[Updated] George's California Modern

>> Monday, April 25, 2011

Date of Dining: 4/23/2011
Price: $65 per person for 5 course tasting menu
Location: 1250 Prospect, La Jolla, CA 92037
Restaurant Website

The Quick Bit:
+ Great Ocean View from dining room
+ Attentive Wait Staff
+ Good price/selection of wines
Δ Caliber of service could be more consistent
Δ Kitchen and Front of House could communicate better
Δ Food could be more inspired
Δ Portion size perhaps could have been larger for the price
Δ Pacing of the courses could have been more relaxed

When I first moved to San Diego, I was still a closet foodie. Upon doing some research, the fine dining restaurant that seemed to be the consensus best restaurant was George's California Modern (better known just as George's). Being the closet foodie, I feared that by going there I was way ahead of myself in my ability to appreciate the food, and developed almost an Eleanor-like trepidation about the place. Fast forward to today and I had still never been to George's.

George's kitchen is run by Trey Foshee, a graduate of CIA Hyde Park. His style emphasizes the flavors of that which are fresh and local. As such, the produce at George's is sourced from Chino Farms, and the menu makes no secrets about hiding that fact. Chef Foshee was named one of America's Ten Best New Chefs in 1998 and a James Beard House Guest Chef.

One of the little-known things about George's is that there's actually a 7 course tasting menu for $95 (George's also offers a 5 course tasting menu for $65 which everyone knows about). Apparently the 7 course menu is so unknown that when I called to make reservations for the 7 course menu two weeks in advance, the special events director that I was direct to was unaware of it. However, she did go check with the kitchen and then confirmed that they do in fact have a 7 course menu. Furthermore, when I inquired more about the tasting menus, I was assured that I would be able to pick some dishes that I definitely wanted off the main menu and the chef would be sure to incorporate those into the tasting.

Excited that I would get to pick the highlights of the meal, I set about studying the menu of the restaurant prior to arriving so I could determine which wine to bring. I was even called to confirm my reservations and asked during the confirmation if I was still interested in the 7 course tasting menu. Because I figured I would have some command of the menu, I confidently selected a Spanish Red, which would otherwise be very dangerous to bring to a seafood establishment. Upon our arrival, the waiter asked what we would be having and I informed him that I would like the 7 course tasting and that I had 3 of the courses I wanted. He diligently wrote down my requests and went to check with the kitchen if my request could be accommodated. However upon his return, I was informed that I was not allowed to order the 7-course menu and that I had "not called early enough" to arrange the menu. To add insult to injury, I would not be allowed to select any courses from the menu because the tasting menu for the night was solidly prix fixe. Of course this caused even more problems because one of my companions had a dining restriction against pork, which was the main course of the evening. Luckily, the waiter confirmed that a substitution to a hangar steak was an option for this course. Despite feeling like I had arranged to go on a date with Bait and Switch to end up on a double date with Conflict Diamond instead (see 5:40 of video), we went ahead and ordered the 5-course tasting menu.

Update: I was contacted by the General Manager of George's to say that I should try the "Chuck Eats Tasting Menu" and to get that menu, should contact the restaurant at least 4 days in advance and not dine on a weekend. Furthermore the reservation should be made specifically with their Director of Sales, Kristine Fogarty.

Amuse Bouche:
Crab with picked ramps on top of shaved radish and bits of apple
This course failed as an amuse. Because of the way it was composed, it was very difficult to get all the elements into my mouth in a single bite at once. Once the elements were in my mouth, I felt like there were too many vegetables and the flavors formed a dissonant chord rather than the harmonious one. I also felt like the course lacked some salt (at least in the crab) to bring out some more flavors.

First Course:
"Inside Out" Fish Tacos 
After being featured on The Best Thing I Ever Ate on the food network, this dish has received a lot of attention, and rightfully so. The fish for the day was yellowfin tuna, but the waiter informed me that the fish changes daily based on whatever would work the best. A tune tartare filling is wrapped in a sliced tuna shell with bits of fried corn on the outside and the dish is accompanied by a piece of fried avocado.

