Saturday, February 8, 2014

Birthday Dinner at Benu, San Francisco

For my birthday dinner , I wanted to try Benu. I heard great things from friends, plus it is a 2-star Michelin rated restaurant. I was going back and forth whether or not we should go, because it is pricey. Our priorities have changed a bit since we've had baby M. However, Dan said that the price will just keep going up so if I want to try, we should probably try now. Dan's parents agreed to watch baby M, so we could go celebrate my birthday. Reservations weren't actually that hard to get; we booked via OpenTable.

We arrived on time and decided to valet the car. The restaurant looked very modern, and the design was actually very simple. It looked very sparsely spaced and the lighting was quite bright -- a little bit too bright actually for a fine dining establishment. Maybe I'm used to dimly lit restaurants?

When we got to our table, Dan surprised me with a rose vase arrangement that he prearranged beforehand. Isn't he sweet? :)

Rose waiting at our table

There's a preset menu which was $195 pp++, as well as several upgrades. We went with the regular menu and didn't do any upgrades, and we didn't do the wine pairing either.


We actually came really hungry, and I was a bit worried at first since all the dishes were very small (bite size), but our servers mentioned that we would be very full at the end of the meal.

Thousand year old quail egg, potage, ginger

First dish was the thousand year quail egg with potato soup. Growing up, I did eat a lot of thousand year eggs, but never quail egg, so it was an interesting take. It's a lot milder than the typical thousand year egg. I mainly tasted the potato soup.

oyster, pork belly, kimchi

The wrapping on this next dish was very interesting, crispy but dissolved so easily. I actually enjoyed this dish and the combination of the oyster with pork belly and the kimchi flavored wrapping.

eel feuille de brick, creme fraiche, lime

I quite liked this next dish. I mean, how can you go wrong with deep fried? The eel was very mild, wrapped inside this very thin fried dough. Yum.

anchovy, celery, peanut

This next dish was sweetened fried anchovies with peanut butter and celery. Not my favorite. :p

homemade tofu, charred scallion, burdock

I'm always a sucker for homemade tofu. This one was good, soft and creamy. The toppings & sauce were very typical Chinese, so this dish reminded me of a Chinese tofu dish.

xo sausage with basil curd

This dish was probably one of the few dishes that didn't scream "Chinese" to me. It tasted more like a Spanish dish. The setting reminded me of Alinea, where there's no utensils, and you just grab and eat from the thong. The basil curd almost tasted like a salty cheese, which is always a good combo with dry cut meat.

beggar's purse of treasures from the oak

I couldn't really tell what "treasures from the oak" meant, but whatever it is it was delicious. This was probably one of my favorites of the night. I tasted a hint of mushroom.

salt and pepper squid

This was definitely not your typical salt & pepper dish. The squid was actually cut very small, and I'm not quite sure what the black cracker was. It tasted like a combination of shrimp cracker and nori.



The bread was served with butter & honey -- bread was really good and served warm. At this point I was really hungry and since all the dishes were really tiny, I helped myself to a couple servings of the bread. :)

wild bamboo fungi, chicken, cabbage

This chicken dish was probably one of the most disappointing of the night. It really tasted like a regular chicken stir fry dish at any Chinese restaurant.

pig's head with lentil hozon and bonji

I didn't dare to try the pig's head...Dan did and he said it was fine! hehe

lobster coral xiao long bao

This lobster xiao long bao was highly anticipated. One of the keys to a good xiao long bao is that the skin has to be thin enough, and this one fits the bill. It was quite delicious, too bad it was too small, even with 2 pieces!

5 prong forks

Dan was quite intrigued by the 5 prong forks. We noticed that for all the dishes, each serving plate and cutlery seemed to be custom made for the dish. This was a very interesting take, and I do commend the chef for putting so much thought into each dish and making it a cohesive experience.

sablefish, mountain yam blanquette, aged tangerine peel

This fish dish was very mild, cooked nicely and very soft. It paired well with the yam and the tangerine peel - I couldn't actually tell which was which since the textures were very similar.

duck, crosnes, persimmon, mustard

This duck was done very well - cooked on the rare side but texture was amazing. Typically I'm not a fan of duck dishes since they usually have a certain "smell", but this one had no smell at all - which tells me the duck was fresh and very well prepared.

beef braised in cognac, onion, black truffle

By the time this dish was served, I was finally feeling a bit full. This beef dish was executed nicely. I could barely taste the truffle though.

shark fin's soup: crab, egg white, jinhua ham

Hmm, this dish looked fancy, but tasted like a regular shark fin's soup.

lemon sorbet, cranberry, white chocolate

By this point, I was ready for the dessert courses. The lemon sorbet was a good palate cleanser. But I was really looking forward for the next dessert dish...

sesame white cake with salted plum

When I first saw another table getting this dish, I thought it was someone's birthday. Turns out it's part of the meal. I actually really enjoyed this cake. I could taste the mild sesame flavor, and the cream frosting was not too heavy at all.


