Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Quick Bite at Prospect

I live, and work, right near Prospect restaurant.  I've been to the bar area many times, usually just for cocktails and sometimes bar snacks.  You can read all about my past adventures, and the restaurant in general, in old reviews.  I've never loved Prospect the way some of my friends do, but, they also have gone through several chef shuffles, so I do keep giving them a try.

On this particular visit, it was a random night, on the early side, and I had no plans until later in the evening.  I was really craving something tasty, but was incredibly lazy.  And by tasty, I didn't mean my usual desire for decadent desserts or baked goods.  I had plenty of those in my apartment.  I wanted ... an upscale snack.  I know, really an odd mood to be in, but, luckily for me, I could just venture downstairs to Prospect.

I felt a bit silly, dining alone somewhere nice.  Since it was early, the bar area was not busy, and it was easy for me to get a seat, rather than sit awkwardly in the dining room.  I knew I could order off the full menu from the bar from past experience, and was really much more comfortable there.  The bartender was friendly and polite, and took great care of me.

I enjoyed my "snack" quite a bit, and must remember that Prospect is always there as an easy, although non-traditional, option for me!
Amuse Bouche: Halibut Brandade with Spicy Aioli.
Since I had plans later, I only ordered an appetizer, not a full entree.  And as I said, I was just sitting at the bar, not the main dining room.  So I was surprised when an extra bite showed up.  An amuse bouche, even for a bar patron, who was just getting a single appetizer?  Amazing, and appreciated, but I felt slightly bad.  Did they expect me to order an entree next?  I wasn't planning to have a full meal and felt guilty.

Anyway, the amuse was pretty tasty.  It was incredibly hot, clearly fresh out of the fryer.  It was salty, as it was brandade obviously, but it was salty in a good way, if you like intense salt flavor.  Which I do.  The interior was creamy and moist.  The spicy aioli served alongside was creamy and had a slight tang, a nice counterpart to the hot salty bite.  My only complaint is that it was a bit too oily, I think it probably just needed to be drained for a second longer.

It was also a fairly unique choice for an amuse, hot and a heavier sort of dish than an amuse often can be.  I liked it, and could even see it as a regular item on their bar snacks menu.
Monterey Calamari: Squid Ink Spaghetti, Pickled JalapeƱos, Viola Turnips, Sea Urchin Emulsion. $15.50.

Since I just wanted a small bite, I opted for an appetizer.  I've been craving calamari lately, so I ordered the dish titled "Monterey Calamari".  Of course, I knew it was Prospect and that there would certainly be a twist on what I was expecting.  So I knew for sure that this wouldn't just be a plate of fried calamari, particularly given that the follow up description said there would be squid ink spaghetti and sea urchin emulsion, all things I love.

When it arrived, I did sorta laugh to myself.  Calamari?  Yes, there were a few rings of calamari on the plate, but this was very much a squid ink pasta dish.  The naming aside, this dish really had my name all over it.  I love squid ink pasta.  I love uni.  And, as I said, I was craving calamari.

The calamari were tiny little rings, and honestly, got completely lost in the dish.  When I found one, it added a little texture, but little else.  The rings were nicely done, not rubbery.  Although the calamari is what drew me in, I didn't really mind them not being prevalent, as everything else was fantastic.

The squid ink pasta had a nice chew to it, slight squid flavor.  It was a generous portion of pasta, particularly for an appetizer.  I had obviously expected this to be a calamari focused dish, with the squid ink pasta being a creative garnish component somehow.  But, instead, it was a great pasta dish.  (I do think it would be better with a thicker form factor of the squid ink pasta, to really get more of the squid ink flavor however).

The sauce was creamy, slightly uni flavored, and stuck to and coated the pasta well.  I really liked the heat and vinegar component provided by the pickled jalapeƱo.

But the star was the lobe uni on top.  First, I REALLY didn't expect that.  The description just said "sea urchin emulsion", which certainly describes the sauce, but gives no indication that there would be a chunk of bonus uni.  And it was fabulous.  Creamy, sweet, really really excellent.  The best uni I've had in recent memory, better than even at sushi restaurants where it should be the star.

The only thing that wasn't successful about the dish is that, unlike the amuse, it wasn't delivered hot.  It was kinda lukewarm when I received it.  Still delicious, but unfortunate.

One criticism I've had of Prospect in the past is that it seems pricey for what it is, given the portion sizes (I appreciate the smaller portion sizes, and don't want them to change that, but I always feel things are just slightly over-priced).  That was certainly not the case with this dish.  Only $15.50, for a decent size serving of pasta, delicious sauce, and quality uni?  Oh yeah, and some calamari?  Really quite good price.