This dish was the best dish of the night - the flavors were outstanding and there was both hot and cold contrast and textural contrast in the dish. The oil of the fish was well-complemented by the oil in the avocado. The cilantro added a very good freshness to the dish as well.

My only complaint about this dish is that while it was a great dish, it was not a "wow" dish for me. I feel like I have eaten the elements of this dish before, but it is more evolutionary (to include texture contrast) than revolutionary.

Second Course:
Smoked foie gras - picked plum puree, beats, marinated konbu
This was another successful dish. One of my companions had a bad experience with foie gras (goose) in the past and was fearing that she wouldn't like this dish. However, the foie gras (duck) in this convinced her that she just had one bad experience. The marinated konbu was a nice compliment to the foie gras and the beats. I didn't really understand the picked plum puree as the sweetness of it was covered up by the sweetness of the beats, and there really wasn't enough of it to add much flavor. The slice of ginger added a nice small spice kick.

As for minor nitpicks, the flower didn't really make sense to me in this dish, and the large piece of ginger didn't make much sense either. I feel like mincing the ginger and integrating it more in the dish would have made more sense than just sticking a large slice there.

Third Course:
Porcini-Glazed Bone-in Halibut - peas, asparagus. braised radish, Meyer lemon yogurt
Although there are many incarnations of the dish, the halibut at George's seems to be considered the signature dish, and has both been much maligned and praised. I fall into the camp of hating it.

First the good stuff; what I noticed immediately when this dish arrived was that the aroma of the halibut was heavily prevalent and that the dish could be experienced with smell much before taste. The halibut was cooked well, as were all of the vegetables.

Despite good cooking technique, this dish fell flat. While the individual components were made well, I didn't understand the big picture of the dish. The peas were bathed in the Meyer lemon yogurt and I didn't feel like they taste worked at all. The long green leafed herb was overpowering in the dish. After eating the small spring with a bite of halibut, I only tasted the herb.

Fourth Course:
Cider Braised Pork Belly and Slow Roasted Loin - Chino Farms Greens, blue cheese,
caramelized onion arancini
I took one bite of the loin and another of the pork belly and sent this dish back. Whoever seasoned it was very heavy-handed with the salt, and the only thing I could taste was salt. I had to drink one and a half glasses of water after the two bites to recover my palette from the salt overload.

After the pork was removed, we were informed the chef decided to substitute with the hangar steak.

Fourth Course (take two):
Prime Hangar Steak
Before getting into the steak, let me point out that the companion with the pork dining restriction was served this at the same time as the pork. When the pork was removed, the companion's hangar steak was not removed. This made it so that one person at the table was eating while the rest were watching him eat. By the time the replacement entrées were brought, the first person had finished eating. At this point he was forced to watch the rest of the table eat.

While I understand that restaurants are a business with a bottom line, usually when you go to a restaurant that is "fine dining" it is a reasonable expectation that if multiple entrées at a table are sent back, then all the entrées will be returned so that there is not the "watching other people eat" issue. I guess the problem at George's is that there is somewhat of an identity crisis with whether the restaurant is fine dining or not. My definition of fine dining is that the food costs at least $50 per person. It is conceivable that a couple could go to George's and order an appetizer to share, 2 entrées, and a dessert to share and for that meal to come up less than $50 per person. However when someone orders the tasting menu, they've now crossed the "fine dining barrier" so the service could stand to potentially be improved.

The steak was cooked very well, and the hangar cut imparted a lot of natural flavor into the beef. The greens with shitake complimented the steak very well, but the mashed potatoes were a failure. They potatoes had a smoky flavor to them, but the smoke was more of an acrid and offensive smoke than a gentle infusion of smoke. Furthermore, it seemed like the temperature of the potatoes was not correct as I found clumps in the potato that made the texture unpleasant as well. The half baby carrot also didn't make sense to me as the flavor didn't really contribute much to the dish.

