Monday, March 19, 2007

Five favorite restaurants

As more than one person has observed before me, eating is one of life's pleasures. And seeing that I'm not a particularly good cook, I've done my fair share of dining out. Consequently, I figured that it might make for an interesting blog entry for me to write about five of my favorite restaurants.

Before presenting the list, however, here's putting a trio of caveats on the table. To begin with, the reason that there are no restaurants serving Malaysian food on the list is because I believe that the best Malaysian food is to be found at no-frills street and other "hawker" stalls or kopi tiam (trans., "coffee shops").

Next, as far as actual restaurants go, my tastes do tend to lean towards the budget to middle-range in terms of prices (albeit relative to others in the same city). And thirdly, for an eatery to qualify as a favorite restaurant, I've had to have eaten more than once -- and over a fairly lengthy period of time -- there as well as, more often than not, feel some sense of personal connection to them.

As a follow up to that last point: This is why although in my travels, I've partaken of some amazing meals at certain dining outlets, I've not considered those restaurants because, due to such as time constraints, I only ate just once at them. Also, should any confirmation be needed: Yes, that indeed is why such as the wonderful Sushi Dai of Tsukiji -- whose virtues I extolled elsewhere on this blog -- does not figure in the list that now follows (in alphabetical order):-

1) Dahlak (West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.): A confession: I've yet to set foot in Ethiopia or Eritrea and I've only ever eaten Ethiopian and Eritrean food in the U.S.A. However, I've had Ethiopian and Eritrean food at more than one restaurant in New York as well as Philadelphia, plus home-made by an Eritrean friend of mine, and still my sense is that the best food from the Horn of Africa region that I've ever had was to be found at the West Philly restaurant that I had the good fortune to live only a few blocks away from for a time!

Also, even while I wouldn't go so far as to assert that it's "the ultimate in spicy cookery", I would agree with those who are of the opinion that Ethiopian and Eritrean food is absolutely delicious as well as a wonderfully comforting type food. Two other things that characterize the cuisine: It's finger food of a substantial variety; and it really is fun to eat -- as well as is meant to be eaten -- communally.

Something else to bear in mind is that the spongey bread that is
injera might get mistaken by the uninitiated for a a napkin or tablecloth because of how it looks! However, those who have had that which is to Ethiopian and Eritrean food what rice is to many Asian cuisines will know that it's great at soaking up gravy, stews and sauces as well as for wrapping bite portions of meat and other foods around... :b

2) Domenico's Pizza and Restaurant (Beloit, Wisconsin, U.S.A.): Granted that this may be a highly sentimental choice as Domenico's was named for its co-owner, Domenico Ferrara; a fellow who, among other things, happened to be my favorite soccer (association football) coach along with the guy who led the Beloit College women's soccer team that I was on to the Wisconsin State championship! However, I can truthfully state that I ate a whole lot of Sunday dinners and other meals over at this much loved Italian restaurant during my four years as a Beloit College undergraduate, and enjoyed all of them immensely.

In particular, my favorite memories involving this eatery include all the pizzas "with everything and extra anchovies" that a group of us comprising a couple of anthropology department faculty, some students and the then director of the
Beloit College Museums would regularly gather -- as the self-named "anchovy pizza club" (membership offered only to anchovy lovers!) -- to devour together during my senior year at that small liberal arts college! :)

3) Isarabi Tei (Penang, Malaysia): The restaurant that I currently patronize more frequently than any other -- and one which I reckon is better by a country mile than any of the many other Japanese restaurants that are to be found on Penang island. Blessed by having a dedicatedly "hands-on" owner at its helm, this Chow Thye Road locale also stands out by way of its having a majorly extensive culinary selection that includes a lot of offerings which can't be found on other restaurants' more limited menus.

Alternatively put: Isaribi Tei is the place in Penang to go for such as tender beef tataki, Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, the quintessential Japanese dish that is natto, and thick chunks of saba (trans., "mackerel") sushi as well as the more well known items like Omega 3-rich salmon sushi, golden tempura moriawase and the sweetish sukiyaki.

