Friday, November 27, 2009

Truffles from Eclipse Chocolat

With some time off, I couldn't resist taking a quick trip down to San Diego to say hi to old co-workers, visit my favorite cheap eats, and of course stick my head into Eclipse Chocolat.

Though I did not bring a camera, I snapped a quick shot of our dessert plate with my brother's camera phone.

This lazy half-assed shot certainly does not reflect my usual work, and kinda does Will's hard work a disfavor, but I really wanted to show everyone some of the new selections available.
Starting from the rear and progressing clockwise is the masala chai banana bread, sweet potato bread pudding, fig bar, a whoopie pie behemoth, and an azteca cinnamon roll bread pudding in the middle.

As usual, I found it hard to immediately decide on a favorite and needed some time to weigh and critique each item. The moist banana bread is very impressive. Masala chai definitely spices things up and gives the banana bread a very unique character and armoa. Sweetness and flavors of other ingredients are balanced extremely well, as usual. My brother's favorite was the sweet potato bread pudding, and with good reason. It felt like the heftiest item on the plate with its rich buttery goodness and subtle sugars from the sweet potato. Furthermore, because of the addition of some sweet potato skin bits, the flavor is amplified--a very good touch by Will. Try it sometime. The meager bits of baked sweet potato or yam that sticks onto the skin packs a surprisingly sweet punch. This is my second favorite. An ideal comfort food, especially when served warm. Perfect for the cold season.

Will's grilled fig bar was very enjoyable as well, and though it is the sweetest item on the plate, rest assured that you will still taste the fruit. I loved its crispy exterior. White chocolate pieces only make it taste even better than it looks/sounds. Then we have the whoopie god this thing was huge. A rich dark chocolate cake/cookie? sandwiches a frozen cream that tastes like a mix of sweet cream, cocoa nibs, and a dash of sea salt. Good, though I enjoyed the gelatowiches a lot more. It is interesting to note that chocolate flavors do not come forward until you start chewing for a few seconds. This may be due to the fact that our tastebuds have difficulty tasting chilled items. I'm no chef, but I believe that if the whoopie pie's exterior was a bit moister and more chocolately, the delayed-tasting can possibly be alleviated, thus making a better dessert.

Finally, after much deliberation, I found the azteca cinnamon roll bread pudding to be my #1. My heart was initially set on the banana bread, but the thick richness of the cinna-roll won me over. Will strikes such a perfect balance of sugar, spice, and cream that you might see angels with your first bite. Okay that's an exaggeration, but trust's damned good.

We also picked up a box of truffles to take home. As a Thanksgiving special, two complimentary truffles are given with every ten purchased. How could I resist? Eclipse features countless flavors and I've just scratched the surface. Each truffle bursts with bright flavors ranging from the conservative double espresso to the more inventive ginger green tea. Lavender sea salted caramel is another popular crowd pleaser. In my opinion, the bold presence of flavors other than chocolate is what makes truffles from Eclipse stand out from the ones from Godiva (my usual source). A big assertive two thumbs up from me.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Xi Men Ding - Joanh's Guided Tour

Golly it's been awhile since my last post! Been awfully busy showing my visiting cousin around Southern California while concurrently carrying on business/financial/academic type things.

While I was visiting Taiwan, one of the most well known members of Taipei's food blogging community invited me to a guided food excursion. That's right, folks, I'm speaking of Miss joanh, esteemed author of The Hungry Girl's Guide to Taipei! After weighing my locale options, I settled on Xi Men Ding, an area that was once the hangout for college students. (It has since then been bumped down to #2.) Tempting choices for food, shopping, and entertainment here are pretty extensive. Oh yes, this also applies to the co-eds. <3

One English word instantly lured me in.

In the above photo, the word "Food" accompanies two Chinese characters that translate to (pardon my colloquialism) "awesome food." A bold claim! Let's put it to the test.

First stop: A Chung Noodles

Mein Xian

A fundamental street food in Taiwan. Very traditional. The taste is really hard for me to describe since we in the States don't really have something that's similar. I suppose I could say that a good bowl of mein xian tastes really meaty(pork) and a bit nutty with some white pepper, (good) soy sauce, and various spices thrown in. The consistency of the soup is thick and the noodles are vaguely like pho noodles in terms of texture. A good bowl of mein xian gives your tastebuds the sensation of eating a fat juicy steak, except in carb form. Seriously, your umami receptors get totally tweaked out.