This was the best dish I've ever had at Prospect.  I'd get it again, although there were a bunch of other things on the menu I'd also like to try.  I'll certainly be going back!
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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Dim Sum @ Luyu and Yum Yum, Sydney

During my recent trip to Sydney, it was time to be brave, and break outside our mold of devouring all the Thai food we could find.  And, perhaps even more brave, venturing out of the city a bit, to Newtown.

Several years ago when I was in Sydney I visited Newtown once, with a friend who lived there, for some cheap, unremarkable Thai food.  On my visit just a few months ago, I returned to Newtown, for one and one reason: to get what were supposed to be the best pies in the area at Pie Tin (spoiler, they weren't).  So far, my track record with Newtown wasn't great, and it takes a lot to get me to venture further than necessary (although sometimes the effort pays off great, like the amazing dinner, and subsequent brunch, we had at Pinbone!).  I had high hopes that this journey would prove just as fruitful.

Newtown is mostly comprised of cheaper eats, as it is a student area.  Luyu and Yum Yum, our destination, was not that.  Not that it was high end dining, but, for the area, it certainly didn't fit in.  Far fancier, in decor and food presentation, than anywhere else on the street.  It is even located on the upper level, looking down on all the regular establishments on the street.

Oh, I forgot to mention, it was also fairly new.  I know, I know.  Now I'm just getting crazy.  Going somewhere new, further away, and not getting thai or brunch, the only things I've really loved in Sydney?  But, reviews from food blogs I follow in Sydney were strong.  The photos looked great.  The same was true for the Gantry, which we visited a few nights earlier, and it was good.  I was starting to trust my food bloggers.

So, on Sunday morning, Ojan and I headed to Newtown, to Luyu and Yum Yum, to meet two Sydney friends for dim sum. It had been ages since either of us had dim sum, and we were quite looking forward to it.

Service was a bit strange.  The hostess didn't know where to seat us, even though the restaurant was empty when we arrived, and we had a booking.  We often had to flag someone down in order to get more water.  The server didn't know what teas did not contain caffeine, suggesting a green tea to Ojan when he said he wanted something without caffeine.  Some of our dumplings took a very long time to arrive.  They did do a good job of clearing dishes as they were finished though, and every dish arrived piping hot, so hot that we often had to wait a few minutes for items to cool down so we wouldn't scald the inside of our mouths.

Overall, it was fine.  The food was good enough, clearly care was put into making each dumpling, and quality ingredients were used, but nothing really stuck out.  The selections were creative and it was a nicer setting than typical dim sum/yum cha.  But it was really pricey.  I see no reason to return.

The Space

The restaurant has an open feel with high ceilings.  The large bar along the side didn't have much activity as we were there at lunchtime, but I read that they make some interesting tea based cocktails.
Tables and chairs.
The decor is fairly swanky, obviously brand new.  Lots of wood.  The color palette was stark, black and white, with wood tones mixed in.

White bowls and plates, plus black chopsticks, were set on every table.

They needed better sound isolation, with all the hard surfaces, as nothing absorbed noise.  As the room filled up, it quickly got hard to hear our tablemates.  Partially, it was due to the very loud music, all high energy pop.  It didn't quite seem to fit the mood of the restaurant, and I found the noise level to be a bit ridiculous for a mid-day meal, and it certainly hampered our ability to chat with our friends.
The center of the table had a mat with a tea pot, 4 little tea cups, and a plant.  A nice idea, but, it didn't turn out to be practical.  As soon as our table started piling up with dishes, which happened not only to us but to everyone around us, it was clearly in the way.  We didn't have enough space for all our dumplings, much less this random thing in the middle.

The tea pot also turned out to be decorative only.  When we ordered tea, it came in a different pot.  Not really sure why they had a decorative pot on every table in the first place.  Still, it was decent decor.
Glass Walled Kitchen.
The kitchen is enclosed in glass, so you can spy on the cooks in action.  I was able to watch cooks meticulously filling the dumplings and loading up the steamer baskets.  They didn't seem to make them exactly to order, as they would prepare a big batch of each style at a time, but they were steamed to order.
Swanky Bathroom Sink.
The swanky decor continues into the bathroom, with gray slate tiles, strange black metal faucets, and copper (?) washbasins.

I don't normally review the bathrooms, but, there was something unique here.
There, I fixed it.
The hand dryer.  In the midst of all the brand new, swanky decor, the hand dryer was held up by duct tape.  I found this way too funny.


Menu: Dumplings & Dim Sum.
The reason we were there was for dumplings, which make up a majority of the menu, along with some other small dim sum style bites.  These are mostly all sold in quantities of 4, which was perfect since our group was 4, except for a few random ones that came in sets of 3.  We didn't ask for anything to be modified, particularly since I wasn't planning on having several of them, yet we were brought 4 every time.  This was nice of them I guess, but they should have asked, especially since they charged extra in every case, and, like I said, I didn't want some of them.  The prices below will be for 3 even though 4 are shown, since I didn't write down the adjusted prices.