Fifth Course:
Red Wine Compressed Chino Farms Strawberries - goat cheese espuma, lemon balm, baby brioche, black pepper sorbet, strawberry dust
My first bite into this was one of immense satisfaction as I felt the dessert had captured the essence of strawberries. My second bite included some of the goat cheese, which I felt complimented the strawberry, but mellowed the flavor somewhat. My third bite included some of the sorbet, and I was almost forced to spit out the food. The black pepper flavor of the sorbet was so compressed that the pepper gave a huge offensive peppery kick to what otherwise should have been sweet and delightful. The sorbet was akin to inviting a heavy metal guitar soloist to launch into a solo during the climactic moments of a classical symphony.

By the time I had removed the sorbet from the dish, my palette had been contaminated by the pepper. Each bite no longer tasted as good as the previous ones and the dish was ruined.

Blogger's note: When I first returned from George's my inclination was to write this review immediately and completely vent my anger at not being able to have a 7 course menu and the somewhat sloppy policy of not removing the table's entrees. Instead, I decide to wait at least 48 hours to see if cooler heads would prevail. What has been written is perhaps not as bad as it would have been if I had written it immediately, but I think it still captures the essence of what I felt was a very disappointing experience.

While I've been told that I'm developing a reputation as a very harsh and unreasonable critic on this blog, my experience at George's failed to live up my expectations. My guess is that the 7 course tasting menu is simply unavailable on weekends, and had that been communicated to me from the start, I would be more forgiving in some of the comments. The food was average (for fine dining), but above average compared to some other places in San Diego. The only really good dish was the inside out fish taco, but I wouldn't really even call it memorable.

Usually after an experience at a restaurant like this, I would say that I'm never going back, but since George's is my Eleanor in San Diego, it is likely I will return someday. Hopefully they will do much better at that time.


PotaTo Day

>> Monday, April 18, 2011

(Portal Two Day)

I decided to try and do this post as a juxtaposition of nerdiness and foodie. Let me know how it works.

If this doesn't make sense, watch this video first.

This was a triumph
I'm making a note here: HUGE SUCCESS
It's hard to overstate my satisfaction
Aperture Science
We do what we must
because we can
For the good of all of us
except the ones who are dead

But there's no sense crying over every mistake
You just keep on trying til you run out of cake
And there's science to be done
And you make a neat gun
For the people who are
Still Alive

I'm not even angry
I'm being so sincere right now
Even though you broke my heart
and killed me
and tore me to pieces
And threw every piece into a fire
As they burned
it hurt because
I was so happy for you

Now these points of data make a beautiful line
And we're out of beta
We're releasing on time

Happy Potato Day!

Legal Stuff:
Aperture science logo by ~dj-corny
Portal gun by emilyskeith


Da Dong (Tuanjiehu) Roast Duck Restaurant

>> Thursday, April 14, 2011

Date of Dining: 3/24/2011
Location: 北京Beijing朝阳区团结湖路3号 邮政编码
Tuanjiehu Beikou, Dongsanhuan Lu, Bldg. 3
Price: Varies, Duck is approx $35 USD

The Quick Bit
+ Exceptional Roast Duck
+ Creative Modernized Menu
+ Good Plating
+ Use of Modernist Cuisine techniques
Δ The seating could have been more organized
Δ Could have been more flexible in meat temperatures
Δ Service could be improved

Photo of the Dining room
Since my plane arrived "early" to Beijing, I was able to have the first night be free for exploration. We met up one of my Mom's college friends who volunteered to show us some of Beijing. He said that Beijing cuisine is known for three things: spicy hot pot, xha jiang mein, and (of course) peking duck. I would be remiss to say that I'm not a big noodle fan, and I've had much more luck with Taiwanese hot pot sauces than the ones from China, so I decided that if there was only 1 great meal in Beijing, it would have to be peking duck. A quick search of the English chow forums showed that the "best" peking duck in Beijing would be had either at Made in China or Da Dong. Since Made in China seemed to be $$$$$, it was a simply decision to try and go to Da Dong.

One of my friends told me that you don't make reservations at places in China; this may still hold true for small places, but for larger establishments it definitely helps to call ahead. Of course sometimes it's hard to tell if a place is small or large from reading about them, but I'd say it's better to call ahead and see if they are available. The thing to realize about reservations in China is that there are basically two waiting lists; the one for walk-ins and the one for reservations. Traditionally the seating is handled by alternating one party from each list, so even if you do call ahead, don't expect to be seated immediately upon arrival. As previously stated, we didn't have a reservation and were informed we would have to wait 1 hour.