Since it was my birthday, they brought out truffles for me, set in very interesting box!

Thoughts:

To be completely honest, both Dan & I were underwhelmed with our experience. Maybe it was the high expectations that we had (highly recommended and 2 Michelin stars). Or maybe they had an off night? Or maybe, we just don't do high end Chinese food.

I did see that a lot of thought process was put into every dish. I bet it took a while to plate each dish. I also mentioned their custom-made utensils & cutlery that go with each dish, which was great, but the food delivery just didn't impress us. If I have to pinpoint why, I would probably say that I just can't justify paying almost $500 for a really good Chinese meal!

View of the busy kitchen as we were waiting for our car

Friday, February 7, 2014

Conclusion: Baby M's First Trip to Indonesia

We were really glad that we went to Indonesia to visit my parents with the baby. I know a lot of new parents can be very nervous when traveling for the first time with a baby, us included. But we made some really great memories in Indonesia and were so thankful for the experience.

We went when baby M was 4.5 months, and looking back, I think it was the perfect age to travel with a baby. She wasn't mobile yet so that made it a bit easier. She was also still waking up every 3 hours to feed so the time zone change didn't seem to affect her too much. Also, she didn't have stranger anxiety at this age, so she quickly warmed up to my parents as well as our temporary nanny.

We have a couple of domestic trips coming up, so it will be interesting to see what the new challenges traveling with her are at a slightly older age.

A couple of tips when traveling with an infant:
  • Get the passport done early. We requested her passport when she was 2 months old, just to have it ready. We had plans to go to Indonesia, so we submitted the passport paperwork early to give ample time for the passport to arrive just to be safe.
  • Talk to your pediatrician to see if there's any additional precautions or immunizations needed.
  • If bottle feeding, bring extra bottles and plenty of milk/formula. We also carried on a small travel-sized container of dish soap and a new, unused toothbrush to clean the bottles during our layover.
  • Bring plenty of wipes to sanitize your airplane seat, table, etc.
  • Go with a travel partner! I can't imagine traveling alone on such a long flight, so having Dan to take turns holding the baby was HUGE.  
Until next time!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Namaaz Dining Jakarta

Intro: Baby M's First Trip to Indonesia
SFO - Taipei - Jakarta
Jakarta City Tour & Activities
Tatemukai
Namaaz Molecular Gastronomy
Conclusion

For our second date night in Jakarta, my sister recommended Namaaz, which is a molecular gastronomy restaurant.  Having been to Alinea in Chicago, we were excited to try Indonesia's version of molecular gastronomy to see how it compared. All the dishes would be Indonesian cuisine, which would be interesting to me to see how the chef transformed traditional dishes into various forms.

Namaaz takes online prepaid reservations only, and they serve a maximum of 8 people per night. The cost was roughly $100 USD per person.

Namaaz Dining 

There is only one seating per night as they serve everyone at the same time, 7PM sharp. We arrived 15 minutes early and the chef, Andrian Ishak, greeted us at our table. He was very friendly and introduced himself to us and asked whether we had tried molecular gastronomy before. We told him we had been to Alinea before and were looking forward to trying his version. He said he hoped we would enjoy our meal.

Getting excited for dinner

It turned out the chef presented each dish to all the tables personally, which I thought was a nice touch. He started out with this phrase:  "What you see is not what you get."  For each course, he gave us time to taste the food and checked back with us afterwards.

There were a total of 19 courses if I remember correctly, and about half were dessert entree. I won't post all the dishes but will highlight some that was very memorable.

The first course looked like raw sliced meat, not very appetizing. :p  But since he said it's not what it seemed, I braced myself and was surprised to taste something very sweet. It turned out to be dehydrated watermelon which was then rehydrated, and sliced in such a way that it looked like raw meat. The watermelon was served with a traditional Rujak sauce. (Rujak is a popular Indonesian fruit salad).