A Chung has an American branch in San Gabriel (LA County) for those who are interested. I cannot say whether or not it measures up to standards, however, since I have not been there yet. Rest of my family says it's only "okay," though we are quite a picky bunch.

Second Stop: KFC

Portuguese Egg Custards

Yep, that's right. KFC. I lol-ed since I thought joanh was just pulling my leg, but she was dead serious. Said I gotta try these desserts at KFC. This was a mindboggling "find." Hard to imagine I was totally blown away by a KFC dessert. They appear to be the same ole egg custards you find at dim sum, but the crust is actually a helluva lot crispier and flakier. Think a really really buttery crispy croissant. Additionally, the custard filling is more than sufficient to put many restaurants to shame. G'damn, this really needs to find its way to the US franchises. Ya hear me, Colonel?

Third Stop: Almond Tofu (Forgot the name of the place, will update soon)

Almond Tofu

This is the dessert shop's #1 seller. Apparently many folks buy it to-go in bulk, but you can have it as a dine-in as well. The texture and consistency is very similar to Do Hua--smooth and silky. This is the real deal. Real almonds are used to make the tofu and milk, none of that processed fake crap. The result is a fresh clean feeling on your palate.

Almond Snow Ice

Now I was perfectly content with my almond tofu, but joanh ordered this behemoth that made my order seem so very very timid. I have no idea how they make this, but if you take a close look at the photo, you'll see that this isn't your run-of-the-mill shaved ice (aka grounded up ice). This has a silky, airy texture as evident through the bazillion layers and yet feels hefty like ice cream. Four "toppings" are found at the bottom, and the potential accompaniments are many. My favs will always be azuki, giant azuki, and peanuts.

Fourth Stop: Dumpling/Noodle House (will update with name once I find business card)

Joanh led me to a small alley in the outskirts of Xi Men Ding where a totally kickass dumpling/noodle house finds its customers via word of mouth. Many such treasures in Taiwan can be found if one is adventurous and willing to explore the ins and outs of a city.

Dumplings (pork)

The first thing I noticed was the skin. Just from appearance alone I knew we were in for a treat. Thick, Q (Chinese for "al-dente"), and house-made, a good wrapping skin is crucial for epic dumplings. Indeed, my initial observations proved to be correct. This was among one of the best dumplings I've had. My sole complaint is that the filling didn't have enough meaty oomph to it, but I'm splitting hairs here.


I love potstickers. As a kid growing up in Taiwan, I used to inhale them by the box for breakfast as I walked to school. Again, texture is a huge player. See how the chef manages to give the base a deep golden crisping while maintaining all the moistness of the rest of the potsticker? Yeah, that's fantastic technique. The combination of a crispy base coupled with the moist, chewy remainder is an absolute delight to eat. The filling is the same as the dumpling's but I guess since potstickers aren't boiled, the meatiness isn't lost.

On a side note, the house-made hot sauce is very much worth mentioning. Joanh attempted to coax the recipe out of the proprietor who was more than happy to oblige, but he (obviously) held back a few secret ingredients and techniques. Long story short, various peppers fried in peanut oil. You can learn more from Joanh's entry.

Fifth Stop: Ice Cream

Giant red bean ice cream

Sure it looked like a typical joint to grab ice cream, but upon examining the menu, a few bizarre/interesting flavors popped up everywhere. Mustard and brandy are two that instantly pop from memory. I consider myself pretty open-minded and willing to try new things, but mustard ice cream... I suppose it's not as bad as a mayonnaise milkshake one can buy in Japan, but I kinda want to enjoy myself here. We settled on the tamer flavors: lychee and giant red bean. Lychee was alright, but I loved the giant red bean. Because they generously use fresh ingredients (case in point: it is NOT recommended that you drive after eating the brandy flavor), the texture of the red bean ice cream was not as thick and silky as I expected. Seems like the "powderiness" of many giant red beans kinda interfered with the texture, but in terms of taste, this was an easy A. I would without a doubt swing by here again if I'm ever in the area.

A special thanks to Joanh for giving me a guided tour of Xi Men Ding! Be sure to hit up her blog if you ever travel to Taipei. It's only a matter of time before she maps out (nearly) all the great eats in this fascinating city.

Gawd I love Taiwan.