We ordered all but one type of dumpling available on the menu, plus a few other small bites.

We ordered an initial set of 7 items, then added on another 3, and then went back at the end for a final round of the favorites.
Menu: Main Dishes.
The rest of the menu is main dishes, and we skipped it entirely, but we did see some good looking fried rice, stir fried veggies, salt and pepper squid, and amazing looking deep fried eggplant.  If I went back, I'd certainly get the deep fried eggplant, but we had so much fried food on our trip that I just wasn't in the mood at the time.
Dipping Sauces: Soy, vinegar, sesame chili oil.
We were provided with three sauces to go along with the dumplings.  I set to work perfecting my mix, which I put in my individual bowl.  I'm not quite sure if that is what I was supposed to do, since it was a large bowl, not a dipping bowl, but I don't know how else you could make a dipping sauce.


Over the course of the meal, we ordered every type of dumpling, except for the vegetarian mushroom dumplings.
Flying Seafood Dumpling (4). $13.80
"Scallop, Fish-ball, Prawn, Asparagus & Flying Fish Roe in Rice Dough Steamed."

This was probably the dumpling I was most excited for, since I love scallops.  I was thrilled to see the scallop perched right on top, not chopped up and mixed with other fillings.

Inside the dumpling was the fish ball, prawn, and asparagus.  I didn't taste any asparagus, nor prawn really, just a moist fish ball.  It was fine, but, I wanted to detect more individual flavors.  The scallop was a slice on top, tender, delicate, and on top of that was flying fish roe, which added fun pops as they burst.

The rice dumpling wrapper was nicely done, not too thin, not too thick, perfectly steamed.

Overall, this was fine, and I liked all the seafood, but there just wasn't much flavor to it.  My second favorite bite of the meal, for the scallop alone.
Mr Luyu “Starburst” Dumpling (4). $11.80.
"Chicken & Mr Luyu Homemade Soup in Fruit Infused Flour Dough Steamed."

This is one of their signature dumplings, a stunner with the colorful wrappers.

The online menu lists this as a pork dumpling, but alas, when we visited it was chicken.  I don't like chicken, but tried it anyway, since I was fascinated by the sound of the fruit infused dough.

The filling was indeed a chicken ball, plus some flavorful soup.  Good enough, but, again, chicken.  I didn't taste anything fruity in the dough, although there was obviously color to it.  More beautiful than tasty.

Each dumpling came perched atop a slice of carrot.  Woah, genius!  I honestly don't understand why more places don't do this, as dumplings always stick, and, particularly with soup dumplings this becomes tragic, since it causes them to burst when you pick them up.  That care was nice to see.

My 7th pick of the meal.
Mr Yumyum Pot Sticker (4). $10.80.
"Chicken, Ginger, Shallot & Chinese Cabbage in Seaweed Flour Dough Pan-Seared."

The online menu also lists the pot stickers as pork, but alas, for us they were chicken.  I skipped them, but the seaweed bits in the wrapper skin looked like a nice touch, and the fresh garnish under each pot sticker was a nice presentational element.

Why was everything chicken that should have been pork though?
Caviar Dumpling (4). $13.80.
"Prawn, Carrot, Coriander & Celery in Rice Dough Steamed."

These were great looking dumplings, little bags, tied up with a leaf, and meticulously topped with caviar.

Inside the dumpling was a mix of prawn, carrot, and celery.  The vegetables were minced and slightly crunchy, which I actually liked.  The prawn was a bit fishy.

The rice dough wasn't as successful here as in the Flying Seafood dumpling, it came out slimier.

I did really like the caviar on top, super salty, and like the roe from the flying seafood, it added a fun pop.

My third pick of the meal.
Mr Luyu’s Herb Dumpling (4). $11.80.
"Prawn & Chives in Rice Dough Steamed."

Another rice dough dumpling, this time with translucent skin.  Everyone was quite impressed with the skin on this.

Inside was a whole prawn and chopped chives.

This wasn't very interesting to me, just a prawn.  My 6th pick.
"Kiss Me" Dumplings (4). $10.80.
"Chicken, Ginger, Shallot, & Lulu Homemade Soup in Flour Dough."

I skipped the "Kiss Me" dumplings, since again, chicken.  These were classic soup dumplings, albeit with chicken instead of pork.

It is a bit hard to see, but on top, the red is actually little lips for decoration.  So cute.

Two of our diners said these was the best of the dumplings, and ordered a final round of them for "dessert" after we were done with everything else.
Snow White Rabbit Dumplings (3). $12.80.
"Prawn, Asparagus, Bamboo Shoot, Luyu Home-made Creamy Soup in Chrysanthemum infused Potato Starch Dough."