Watermelon rujak that looked like raw meat

The second course was a very interesting take on Mpek Mpek Kapal Selam. The original dish is a fried fish cake & egg, served with noodles, cut cucumbers, and sweet soy vinegar sauce. Namaaz version was a soft custardy egg yolk served with white fish liquid, and cucumber crisp. Very interesting yet tasted very good.

Mpek mpek kapal selam

This dish was Satay with charcoal, and when served truly looked like satay with charcoal. However, the charcoal was actually cassava, and the black chars were actually dried squid ink.  It tasted really great too, very similar to chicken satay, but the chicken here was very very moist.

Chicken satay and charcoal

When the chef brought this next dish, I was sure that this was a chicken soup, and wondered why the dish looked so plain. It turns out this was actually fish soup! The actual chicken meat was removed from the bone, and fish fillet was inserted inside the chicken skin. 

Fish Soup

This next dish was a unique take on the traditional kembang tahu. Typically this dish includes soft layers of tofu served with sweet gingery sauce. Chef Andrian made the "tofu" look like instant noodles. 

Kembang Tahu "Instant Noodle"

I was so amused when I saw this next dish, which totally looked like a bar of soap! I even thought the towel was edible (turns out it was there just for effect, hehe). So the green soap was actually a white chocolate/mint/butter/biscuit combination that tasted so heavenly. The foam also had a minty flavor to it. I almost wanted to ask for a second serving!! :)

Chocolate mint "bar soap"

This next dish totally looked like candle! We were instructed to blow out the flame, and then eat everything including the match. This dish was actually a banana inside with some kind of sweet covering.  The "match" was actually a nut.

Banana "candle"

All in all, we had a very memorable dinner at Namaaz. The dishes were actually quite tasty, and the presentation was very, very clever. It was also very special to me because I could compare the traditional Indonesian dishes to the chef's interpretations.

One interesting thing we noted was that they only served water, no soft drinks or wine/alcohol was available. Probably because the chef wanted us to truly savor the true taste of each dish, though Dan wouldn't have minded a nice glass of wine.

We also inquired about the menu and whether it would change, and he said that they change every "season" which was every 8 months.  Not sure how 8 months constitutes a "season", but ok.

If you happen to be in Jakarta, we recommend checking out Namaaz dining!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Tatemukai Jakarta

Intro: Baby M's First Trip to Indonesia
SFO - Taipei - Jakarta
Jakarta City Tour & Activities
Tatemukai
Namaaz Molecular Gastronomy
Conclusion

We were looking for some possible places for date nights while we're in Indonesia, and I asked my sister who loves good food as much as I do. She recommended 2 places:  Tatemukai Japanese restaurant and Namaaz. We tried both spots on the two Saturdays while we were in Jakarta. They both turned out to be suprisingly amazing!

For our first date night, I called to make reservation at Tatemukai, which was located inside the Grand Indonesia shopping mall. Tatemukai is famous for their Omakase menu, which is a set Chef's special. The Omakase menu cost Rp. 1.7 million (~$150 USD), which is quite pricey even for US standards, but based on my sister's rave reviews, we decided to give it a try. Originally it was just going to be me and Dan, but then my sister and her husband decided to join too, so it ended up being a double date.


The restaurant was very unassuming from the outside. It had a very unique facade. At a glance we couldn't tell where the door was.

The inside of the restaurant was also very simple--a few "stations" each with a chef preparing the dishes. There's also these wooden carved pieces with messages from customers all along the walls. Some of the notes were really funny (i.e: grammatically incorrect) that we wished we had taken pictures of. One that we still remember fondly said: "You're Rock!!" instead of "You Rock!" LOL

Dan at Tatemukai - Wood carvings messages on the background

The owner, Tate-san, was working that day. He served us the first few courses which were a treat!

Tate-San

I can't remember exactly how many courses there were , but it definitely was enough! The first few courses were all Toro, which seemed to be their specialty. The first toro dish was served with diced edamame, which I originally thought was wasabi. The toro was amazingly fresh and soft, and was lightly seared with a hot metal rod. The second dish was toro with foie gras, which was a lethal combination! It was very rich, buttery, and yummy! The foie gras was probably a bit too much for me (definitely for Dan), but was still delicious. The third dish was toro with ebi, which was also very good. The last toro dish was served in soy broth.


Here's our next few dishes. The uni was amazingly fresh. I usually can't do uni because it has a strong smell to me, but this one was very creamy and had no smell. 


The next few dishes were cooked or slightly cooked:  seared salmon sashimi, grilled mackerel, wagyu with broth, and cooked crab with ebi. All dishes were very simple but super delicious. I think the phrase, less is more, really applied here.