Like many successful Chinese restaurants, Da Dong started as a single restaurant but has since opened many locations. We happened to visit the original location (although I didn't know it at the time). Apparently other locations are larger and we may have had less of a wait. After waiting 90 minutes, we were finally seated.
Da Dong Menu
The menu for Da Dong was well-made and had plenty of food porn photos included. The menu we received included a lot of English to explain about how some of the dishes came to fruition.

Smoked and Braised Local Fish
I forgot the name of this dish, but it came out first. The fish appeared to be smoked as there was a nice smoky finish to the flavor of the meat. It was then braised in a rich soy sauce to give it a slightly sweet finish. Overall this dish was a great appetizer to the rest of the meal. Additionally, the fish was cooked in such a way that the bones could be eaten as well, so there was no need to pick away small tiny bones.
Sauteed Bean Sprot
A staple for any Chinese meal is to order the seasonal house vegetable in a stir fry. We decided to get the bean sprout. This bean sprout was cooked with exceptional wok skill so that there was a lot of that wok hei effect imparted into the vegetable.
Chef Dong's Braised Eggplant
As I stated previously, I'm not a big fan of eggplant, but my Mom adores it, so we went ahead and ordered this dish. This dish is a braised eggplant that is infused with soy and the fragrance of Chinese flowers. It is garnished with roasted garlic that is eaten along with the eggplant. I tried a piece of eggplant, which was okay alone, but when I tried it with the roasted garlic, I actually enjoyed the dish. The garlic provided a nice counterpoint to the sweetness of the eggplant.
wonton dish initially
Action Shot of the broth being poured into the wonton
Shrimp and Pork Wonton Dish
These were a pork and shrimp wonton soup where the soup is poured tableside. The greens were mung bean sprouts, and I don't think the flowers were edible. These wontons were prepared exceptionally. The wrapper was prepared fresh and the pork and shrimp mixture had a good balance and texture. The wontons were steamed prior to plating. The broth was a hearty "bone" broth most likely braised for hours with pork bones and then strained to give a clean finish. I enjoyed that the broth was poured tableside as it prevented the wonton from getting soggy.
Boston Lobster Noodle
These noodles were made from the meat of a lobster, most likely by using pureeing the lobster meat and then adding xantham gum and piping them out. The noodles were completely lobster taste with a very nice chewy noodle texture. The noodle was accompanied by two dipping sauces; a grilled shallot based sauce and the xha jiang (black bean) sauce. I preferred the shallot-based dipping sauce, but the xha jiang sauce was very good as well. The reason the xha jiang sauce didn't work really well with the lobster was that the black bean flavor masks the sweetness of the lobster meat, so it would have been better with regular noodles.
Beef with Green Lemon and Sea Salt
For the beef course, a chef came tableside and cooked the beef for us. As you can see from the photo, the quality of the beef was very high as the meat had very nice marbling throughout. I was very excited about this dish until the chef asked what temperature we wanted the beef. For anyone not familiar with Chinese beef cooking temperates, there's basically a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is raw and 10 is well done. Seeing the marbling in the beef, I thought I'd go ahead and ask for medium rare (usually 3 to 4), but the chef was appalled at my suggestion of undercooking the beef and said that he could only do 7 or 8. Reluctantly I agreed to the 7, but suggested that cooking it less would be acceptable.

I'm guessing there's a little more pink in the photo that what is usually served, but I ended up enjoying the dish immensely. The beef is cooked in the pan without any seasoning other than it's own natural fat as the fat melts. the meat is then plated on a plate of salt mixed with green lemon zest. When taking a serving, one dips the meat in the salt on the plate to achieve the desired amount.

Cooking the beef in it's own fat allowed the beef to get the fatty finish in beef that I enjoy. I did try a piece of beef without any salt and it was very disappointing, but by dipping the beef in the salt, all the natural beef flavors were enhanced and enjoyable. The green lemon zest in the salt added a nice finish as well as it simultaneously added the hint of acidic freshness and a small hint of sour bitterness.

