Friday, January 31, 2014

Sasa's Cafe & Fine Food

You know what I definitely underrate these days? Just those small little neighbourhood gems, that aren't getting a lot of hipster media coverage or bloggers with the snappety snap snaps but seem to have been around forever…so they must be doing something relatively right. 

Sasa's Cafe and Fine Food on Riversdale Road was one of those places for me. I had been driving past it for years and always seen it, standing out from the houses around it as a slightly bigger and simple brick structure. 

But after the many years of driving by, on one op shop marathon Saturday with my mum and her friend, we decided to stop in for a spot of sustenance, since it was between two of the op shops we wanted to go to. 

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Inside, the space is light and bright, dressed simply. We were greeted with a smile and a laugh as we indulged in all the op shopping we had done so far and presented with huge menus. 

I noticed quickly that all the sandwiches could be made with gluten free bread, at no extra cost. 

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Now let me tell you, there aren't that many places that'll do me a cheese and ham sandwich with gluten free bread, so it can be somewhat of a luxury to find somewhere that does. 

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Oh my goodness. What a treat. 

With slightly charred crusts, the bread was perfectly crisp, a gorgeous compliment to the cheese that had delightfully melted into bliss over the top of the Virginian ham, oven roasted tomato and seeded mustard. Bread, cheese and ham. It really had been far too long. 

Having enjoyed my ham and cheese sandwich so much, and being so enthused about sandwiches with no extra cost for gluten free bread, I dragged Brad back the weekend after to sample more of the menu. 

We were greeted with the same friendliness from my previous visit and immediately felt at home. 

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We both needed a big of a healthy kick to the start of our day, so it was a pulpy freshly squeezed orange juice for Brad and a vegetable juice for me. 

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Brad opted to try something a bit different and got the breakfast roti, wrapped around ham, scrambled eggs and avocado, served with a bit of baked beans on the side. Although it probably lacked a little bit in seasoning, it made for a nice twist to the usual, although since the roti had a bit of oil on it, it was a bit messy to eat. 

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I on the other hand, got right back into sandwiches, and despite it still being breakfast time, couldn't resist the marinated lamb with roasted sweet potato, baby spinach, red onion and tzatziki. 

For $13, it was pretty awesome value for money. 

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Absolutely loaded with generous chunky cuts of lamb, rich and well seasoned, I was almost disappointed there wasn't more sweet potato to balance out the serious protein hit! I emphasise the word almost here. 

I think I tend to not pop into small and modest spots like this, as there's always that concern that you haven't really heard about it from anyone else, and it can be tricky to gauge whether it might be worth spending your dollars. But then I guess, things like this happen, and I learn again that I must stop judging books by their cover…Sasa's Cafe proved itself to be a lovely little local, serving up food that's simple, but obviously made with care. 

173 Riversdale Road

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

KOBA K-BBQ (and a new job!)

Goodness, things have been a little quiet around here lately haven't they? 

As mentioned in my previous post, my laptop had gotten a little cranky and so it was turned into the Apple hospital to get an $800 repair…all covered with my extended warranty…that had 24 days left on it. Phew! Lucky! Your regular programming has now resumed!

I had been hoping to do a bit of blogging while my computer was away, by stealing my brother's laptop naturally, but I've been absolutely flat out the last week and a half…because I've gotten a new job! Woah! 

It was one of those things where the universe just aligned itself just right, where a small thought that I shared with Brad, suddenly became an opportunity when I saw a listing online, that snowballed into an experience I couldn't imagine otherwise! 

So now, I'm quickly running around the BrandWorks office, learning the ropes as quick as I can, as an account manager, and I couldn't be more chuffed. I get to talk about restaurants, cafes and food all day (with the occasional service proposal thrown in). It's awesome. 

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Interning for them over December, I also had my first ever Christmas 'work' party since leaving university (getting pissed at karaoke with fellow waitstaff isn't quite the same thing I think…), where we were treated to a simple but totally delicious meal at KOBA K-BBQ (before popping over to Nieu Amsterdam for a cocktail), opposite Hardware Societe on Hardware Street.