Towards the end of the meal we started to get pretty full, but they had one last dish to really fill you up in case you are still not full! It was a ramen dish, which again hit the spot.


For dessert, they served green tea shave ice with red bean. Again, this was a very simple dish but they just executed really really well!


After the meal, Dan and I looked at each other and said that was probably the best Japanese meal we've EVER had anywhere. Granted I've never actually been to Japan, but my brother in law who has been many times and has eaten at some of Tokyo's finest restaurants said that Tatemukai is comparable.

So, if you ever visit Jakarta - I highly recommend trying out this restaurant!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Jakarta City Tour & Activities

Intro: Baby M's First Trip to Indonesia
SFO - Taipei - Jakarta
Jakarta City Tour & Activities
Tatemukai
Namaaz Molecular Gastronomy
Conclusion

Dan's sister and her friend came to visit Jakarta the same time we were there, so I booked them a Jakarta city tour with Gray Line, so they could get a bit of history of Indonesia aside from visiting malls with me. :)

They also did a couple other activities while in Jakarta. Here is Dan's recap:

Jakarta city tour

We started the day headed to Grand Mahakam Hotel where the tour van picked us up around 9AM.  Our first stop was at the National Museum.  We learned about the history and culture of Indonesia and its many islands. Did you know Indonesia comprises over 17,000 islands?

National Museum Jakarta

Our next stop was at Chinatown.  By this time, the rain was coming down pretty hard.  Fortunately, the tour company was prepared and had umbrellas for us to use.  We first went to a Buddhist temple.  It was really smokey, from all the incense burning.

Buddhist Temple

And then we walked through the streets of Chinatown, seeing the various local shops all along the way.  It was so wet and rainy we didn't do much perusing, but it was still neat to see and walk through it.

Chinatown Streets

After Chinatown, we went to Fatahillah Museum which was in old town Batavia.  Batavia was the old city name of Jakarta when it was colonized by the Dutch.  And we could see the Dutch influenced architecture in this area.  We had lunch at Cafe Batavia.  Entrees were priced comparatively high for Indonesia, so we knew were in a touristy spot.

Batavia

After lunch we had a quick tour at a wooden puppet museum (still in old town), and then our final stop was at Sunda Kelapa Harbor.  All we could see were all the big boats at the dock being loaded / unloaded with goods for shipping to other Indonesian islands.  The tour guide said that a days wages at the harbor was about $5 USD.  It's crazy to think how crazy inexpensive labor is in Indonesia.

Sunda Kelapa Harbor

After this last stop, we were dropped off back at the hotel.  It was a long day, about a 5-6 tour including travel time, but I was glad we did it.  I saw a side of Jakarta and Indonesian culture and history beyond the shopping malls, cheap massages, and tasty food.

Cinema

A trip to Jakarta for us wouldn't be complete without a visit to the Premiere cinema which is our most favorite way to watch a movie. We were in Indonesia around Thanksgiving where the Hunger Games Catching Fire movie was playing, so we took an afternoon out to watch the movie in Gandaria City Mall. The price was Rp. 75,000 each (around $7 USD). We've covered our experience before here for details.

Awesome lazyboy seats
The BEST way to watch a movie :)

Traditional Market

One morning we went to a traditional local Indonesian market with Marcela's mom.  It felt like a mix of Chinatown and a big farmers market under one roof--crowded, smelly, and un-air conditioned.  There were local merchants selling all kinds of local produce, meats, seafood, clothes, household supplies and other merchandise.

Our first stop was a dessert shop selling serabi solo.  It's basically a thin pancake wrapped around a sweet coconut filling.  We got a couple fresh off the stove; they were so hot, we had to wait like 5-10 minutes for them to cool before taking a bite.  It was very soft, creamy, sweet, tasty and deliciously yummy.

Serabi Solo

We also stopped at a food stall that served noodles.  Marcela's mom bought us an order of the fried noodles (kwetiaw goreng) and "wet" noodles (kwetiaw siram).  Both were good, but I preferred the more unhealthy fried noodles.

Kwetiaw Goreng


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

SFO - Taipei - Jakarta on EVA Airways

Intro: Baby M's First Trip to Indonesia
SFO - Taipei - Jakarta
Jakarta City Tour & Activities
Tatemukai
Namaaz Molecular Gastronomy
Conclusion

SFO - Taipei on EVA Airlines Royal Laurel Class

We arrived 2 hours early to SFO as is customary for an international flight, and I carried baby M using the Beco Gemini carrier, which made going through security a breeze since I could just pass through with her. We tried going to the EVA Air lounge but it was super crowded. Honestly, terminal 2 (domestic) at SFO feels actually nicer than the EVA Air lounge. :p We ended up staying only a few minutes in the lounge, grabbed a few bottled waters, and went to the gate for boarding.

