8. Cook until the outside of the pasta is cooked and inside is underdone, about 9 minutes. (Take a piece to taste around 7 minutes)
9. Drain the noodles at once and rinse with very cold water. Reserve.
10. Reserve about 1 cup of pasta water.
Mornay Sauce (Cheese Sauce)
11. In a medium saucepan, melt 6 tablespoons butter over medium heat.
12. Whisk in flour, about 3 minutes. (Do not allow it color)
13. Gently whisk in milk. One cup at a time.
14. Bring to a simmer.
15. Add bay leaf and nutmeg.
Mornay Sauce (Cheese Sauce)
16. Simmer until thick, 20-30 minutes.
17. Add 2 teaspoons of salt and 2 teaspoons of pepper.
18. Remove sauce from heat.
19. Stir in remaining cheese. Set aside.
20. Stir the reserved pasta into the cheese sauce.
21. Add 1 cup of pasta water.
22. Pour mixture into the casserole dish.
23. Sprinkle topping onto the top.
Mac and Cheese
24. Bake until browned on top, about 30 minutes.
25. Cool for 5 minutes and enjoy!
Happy Turkey Day!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Take Me As Is: Terroni (Los Angeles)

I got into a fight with my friend the other day while we were cooking. I was apparently giving too much cooking “advice”. I gave so much advice that she stormed out of the kitchen and told me to finish the Mac and Cheese myself.

I was wronged to tell her what to do. If I wanted to add my flair, I should have cooked. With each of my modifications, it slowly becomes my dish and no longer hers.

“No Modifications, No Substitutions. No reservations,” is Terroni’s model. It is the perfect model when it comes to eating someone’s cooking. You want to taste a chef’s flavor profile. Each creation should have been perfected before arriving on your table. Adding or removing ingredients could ruin the magic of the chef’s creation.

Terroni, located on Beverly Blvd, north of the Grove, is a marriage of an old school diner and a modern, trendy LA restaurant. It is filled with a hodgepodge of decorations - modern wooden booths, old school leather orange bar chairs, beautiful lighting fixtures and cans and bottles of the kitchen ingredients against the wall.

On a Wednesday Night I was quickly seated and we ordered the following for 2 people to share:

Ricchia - (arugola salad): simple salad with fresh mushroom parmigiano reggiano shavings a light lemon dressing.

Tagliatelle Alla Bolognese - Handmade pasta with a traditional meat sauce that was complex and flavorful like a relationship between a marinara sauce and ground meat that have matured with time in the pot

Terroni: Tagliatelle Alla Bolognese Terroni: Ravioli di Burrata con Pesto Siciliano
Ravioli di Burrata con Pesto Siciliano -
Homemade Ravioli stuffed with creamy burrata cheese with tomato basil pesto and pieces of sun-dried tomato.

Fritters with Hazelnut Ice Cream - Round, soft, freshly fried doughnuts that are dipped in nutella and served with creamy Hazelnut ice cream.

Terroni: Desert
Terroni’s Southern Italian food needs no modifications or substitutions. It is perfect as is. This was not the most mind blowing Italian meal, but it was solid and well seasoned food that reminded me of my meals in Rome.

7605 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 954-0300

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Cupcake-aholic: SusieCakes (Brentwood)

SusieCakes: Brentwood, CA
I'm a cupcake-aholic. It's been 30 days since my last cupcake. Today has been really hard because I am mourning the death of my Apple Laptop Computer. It's been through countless accidents and surgeries, but sadly, it did not survive the fall from my bed.

Today, I am in need of a soft, moist, fluffy, sweet, creamy cupcake from my favorite cupcake shop -SusieCakes - to comfort this feeling of emptiness inside the pit of my stomach. The dense cakes from other places are not going to cut it. I need a Red Velvet Cupcake. I love the super moist cake and the creamy cream cheese frosting that accents the flavors of the cake perfectly. I might also need a Strawberry Cupcake and a Banana Pudding with Vanilla Wafers to make the tears go away. I must stay strong for the sake of my wallet and my ass, but a trip to SusieCakes might be the only way to put a smile on my face.

SusieCake: Cheesecake SusieCake: Strawberry Cookie

Strawberry cheesecake and sour cream cheese cake on the left and strawberry sugar cookies on the right.

SusieCake: Cupcake Case SusieCake: Cupcake Case

Cupcakes: My favorite is the Red Velvet (Cream Cheese Frosting and Red Sprinkles in Lt Photo) and Strawberry ( Pink Frosting and Red Sprinkles in RT Photo)

Eat more Cake

11708 San Vicente Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90049
(310) 442-2253

Monday, November 2, 2009

Hello Mr. Robuchon: L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon (Las Vegas)

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Las Veags
$200 on Red.

In order to win big, you must play big. If I doubled my money, I would walk up to the Mansion and demand a table.

Black 35.