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Run by the cutest sibling team ever, Rosa and Wil were all smiles as we rattled off what was possibly the biggest order they had come across yet. 

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And what were we ordering? Tacos and burritos…but with Korean fillings. Sounds a little crazy, but it was all delicious. I don't remember exactly what I had, but there was kimchi rice, a bit of bugolgi beef, more kimchi, a healthy dose of slaw and definitely a healthy dash (or three) of Siracha. Wowch, there was a bit of bite in there!

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I also enjoyed the pork and tofu fillings, with all the flavours making me think of the food trucks in LA, which has the whole urban Korean cuisine down pat, that hasn't really made it's way onto the Melbourne scene yet (surprisingly when you think about it). 

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Having scoped out a new addition of kimchi fries on their Facebook page, I couldn't be happier to now have an office in the city and am trying to figure out a day I can skip over for lunch (for the time being though I'm usually stuck in back to back meetings…) and am hanging out for them to dinner one day, as those burritos are just asking to be eaten with beer…

119 Hardware Street

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Friday, January 17, 2014

Supernormal Canteen

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Looking at the definitions for the words 'super' (very good or pleasant), and 'normal' (conforming to a standard), you'd think it's a bit weird for a chef to name his restaurant 'Supernormal'. 

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Although, maybe he's making a statement, and saying that there is a certain level of quality that we should be expecting when we go out, that our level of 'normal' should really be 'super'. 

Or maybe I'm just reading into it too much. 

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Andrew McConnell's newest addition to the Melbourne scene comes in the form of a pop-up, slotting itself neatly next door to it's much much bigger brother, Cutler & Co. The concept of a pop-up seems to get mixed reviews today, but I like the buzz they bring to the Melbourne dining scene (that's already bustling as it is), allowing chefs to try stuff out and have a little play. After all, creativity has to stem from somewhere!

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Supernormal Canteen is cheeky and fun, bustling on a weekday at 7:00pm, with it's startled cartoon lanterns filling the ceiling and arrows pointing everywhere, adding some fun details to an otherwise minimalist space. 

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While I waited for a spot to clear on one of the two communal tables, I perched on a couple of milk crates in the corner, next to some vending machines with brightly coloured Hello Kitty and Thomas the Tank Engine you do. Here I was fed plum wine, dancing delicately over my tongue, and boiled peanuts which were a refreshing change to the usually over salted ones you get at most Chinese restaurants, and also very, very addictive. Before I knew it, one little tray was gone, and between Ricky and I, when he arrived shortly after me, we nearly cleaned up another two. Oh my!

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Supernormal keeps the menu short and sweet, condensing the food and drinks all into one strip. The menu was saturated in Asian flavours, but all grown up. 

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Our night started on an enourmous high with the kingfish sashimi, seaweed and radish. Textures galore, with generously thick slices of kingfish, perfect for sinking your teeth into, with a feathery crispness sneaking in from the seaweed and burst of freshness from the radish. I could eat this every day. I know. Big call.

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The famous lobster roll was pretty much a no brainer, although I have to admit I wasn't as blown away as I would have liked to be. The bun was sweet, the lobster cool, but I felt the flavour was more muted that I expected it to be. Sure, I always love a bit of a mayo hit, but I want the sweetness of the lobster to come through as well. 

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The soft shell mud crab and fried egg mayo was served as a deconstructed san choi bao, pop a dollop of the sauce in the heart of a lettuce leaf and wrap it around a piece of crab. Sumptuous, with all levels of crispy from the lettuce to the only complaint was that the serve was positively tiny!

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The pig's head bao with kimchi cucumber, is not actually a whole head, but instead a croquette rolled out of the best bits and crumbed ever so lightly. In fluffy, cloud-like, steamed buns, there was nothing to dislike here. With a pinch in the mouth of chilli, it kept one quite excited. Definitely a highlight.

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Surprisingly, one of my favourite things of the night? Peas in XO sauce. I wish I was kidding, but I'm not. A combination of loose peas (the scandalous things) and sugar snap peas in a very light coating, really just a delicate sheen, of XO was just amazing. Served room temperature, the crisp texture and overall freshness of the product really shone through. Don't be deceived by the simplicity, and don't miss out if you visit!

