Friday, July 12, 2013

Pico de gallo

Pico de gallo, or salsa fresca, is a staple in my kitchen - especially since we moved to Hong Kong where good Mexican food was severely lacking until very recently. The one decent place in Hong Kong for Mexican food is Brickhouse, but a single taco will set you back US$7 for a tiny taco that would cost $1-2 in San Francisco - that's after you wait an hour for a table. I love good food - especially good Mexican food - but I have two basic tenets: 

1) I abhor overpaying for food. That doesn't mean I eat only cheap food, because I will happily spend $300 on an exquisite sushi or kaiseki meal, or $500 for a meal that I think is life changingly good. But I won't pay $7 for a taco that I know should cost me $2.
2) I hate waiting for a table at overhyped restaurants that refuse to take reservations like civilized people. Hong Kong's biggest offenders: Brickhouse and Yardbird (not that they care what I think, since they have more customers than they can handle)

But I digress. Pico de gallo - one of the easiest condiments to prepare for a fresh addition to Mexican food, fish, meat, chicken, chips...basically goes with almost anything.

4 firm plum tomatoes (other tomato varieties will work too, but I like the flavor of plum tomatoes for this salsa)
1/2 medium white or red onion
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
Juice of 1/2 small lime
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
A good sprinkling of Maldon sea salt
1/2 tablespoon of sweet paprika. All paprika is not created equal. My favorite brand is Caballo de Oros pimenton de la vera dulce, produced in Spain. If you live in a humid location, such as Hong Kong, leaving out paprika at room temperature can result in tiny larvae/bugs hatching (I almost fainted the first time I discovered them) so to avoid, keep your paprika in the freezer in an airtight container
3 or 4 squirts of chipotle Tabasco
A generous glug of good quality olive oil

Mix all the ingredients together, add salt to taste, and store in the refrigerator for at least half an hour before serving. The salsa will keep for 3-4 days.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Cafe 69

Everything about this casual restaurant off the main road in Bophut reminds you you are in Thailand - from the name, to the kitschy disco decor that wouldn't work anywhere else except the land of the thousand smiles, to the owner/chef Vivian who is a man but appears to moonlight as a ladyboy based on a photo on the restaurant wall, but most of all - the fresh, delicious, authentic Thai food.

 Soft shell crab and papaya salad wrapped in rice paper
 Thai Pad, Cafe 69's take on pad thai with amazing battered prawns and tamarind sauce
 Green chicken curry with mango
The interior - what you see is basically the entire restaurant, a tiny but lovingly kept restaurant in Bophut

Food rating: *** and a half
Bang for buck rating: 4

The essentials:

Location: Bophut, Koh Samui, Thailand
Dinner for two approximately 500-600 baht (~$17-20)

H Bistro at Hansar Samui

I wasn't expecting world-class European cuisine in Koh Samui, so was happily surprised when we ended up at H Bistro at the suggestion of a friend with a trustworthy palate. The food at H Bistro is excellent - and not just by tropical island standards - the creative, well-presented dishes here are on par with what you'd find at high end restaurants in major cities. Except that the food here comes with gorgeous views of a peaceful, laid back beach at half the price of a nice meal in Hong Kong or San Francisco. It may be expensive by Koh Samui standards where you can still find a bowl of street stall pad thai for 40 baht ($1.33), but a sunset dinner at H Bistro is one of the best meals you'll have in Koh Samui.

Amuse bouche - housemade ravioli with crab in buttery broth

 Chilled white asparagus soup with langoustine and white truffle oil - the complex flavors of this soup were incredible. Both white asparagus and white truffle have such unique flavors and you would expect the pungent truffle oil to mask the subtle flavor of the asparagus, but the flavors melded together beautifully so that you tasted layers of flavor - from truffle oil, to cream, to white asparagus. The soup came with a dollop of black caviar on the side, which is hidden here by the fried pastry on the left.

 Duck breast with smoked duck prosciutto, sweet corn blini with caramelized peach. I'm not a huge fan of duck (other than Peking duck), but the duck here was really well cooked so that the meat was tender and sweet without being too fatty. The corn blini reminded me of the arepas you find in Colombia.
 The view
 Seared Hokkaido scallop on forest mushroom risotto with porcini mushroom essence - the scallop tasted sweet and fresh and the risotto was rich and savory.
 Red prawns with artichoke puree, green peas and brown butter. The prawns were a tad too salty for me which ruined the dish, but that was the only real flaw in the meal.
 Sirloin with veal sweetbread and roasted vegetables
 White chocolate dome and bourbon vanilla raspberry ice cream.

Food rating: ****
Bang for buck rating: 4

The essentials:

Location: Hansar Samui hotel, Bophut beach, Koh Samui, Thailand
Chef's tasting menu for 2 (without wine): 4500 baht (~$150); a la carte menu also available with European and Thai dishes