Not today. Instead, I walked up to the hostess at L’atelier and demanded to be seated or else! And it worked! Yah, right. I don’t have the balls to do that. I don't want to be blacklisted from Mr. Robuchon's world! He holds the key to the Mansion. We waited about an hour and half for a seat at the bar at this beautiful and sleek restaurant, filled with black and bright red accents, and colorful fruit and vegetable shape decor. Because we were seated at the section for poor planners who do not make reservations, I thought we were going to be treated like second-class citizens. Really? Who sits at the counter at a French restaurant? But, in Mr. Robuchon’s world, this bar seat was the best in the house! At most fine dinning restaurants, I always feel like a 8 year old kid, wearing her mommy's dress, heels and makeup, looking ridiculous, sitting nice and straight, drinking water with her pinky up, pretending to be an adult. Instead, the bar seating at L'atelier created a world of unpretentious French dinning, removing the stuffiness yet creating warmth with the attentive wait staff and a view of the chaotic cooks working to provide delicious meals while fellow foodies take in each dish with all their senses.

I went with the summer prix fixe menu for $75 instead the discovery menu for $149. 

It included: 

Amuse-Bouche- foie gras with port reduction and form Parmesan served in a shot glass. I took a spoon full and closed my eyes as the salty Parmesan, foie gras and sweet port hit my palette and partied in my mouth. Loved it.

Les Legumes - Layers of tomato, eggplant, zucchini with Buffalo Mozzarella and dabs of Basil puree on the side. All the vegetables were well seasoned. Each layer of vegetables brought a different dimension to the dish. I loved the tomato confit. It was very sweet and flavorful.

L'Atelier: Les Legumes L'Atelier: La Langoustine

La Langoustine - Crispy Langoustine Fritter with Basil Pesto. Tissue thin fried batter wrapped around a sweet Norway lobster. Yum. It was nice and crispy. Although, it tasted 100 x better after I figured out that the micro-salad had a purpose other than decoration. One piece of La Langoustine + a few piece of micro salad + a dab of basil pesto = a good favor combination of fresh, sweet and crispy.

La Porc Fermier - Braised Pork belly with confit sweet onion. Sweet melt in your mouth pork belly. The mashed potato was really tasty. I can taste a heart attack waiting to happen. 

L'Atelier: La Porc Fermier L'Atelier: Les Fromages
Les Fromages
- Blue cheese, Creamy sheep cheese and Camembert. Although, the cheeses were awesome quality, I thought that this was filler, so I don't leave starving. I would have rather eaten something else. 

L'Atelier: La Framboise
I wanted to try the traditional tarts, but they were sold out. So, being difficult, I petitioned to substitute the assorted sorbet for the La Framboise - fresh raspberry inside white chocolate sphere, yuzu ice cream. It was a little too tart for me, but the sweetness of the white chocolate combined with fresh berries and the distance flavors of yuzu ice cream created a very distinctive unique flavor.

I loved my meal and my experience. It was a beautiful window into Mr. Robuchon's world.

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Las Veags
L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon
MGM Grand
3799 Las Vegas Blvd
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(702) 891-7925

A Good Date: Mushroom and Sausage Lasagna (Home Cooking)

Sausage and Mushroom Lasagna

The other day, I actually took the effort to comb my hair, put on foundation and shave my legs for a big date with a 3 cheese Lasagna. But, the frozen Lasagna from Albertsons stood me up and his cousin showed up instead - a pill of noodles with no cheese and some sort of red sauce. After a whole week of looking forward to this Lasagna, I was left feeling empty and disappointed.

So, this weekend I was inspired to try my first attempt at making Lasagna. If I can tell you myself, my Lasagna was a good mixture of saucy, cheesy goodness. It was a good date. It could have been better, but I think it was the 1st date nerves. In my next attempt, I will need to cover the dish before baking, burnt noodles are not a good look, and control myself from eating the mozzarella. The top layer was a little sad because I ate all the cheese.

Mushroom and Sausage Lasagna

Makes 10 Servings


  • 1 large Onions (Minced)
  • 1 Yellow Bell Pepper (Minced)
  • 1 clove Garlic (Minced)
  • 1 can of 12 Oz Diced Tomatoes
  • 9 pieces of Lasagna Pasta
  • 15 oz Fresh Ricotta
  • 3 Eggs
  • 1/3 cup of Parmesan
  • 2 tablespoon of Fresh Basil
  • 2 tablespoon of Fresh Italian Parsley
  • 1 cup of Mushrooms (sliced)
  • 1 cup shredded fresh Mozzarella
  • 5 Italian Sweet Sausages (cut up)
  • 4 tablespoons of Olive Oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Sugar


Mushroom and Sausage Sauce

  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat.
  2. Heat onions and yellow bell pepper until a light golden color, 12 to 15 minutes
  3. Add garlic and continue to sauté, stirring frequently until the garlic is soft and fragrant, 1 minute
  4. Add the tomatoes.
  5. Bring the sauce to a simmer and cook over low heat.
  6. Add ½ of the basil and parsley and cook until a good sauce texture, 15 minutes.
  7. Season with salt and pepper and a dash of sugar.
  8. Cool and put through a blender. (Do not blend too long, like I did. Look for a smooth, but not lumpy sauce. This will help hold the Lasagna together.) Reserve.
  9. Heat 2 tablespoon of olive oil in a clean pot.
  10. Add sausage and sauté, 5 minutes.
  11. Add mushroom and sauté, 2 minutes.
Add the reserved tomato sauce and bring to a boil. Reserve.