With only 4 items on the dessert menu, it only made sense to eat half the menu. Right?

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A cocononut panna cotta with fresh lychees simply sings of a balmy breeze at the beach, almost looking like a bouquet with a sprinkle of raspberries...or something.

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But really, the star attraction for me in the sweets department had to be the soft serve white miso with pink lady ice-cream.  

Ooh lala, she was so fruity with a surprisingly comlimentary richness from the miso, giving a delightfully strong kick of umami to the senses. Don't miss this before the summer is over. 

Andrew McConnell always knows what he's doing, and this addition, even if it is a temporary one, to his empire is definitely worth a visit. It'll be interesting to see how the vibe changes, or what makes the final cut to the menu at the more permanent residence in the CBD when it opens up.

However, I suggest you don't wait until then, and actually get in for some of the best peas of your life and umami heavy desserts. Aww yeah. Maybe that could be Supernormal's super power? Super umami? Mmmhmm.

Supernormal Canteen has extended it's closing date from the end of 2013 to March 1st 2014.

53 Gertrude Street

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Mac down, Mac down!

Hi everyone! Hope you're all coping with this heat by stuffing your faces with lots and lots of gelato or frozen yoghurt. Perhaps even both?

It seems my mac has decided to start getting a bit cranky on me in this hot weather as well, and as such, it has unfortunately been sent to the hospital, so until it returns home, posts will be a little slower and more sporadic. 

In the meantime, keep up with my adventures by following me on Instagram! My username is 'imsohungree' (appropriately). Recent delicious eats have included fried chicken from Rockwell and Sons, and ice cacang made by my mother, and cute shots of my dog Chai (duh, that's what Instagram is for, right?)

So stay cool guys, and regular programming will hopefully be back soon!

Monday, January 13, 2014

America - New York - Momofuku Ssam + Craft New York

It's amazing that, even though Brad and I spent a week in New York, I still felt short of time to do everything I wanted, and still had to omit so much stuff out of my ideal itinerary. Like I keep telling everyone, by the end of each day we would be so tired, rather than go out and experience much of the nightlife…we went to sleep.

There were two nights that we went to pubs. Other than that we didn't even make it to a single bar the whole trip…can you imagine?!

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On day 5, we woke up and wandered on down through the Flatiron District, making our way to Union Square.

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We passed by Madison Square Park, where we had our first Shake Shack, and where I fell in love with a milkshake. I wrote about my infatuation in an earlier post.

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We made our way down to Union Square to check out the farmers market, open Monday, Wednesday, Fridays and Saturdays, from 8am to 6pm. 

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I love the feel of a farmer market in the middle of a concrete playground. The life, the buzz and the energy. From flowers, to maple syrup, to all kinds of fresh produce, it was not hard to be enthused by everything. 

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Also squirrels. Squirrels rolling around in the cool earth right behind the bench we were sitting on. So cute.

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I discovered this coconut water at Whole Foods Market, which is the only alternative I've found to drinking the coconut water straight out of the coconut. I've been seduced by so many pretty looking coconut water packagings, only to be let down by a coconut water with a slightly artificial flavour, that I never thought it could be done. But lo and behold, it has been done! Sure, it's a bit expensive, but damn. It is good. 

From there, we strolled on into East Village, which is probably one of my favourite districts in Manhattan. It's just cool there. And also there's a Buffalo Exchange which I went wild in. Again. At least I managed to convince Brad to pick up a few things too...!

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And Momofuku Ssam Bar is there, so I dragged Brad in, out of the random downpour that came out of nowhere, for a little afternoon snack of the ever famous steamed pork buns, with pork belly, hoisin and cucumbers. Goodness. They really are just perfect. And make a great size for a wee snack.

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I also couldn't resist the duck heart dish, which came on top of a yoghurt, with a spot of rhubarb, and I can't remember what else. It was a bit strange, but I totally loved it at the same time. Who ever thought duck heart could have a light and refreshing flavour? 

The rain had let up by the time we finished our little snack, and so we made our way to the Highline…which I also missed on my last trip to New York. Go figure.