Peking Duck:
DaDong "SuperLean" Roast Duck
Despite the many successful dishes, my mouth was watering with anticipation as I saw the chef roll out the trolley with our Peking duck. At Da Dong, there are three ways to eat the duck: just the skin, the "traditional" rice paper wrap, and the sesame bun wrap. The waitress decided to show us the three methods.
Peking Duck Condiment Plate
Just Skin method for eating Peking duck
In the skin method, the peking duck skin is dipped in sugar and then eaten. While this sounds somewhat scandalous, this approach actually works very well because the duck skin at Da Dong is so lean and crispy. Eating the duck skin with the sugar is one of those things that is just so wrong that it becomes right. The sugar mixed with the crispy skin and fat of the duck seems like a ticket to an early grave, but the combination was immensely enjoyable.
Traditional Method for eating Peking duck
In the traditional method, the rice paper wrap is layed on a plate. One dips duck meat into the hoisin sauce and then spreads it inside the rice paper before setting down the meat. Then some sliced scallions are added and the rice paper is folded like a small burrito.

The peking duck was very enjoyable using the traditional approach as well. The hoisin sauce complements the duck very well, and the scallions add the hint of acidic freshness to contrast the sweetness of the sauce and the fattiness of the duck. 

When we asked the waitress why there were so many ways to eat the Peking duck, she said that Da Dong first came up with the just skin method. However, because it was so successful many other "unscrupulous" restaurants violated "chef law" and copied them. This was very easy to do because all you have to do is have some crispy duck skin and dip it in sugar. Because of this, Da Dong invented a third way to enjoy Peking duck, which should also be the best way.
Sesame Bun method for eating Peking duck
In the third method for enjoying Peking duck, some hallow sesame puffs are brought out. Inside the sesame puff, one still uses the duck meat to add some hoisin sauce, but the "rest" of the garnishes in the garnish plate are also added including the garlic, cucumber, radish, pickles, and preserved vegetables.

Although one has to add more duck meat for counterpoint, I did enjoy the third method the most. The mix of the different garnishes added the most contrast in flavors, and the sourness of the pickles and preserved vegetables was very pleasant to the palette.
Duck Bone Soup
As one purchases the entire duck, following the carving of the duck, the bones are taken into the kitchen where they are cooked to create a duck bone soup. The white color comes from a bit of milk that is added to the broth. The broth is indeed very rich and my guess is that instead of cooking your particular duck carcass, the kitchen probably uses bones from the previous night to prepare the next night's soup. 
Sugarcoated Fruits Dandelion
For dessert, we had the "dandelion" fruit. This dish is basically some fruit that is coated in sugar, allowed to cool and then spun in a cotton candy wrap to resemble a dandelion. The fruit in my dandelion was tamarind, which was a very nice surprise for me since I had never had it before as an actual fruit. Additionally, I was tempted by many small street vendors selling the tamarind on the stick that I could never actually buy in the future, so it was good that I was able to eat the tamarind here to get that temptation out of the way. This dish was very fun and creative and it was a nice way to end the meal even though it wasn't mindblowing in flavor.
Fruit Plate
As is customary with Chinese restaurants, they did bring out one more fruit plate with the bill. The fruit seemed a little early in the season and weren't particularly ripe.

With its creative menu, good plating, and use of modern techniques in Chinese cooking, I thoroughly enjoyed the meal at Da Dong. There were a few problems with waiting to get a table and the service was mediocre at best, but I'll let that go as a cultural difference. For anyone visiting Beijing looking for a slightly upscale, but still affordable place to eat Peking duck, I'd easily recommend Da Dong. There were many more menu items that we didn't even explore. If I ever return to Beijing, I'll be sure to pay another visit to Da Dong.

All in all, this experience is enough for me to award Da Dong with the Megabyte Award


China - Tour Food

>> Tuesday, April 12, 2011

So I didn't die and nothing bad happened to me, but I haven't had any updates for the last month or so because I've been in China. I went with on a package with Ritz Tours, so if you go with them you'll probably have most of these same meals. Additionally if you go with Pacific Delight Tours, you may have a lot of the same meals too (we saw their group at most of the restaurants).