Mushroom and Sausage Tomato Sauce

Making the Cheese Filling

  1. Combine the ricotta, parmesan, eggs, parsley and basil. Mix Well.
  2. Season with salt and pepper.

Cooking the Pasta

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  2. Add the noodles and stir well to separate.
  3. Cook until tender, but not overly soft, about 8 minutes.
  4. Drain the Lasagna at once and rinse with very cold water. Reserve.

Putting the Lasagna together. (Pre-Heat Oven at 375)

  1. Spread a small amount of sauce on the bottom of a buttered baking pan.
  2. Lay 3 pieces of noodles, overlapping them on a 9 by 13 inch baking pan.
  3. Spread the cheese filing about ¼ mm thick,
Add the sauce about ¼ mm thick.
  1. Sprinkles mozzarella and parmesan.
  2. Repeat.
  3. Finish with a layer of noodles
Cover with sauce and top with mozzarella and parmesan.

Making the Lasagna Making the Lasagna

Baking the Lasagna.

  1. Cover with tin foil and bake at 375 for 30 minutes.
  2. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes
  3. Cool for 10 minutes and serve.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Burger Heaven: Umami Burger (Los Angeles)

The 5th Taste

Umami is savory taste beyond salty, sweet, bitter, and sour. It is a natural savory flavor from meats, cheese, or mushrooms that lures you to come back for more. The Umami burger did just that for me. After eating the burger for the first time, I was addicted and went back 3 days later for another.

I went to Umami Burger for the first time last Wednesday. Umami Burger is in a quiet strip of La Brea. I've passed by it multiple times and never noticed it. We arrived at approx. 8 pm and waited 20 minutes to be seated. Umami Burger is not your typical hole-in-the-wall burger stand. The space is modern and sleek, filled with black tables and chairs, ceiling high windows, and Asian inspired fixtures. It is a hybrid of a fast-food stand and sit-down restaurant. The tables are covered in white paper with the Umami logo. Waiters take your order, but then place the order number on your table, so other servers know where to deliver your burger.

I ordered the Umami Burger. It came with caramelized onions, roasted and marinated tomato, Parmesan crisp, grilled shiitake mushroom, homemade ketchup and a medium rare meat patty on a sweat brioche bun. On my first bite, I was knocked out by the complexity of the flavors. Flavors of salty, bitter, sweet, sour and Umami in conjunction with the churchly, soft, chewy, texture and a well seasoned, perfectly cooked and packed meat patty created an amazing tasting burger. Loved it! Can I have seconds please?

Umami Burger

We also ate:

Triple Pork Burger - Fresh ground pork spiced with Chorizo and cob-smoked bacon, aged manchego, pimenton aioli.
This burger was packed with so much goodness in the meat patty. The first bite was filled with a burst of flavors. It was much more flavorful, than any other burger I've tried.
Hand Cut Fries - Tripled Cooked. Although, I prefer skinny crispy fries. It was good for steak fries.
Ketchup - I did not enjoy the ketchup. It was more watery and too vinegary than I prefer. Please just give me the Heinz!
Malt Liquor Tempura Onion Rings - It was like tempura at a Japanese restaurant, except WAY too oily after only 10 minutes

Triple Pork Burger

On Saturday I ate:
Port and Stilton Burger (Blue Cheese, Port Caramelized Onions) with a glass of Charamba Douro 2005 purchased at the neighborhood liquor store down the street. It was recommended by Umami Burger. Loved the BYOB and the $5 corkage fee. I loved the burger, but do not recommend the wine with this Burger. The wine is too over powering for a burger that also has really strong flavors.

I will be back! For my 3rd burger, I want to try the Truffle Burger. Truffle + Burger? Sold!

Inside Umami Burger
Umami Burger
850 S La Brea Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 931-3000

This Foodie's Life

I eat to live and live to eat.

Everyone has a food blog, but this blog is about my life and how food intertwines with everything I do. You will find entries on anything from my hour-long work lunches, to my struggles on cooking Chinese-Vietnamese food, travels around the world on a budget or everyday eats in Los Angeles. I am a foodie with crazy adventures, so join me in my foodie adventures.

Welcome to This Foodie’s Life.