Ok, speaking of cute.  If I thought the lips on the "Kiss Me" were cute, they were nothing compared to the rabbits!

Yes, look closely, and you'll see that the dumplings are shaped like rabbits, ears and eyes and all!

I complained about not being able to taste any asparagus in the flying fish dumpling, which was not the case here.  Inside was a whole piece of asparagus, so full of flavor, a bit crunchy, and quite tasty. The bamboo also added further crunchy bits.

The dough was a bit thicker, perhaps because it was potato starch rather than flour or rice?  It was soft and a tiny bit doughy, but I liked that.

My absolute favorite, and the most interesting flavor and texture wise.  I'm not sure why it normally comes as only 3 pieces though, when most come as 4.
Manga Dumpling "Hedgehog" (3). $12.80.
"King Oyster Mushrooms, Chinese Mushroom, Fungi, Carrot, Corriander in Flour Dough Baked."

Continuing to get cuter.  I failed at the photo here though, as I didn't get a shot of these from the front.  Doh.

They really, truly looked like hedgehogs.  Certainly the cutest and most elaborate of all of the dumplings.  They had eyes in front and spines down their backs.  OMG.  So cute.

These were almost good.

They were more like buns, but called dumplings.  The dough was soft and slightly sweet.  The topside was crunchy where the spines were carved out.  I would have really liked the dough, except that they were just drowned in oil.

The menu said these were baked, but, I'm not sure how that was possible given how much oil was on them.  They really seemed fried.  The oil just ruined them.

Inside was a mushroom filling that wasn't very interesting.  Nothing really mattered though besides the oil.  The others thought I was exaggerating when I tried the first one and reacted strongly to the amount of oil, but they quickly agreed.  We all saw the potential in these, but alas, they were not executed well.  I imagine the oil is needed to achieve the crispy top, but, there has to be a better way to do it.

This should have just been an order of 3, but, 4 were brought to us, and we were charged extra.  We wished that only 3 came, as we didn't even want to finish 3.  My 4th pick though, for creativity and potential in the sweet, soft dough.

Small Bites

We also opted for a few of the other non-dumpling small bites.  We skipped about half the items from this section, including chicken buns, the crispy "mini frisbee", spring rolls, and the king prawn, since most of those were fried, and heavier than what we were in the mood for.
Garlic Bread (4). $7.80.
"Garlic, Cheese & Butter in Plain Flour “Man Tow"."

Yes, we ordered something called garlic bread.  I knew from my research that this was not going to actually be garlic bread.

The base was mantou, Chinese steamed bun.  It was topped with garlic, butter, and cheese.

The bun was soft and fluffy, and I kinda liked that.  The topping was very cheesy, but I didn't really taste any garlic.

I was fascinated by this, and we all found it interesting, but, I didn't actually like it.  I'm not sure why, cheesy bread should be a good thing.  My 5th pick. 
Duck Pancake (4). $16.80.
"Duck, Spring Onion & Cucumber."

This is certainly not something I'd order since I don't care for duck, but the group wanted it.

Ojan really liked it, and declared it the best item of the meal.  I asked if I'd possibly like it, since he knows my tastes pretty well, and he said maybe.  So, against my better judgement, I tried it.

The pancake was a thin dough wrapping.  It wasn't oily or anything, fairly soft.

Inside was the duck, smothered in hoisin sauce, complimented by a fresh cucumber spear.  The sauce was tasty, but, I just don't care for the gaminess of duck.

As I said though, Ojan really liked it.


Dessert: Fruit Tart.
And finally, dessert.

No dessert is listed on the menu, but I know they always offer a dessert, and it changes daily.  Today it was a "fruit tart".  I asked what fruit was used and was told strawberry and I think mango?  It didn't really sound great, but, I needed my dessert.  Plus the server said it was really good and that it was creamy.

Um, what?  When he said creamy, I expected, well, a cream filling.  Maybe a custard?  This was not creamy at all.  The filling was chopped up apple cubes coated in yogurt.  It was not cooked.  While technically I guess yogurt is creamy, this was not.  And he never mentioned apple, the primary ingredient.

The promised strawberry was one tiny little slice on top as a garnish, along with a sprig of mint.  The rest of the tart was all apple.  Funny how he didn't mention apple in his description.

The filling was crazy sour.  Tart apple.  Sour yogurt.  Literally no sweetness.

The crust was a crispy shell that I did like, but, wow, I didn't care for the filling at all, and this really wasn't a dessert to me.  It belonged as a breakfast item perhaps, just fruit and yogurt.

I left highly unsatisfied, and went to seek out cronuts (stay tuned).
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