At the same time, this eatery also happens to be the rare -- singular even? -- Japanese restaurant that not only serves green tea flavored ice cream but also such as blackcurrant and even blue cheese(!) and wasabi(!!) flavored ice cream for dessert. And slices of sinfully creamy cheesecake besides -- which, like the ice cream, is personally made by the restaurant's owner! ;b

4) Porters English Restaurant (London, England): I realize that there are many people out there who don't think there's such a thing as delicious English food, and especially outside of breakfast fare. I also know of others who claim that there isn't any good English food to be found in London (as opposed to the provinces)! To which I'd like to counter-suggest that such critics have never been to this Covent Garden establishment and sampled such as its very tasty lamb and apricot pie.

And should they have room in their stomachs after having one of the main courses, they also ought to try one of the desserts -- called "puddings" on Porters' very traditional English menu: e.g., the immensely substantial Spotted Dick (As it says on the menu: "Not what you might be thinking!"); or the satisfying fruit-and-nut combo that is apple, blackberry and hazelnut crumble. (And for those who have never tried it: believe you me when I say that crumbles are so much more superior to mere dessert-style pies!)

5) Todai (various, including in the Greater Los Angeles area, California, U.S.A., and over in Hong Kong): Somewhat ironically, the most expensive restaurant on this list is that which is a chain, and one which is best known for its buffets at that. But what buffets they are! Succinctly put: I've never seen such an amazing all-you-can-eat spread of sushi, other seafood and desserts as at Todai.

To be sure, I've only ever been to one branch of this rather upscale restaurant chain. Still, each time that I did so -- i.e., on all three of the occasions that I went to spent the Christmas period out on the West coast with friends (one of whom is behind the extraordinary labor of love that is the Michelle Yeoh Web Theatre), it proved to be the foodie highlight of my visit there! Also, one does get the distinct feeling from reading such as the remarks on this discussion forum thread that this still expanding restaurant chain most definitely has its share of avid fans... ;)

(N.B. This post has been submitted to engtech//'s Five Things contest)


duriandave said...

YTSL, if you ever make it out to the SF Bay Area, you are in luck because there is a sizable Eritrean community. On Telegraph Avenue, running from Berkeley to North Oakland, there must be a dozen Eritrean restaurants (an exaggeration but just slightly). I used to live around the corner from one of them and would frequently go there for take-out. The food was simply divine. But, as I'm sure you must know, it's very easy to get stuffed on Eritrean food, so I it's best to skip a meal beforehand so you can enjoy yourself fully. My favorite part of eating Eritrean food is easting the sauce-soaked injera that serves as the "plate" for all the dishes.

YTSL said...

Hi duriandave --

Reading your comments, I suddenly remembered another American city where I've had good Ethiopian/Eritrean food: No, not anywhere on the West coast but, instead, Washington, D.C.! :)

But, actually, I've been out to the SF Bay Area but without eating any Eritrean food there. Instead, went a bit wild over the delicious and cheap -- by Philadelphia and, especially, Beloit standards! -- Japanese food and seafood that was available there. ;b

"My favorite part of eating Eritrean food is easting the sauce-soaked injera that serves as the "plate" for all the dishes."

Mine too! :)

Anonymous said...

Todai opened up in Manhattan on 32nd Street last year, so if you decide to come over for the subway cinema's asian film fest, you can check it out and compare.

YTSL said...

Hi buma --

Thanks for the info but alas, I can't see myself checking out that branch of Todai -- or, for that matter, attending any Subway Cinema events -- any time soon. Not because I don't want to, mind; rather, it's because, New York's no longer just a $5 bus ride away from where I live! ;(

Anonymous said...

Howdy from the Great Southwest, Miss Yvonne!

I am proud to say I have at least shared two of these dining experiences with you, and share a name with another!

Hope your shoulder un-freezes.

Karrie Porter Brace

YTSL said...

Hi Karrie --

I'm pretty sure those two shared dining experiences we've had involve Domenico's and Dahlak (the latter because I took you there)! As for the "sharing the name" one: Are you telling me that there's a Todai in Arizona??? ;b