EVA Air calls their business class product, Royal Laurel. They actually don't have first class seats. They only have Royal Laurel, Economy Deluxe, and Economy.  The seat configuration for Royal Laurel reminded us of Cathay Pacific: 1-2-1, with the seats at an angle.



We really like this configuration as it gives a little more privacy. The downside was that this type of seating doesn't allow for a bassinet. The seat does lie down flat all the way which was nice. They provided us with a pillow, blanket, noise canceling headset for use, an amenity kit, and slippers.


We decided to take turns carrying and holding baby M all throughout the flight. The first leg from SFO to Taipei was a long one, just over 11 hours.  It was really nice having that extra space to be able to comfortably take turns holding our baby, getting up when we needed to, and lying down to rest when one of us was holding baby M.


This was probably my first flight in a loooong time where I didn't watch any TV or enjoy the dining experience, because I was too busy carrying/holding baby M to make sure she didn't cry... Dan did get to watch a couple of movies though and ate complete sets of meals, he he... I guess this is the sacrifice of being a mom. :p  I must have been too tired and fell asleep during meal time, and by the time I woke up the meal service was done, and I was sooo hungry. So I asked for a snack and opted for the dim sum plate which was quite yummy. Afterwards I was still hungry so I asked for another dim sum plate. :)


Overall the seat, flight, and food were good...although I would have to say traveling with a baby totally changed our priorities and experience. Gone are the days (at least temporarily), where flying business involves sleeping for 6-7 hours, watching movies, and resting. Now our main priority is to keep baby happy at all cost, including less or no sleep for us. Thankfully baby M did pretty well for her first flight! A couple behind us told us how well behaved she was after the flight! Phew...

EVA Air Infinity Lounge, Taipei

After landing in Taipei, we went straight to the Infinity Lounge to get some snacks, shower, and some much needed rest. The lounge appeared to be very new and had a modern/club/futuristic decor to it.



We put our name down for the shower room because there was a waiting list. They gave us a buzzer, and we walked around to look at the food options. We didn't have to wait that long and were given keys to the shower room. The shower room was clean and adequate in size. They provided us with a clean towel, toiletries, etc. The one cool thing I noticed was the heated toilet seat.


We also checked out the Hello Kitty baby room where they provided diapers, wipes, and a nice sized changing table. We also used the room to wash baby bottles. The room could also be used to feed or pump if needed. Overall EVA Airlines scored by providing this much needed room for families!


By the time we each took a shower and got baby M ready for our next flight, the 3 hour layover had passed, and it was time to head to the gate for boarding. It's funny how time passed sooo fast in between flights when traveling with a baby. :)

Taipei - Jakarta on EVA Airlines

The plane from Taipei to Jakarta was noticeably older, with a 2-2-2 seating configuration. However, it was still pretty spacious. The flight was surprisingly pretty full. We got the bulkhead row and they actually set up a bassinet which was pretty useful. 


We were able to put baby M in the bassinet for a little bit which gave Dan and my tired arms a bit of a break. :p


Again, I didn't really watch any TV and preferred to sleep instead while I could.

Service was really good, and maybe a bit better than the first leg. The flight attendants were super understanding of us having a baby. One of the flight attendant introduced herself as a mom and that she would be more than happy to help out as needed which was much appreciated. One of the attendants actually took baby M for a little bit when she was really fussy while I was in the bathroom and Dan was struggling to calm her down.

Total flight was around 5.5 hours, and we were just ready to get to Indonesia! Once we landed, Dan & baby M lined up to pay for the visas on arrival while I passed through immigration and waited for them in the baggage claim area. Our bags were already waiting and we got out of the airport in no time.

Overall, we thought baby M did pretty well for her first international flight! We were really worried beforehand, mainly that she might cry for the whole flight. Thankfully she was pretty good, so hopefully that means more travel as a family in the future. :)

A couple tips when traveling with baby/infant:
  • While in airport, transport the baby with a carrier like Ergo, etc.  It helped us speed up going through security and one less thing to carry/push.
  • Bulkhead row is great because it's closer to the galley in case you need to ask for warm water to warm milk or make formula or quickly go to the lavatory for diaper changes.