Since there are days and days worth of photos here, I'm just going to post the photos and make comments where necessary. As a summary, most of the dishes were mediocre to terrible, but there are definitely a few highlights.

In the coming weeks, I'll be posting some additional restaurants that I visited during the trip (these are the ones worth talking about). I visited most of the ones worth talking about outside the tour on my own and these will be more like the traditional posts that should be expected.

As a side note, I found it quite entertaining that while we have grass-fed beef and free range chicken as premium meat products in the US, apparently all beef in China is grass-fed and all chicken is free range.

Lunch (North-Northwest of the Forbidden City)

Dinner (near Temple of Heaven):
Apparently this place was supposed to be an "Imperial Banquet Cuisine" place
Our waitress dressed in the traditional attire   
Unfortunately the word "banquet" doesn't usually go well with having a good dining experience and this place had most of the same problems, food was cold, not seasoned, etc.

Lunch (Cloisonne Factory near Ming Tombs):
This is the traditional "post Great Wall" meal and it was located inside a factory in the countryside. Surprisingly, this was the best food served to the tour in Beijing (despite the fact the tour guide warned that it would be horrible)

Dinner (Random Restaurant near Gui Jie):
So this place really hurt because it was near the foodie hub/street known as Gui Jie (Ghost Street), but it ended up being the worst food in all of Beijing. I think everyone in the group ate most 3 bites of any one dish.
We still have no idea what this was, but it wasn't meat and it was prepared in a sweet and sour pork style

Lunch - Peking Duck (Quan Ju De)
So Quan Ju De is the most famous Peking Duck Restaurant in the world. I thought about doing a separate review for it, but I didn't want to think about how many ways I could say phrases like blue screen, clobbering the heap, buffer overflow, failing to POST, wiping at 1%, etc. I guess I'll provide a little extra commentary in the captions

Quick Bit on Quan Je De:
Being the most famous Peking Duck Restaurant in the world doesn't mean you have the best Peking Duck in the world. In this case, it just means you're the "oldest" and closest to Tianamen Square.

The Meal started with a few small dishes - appetizers if you will:

This was quite literally an egg roll as the wrapper was a thin egg crepe and it wrapped around some stir-fried veggies. Probably the best dish served from Quan Ju De
At this point they sent someone out to slice up our duck:
Peking duck that is sliced up with the thin rice wrappers
They gave each person their own personalized peking duck dipping sauce and sliced scallions
Then they sent the waitress to demonstrate how to properly wrap the peking duck:
Generically this duck wasn't very good, so the skin wasn't that crispy, and it tasted very oily. You can also see that the waitress made this one (mine) with way too much sauce.
They carved the rest of the duck meat and fried it in this dish. The best surprise in this dish was there were deep fried chilis that were stuffed with sesame seeds and tasted wonderful

Dinner: Hot Pot Restaurant (South of South gate):
This restaurant was the best restaurant that the tour took us to. The hot pot here wasn't family style, but more resembles shabu shabu. The broth that they cooked the hot pot in was mixed with several different herbs and had the "meat bone" taste of having been simmered with bones for hours.
Hot Pot Stock that each person gets
Tofu Skin

Hand-pulled noodles. These were very good

They had a sauce bar for creating your own dipping sauce as well
Essentially the base of the dipping sauce is a mix of peanut sauce and fermented bean curd and there were other things that could be added such as garlic, chopped chilis, green onions, coriander, and sesame oil.

Lunch (Teracotta Warrior Museum):
The highlight of this lunch is that there would be 2 chefs making handmade noodles; knife cut and hand pulled. This meal was AYCE, so they had a salad bar of some dishes, the noodles, and then some extra cooked dishes provided by the kitchen.
Cooked dishes:

Basically the knife cut noodles were cut into some boiling watter and then were used to create zha jiang mien. This dish failed because knife cut noodles are not cut uniformly, and when the noodles were cut into the water, the first set of noodles that were cut were way overcooked by the time the last noodles hit the water, so the textures were totally inconsistent.
The hand pulled noodles were much better. It helped that the broth was well-seasoned and tasty.

Dinner (Famous Xi'An Dumpling House):
So apparently Xi'An is famous for dumplings. However, as we learned in Beijing, fame in China simply translates to renown and not necessarily tasty food. This dumpling house has apparently been around for hundreds of years and the Dragon Lady (a famous Chinese dictator) dined at it. They are known for shaping the dumplings into shapes that resemble the filling of the dumplings. 
The meal started with some cold appetizers, and there was some entertainment provided by the restaurant

There's no way I remember all the different dumplings as there was something like 18 of them. However, none of the dumplings were particularly any good and the pacing of the dumplings was such that they came before we could finish the last set, so the palette never really got a chance to digest the flavors of each individual dumpling.
A common site was some person walking around with a bunch of steaming dumpling serving vessels. This was actually a small stack

Lunch (near Jade factory far south of city):

Dinner (Shangri-La Buffet):
The Shangri-La is a 5 star hotel in Guilin. Our flight arrived late, so we had an extremely rushed buffet dinner at the hotel.

Lunch (On River Cruise to Yangshuo):

Snack: (Bakery in Yangshuo)
This wasn't part of the tour food, but we had some free time in Yangshuo and I spotted a sign for 1 Yuan egg tarts so I couldn't pass it up
1 Yuan per egg tart
Macau Tarts - these tasted better than the egg tarts
This was actually surprisingly good. There was a thin mochi wrap on the outside of coconut cream, which wrapped a moistly delicious cake in the middle
Apparently one thing the Guilin area is famous for the hot chili sauce. The chili sauce contains chopped chilis, garlic, soy sauce, and some other secret ingredient. Allowed the sit, the soy sauce forms an almost syrupy consistency that was a good compliment to otherwise bland food.
We commented that we really liked their hot sauce so they brought some of the extra ingredients for us to adjust it if desired
The chicken in this dish was raw. :(
"Dragon Eggplant"
One of the highlights of the meal, and even the entire trip was this eggplant dish. I'm normally not a fan of eggplant (in fact I tend to stay away from it), but this dish really won me over. The eggplant is first deep fried, and this one was done such that the outside retained a crispy yet tender consistency and the middle of the eggplant was completely soft and moist. The sauce had a good mixture of sweet with spicy and the bell peppers provided some excellent extra flavors.

Aside: You may have noticed that a lot of the dishes contain bell peppers and be thinking that they are all horrible. However, the Chinese bell peppers are a completely different beast than the american bell peppers; they actually contain a lot more concentrated flavor and when stir-fried with things, the flavor of the bell pepper gets infused with the other ingredients to enhance them (almost like salt). 

Eating this eggplant, I'm supremely confident that if this dish was offered in the correct setting, some critics would be thinking it was Michelin star worthy. This dish had a nice contrast of several components: texture, sweet with spicy, eggplant and bell pepper.

Lunch (Guilin):
Nobody actually drank this, but we noticed they had snake wine for sale
More good Guilin spicy sauce

Unfortunately the rice in this was undercooked and slightly hard, but otherwise fried very well
We told the tour guide how much we enjoyed the eggplant the previous night so she tried to order it again, but the one at this restaurant wasn't nearly as good. All the elements didn't play the different dualitys of contrast as well so this incarnation failed as a dish and reminded me why I don't like eggplant
The fruit plate included a hand carved watermelon rhine in the shape of a birds around a tree
The tour didn't end here, but there was a truly awful meal at the Guilin airport which I decided not to take any photos. After Guilin, we split off from the main tour group and basically got our own trip in Shanghai, Suzhou, and Hong Kong. Instead of covering those as part of the larger post, I'll post about those cities separately in the future (in the more traditional style too).


About This Blog

gastro bits is a blog that juxtaposes the geeky with the foodie; it is an attempt to be educational about food, yet entertaining at the same time.
None of the reviews are meant to dissuade you from trying anything by yourself, but simply to provide information for you to make a more informed choice.
If any special treatment is provided to the blogger, full disclosure is presented at the beginning of the post.

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