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And man, I can't believe I did miss it! Although we didn't walk from beginning to end, we still wandered down a good chunk of it and it's really a beautiful reprieve from the hustle and bustle below. There's a lovely mix of greenery, clean modern lines and fun pops of graffiti or sculpture. 

This history behind the space, an abandoned railway line, is really cool too, which is shared through a few information boards and it's just amazing to think of the work that's gone into it to give it back as a public space. New York, you so cool, it really almost hurts.

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Towards the south end of the Highline, there's a great water feature area to kick back, and cool off your toes in, a real blessing in summer. 

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Also a blessing in summer, People's Pops at the end of the Highline with a bunch of other food and drink stalls. I think I may have had blackberry with something. So refreshing after all that walking!

That night we dolled up a bit and made our way back to the Flatiron District for dinner (getting caught up in a massive downpour on the way) at a restaurant I had been hanging out all trip to visit, Craft.

As I mentioned in my 2013 roundup, I'm a huge fan of Top Chef, as I feel although more product placement has been sneaking in, the judges and mentors are very honest, constructive and fair in their feedback and thoughts. There's never any pretentiousness, which I find tends to find it's way into Australia's reality tv a bit more. 

Tom Colicchio has been the head judge on the show, every season, since season one and so, having come to respect him through my computer screen, had been dying to see if his restaurant would be at the same standards as he holds on the show. 

Although I don't normally give my overall conclusion front up, I have to say, I was totally blown away, probably my favourite meal in America. 

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When Brad and I first stepped in from the small entrance into the stunning dining room, filled with warm wood and leather tones, elegantly dangled bulbs and a sense of hush, I was at first a little bit intimidated. We were probably the youngest couple there and I was worried at first we might get snubbed, or that our experience at Craft might feel a bit uptight and uncomfortable, as some 'fine-dining' places tend to. 

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But once we were taken to our seats, I had nothing to fear, as service through the night proved to be the perfect balance of friendly and professional, inviting us to relax but feel indulged at the same time.

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The menu at Craft is quite minimalist, if I may say, with limited description of the dishes, highlighting just the method of cooking, such as 'Roasted' and listing the proteins underneath. Like many restaurants, there's a focus on beautiful local ingredients, and it's great at Craft that their producers are listed on the menu as well. 

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I regretfully didn't take any notes on our meal, focussed instead of enjoying my meal (which we were treating as my belated birthday dinner), but I will try to recap what I can!

We started our meal with a bottle of wine, a 2010 Riesling from Brooklyn Oenology in Seneca Lake, aptly named Friend. On top of having a totally adorable label with hand drawn animals on it (according to the website, a portion of sales from every 'Friend' Riesling will be donated to Pet Food Safety projects), it's an insatiably delicious wine. Fresh, zesty and sweet. Just what one needs in summer.

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We also had an amuse bouche, although I've completely forgotten what it was…oops!

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Our entrees were a rather balanced affair, with a light and refreshing artichoke salad, and a very sumptuous crispy bacon and yoghurt. 

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I wasn't quite sure what I was expecting when I saw 'crispy bacon and yoghurt' on the menu, but probably not something as pretty as this!  Three thick cut pieces of pork, which were crispy, as promised, in a smooth, gentle river of yoghurt, looking more like an art piece than what I might lop into my breakfast bowl in the morning! Garnished with a bit of rock melon, I was surprised that the combination worked so well, the yoghurt cutting through the richness of the pork, with a touch of tartness and the sweet rock melon wrapping it all up, almost providing a honey flavour to the pork. 


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For the main affair, Brad opted for the Amish Chicken (a little googling tells me that the chickens are raised by Amish families, so are essentially organic. The chickens themselves aren't religious…I think). It was everything you could have asked for, aromatic, with rosemary filling the air, tender and so succulent. It was also an incredibly generous serving which took Brad a little while to get through. 

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I chose the Dayboat Sea Scallops, which upon arrival, were pretty impressive, with each scallop two thirds the size of my palm and easily an inch thick. However, the three pieces, with a gentle drizzle of sauce, a bay leaf and a bit of garnish looked quite small compared to Brad's chicken.

But my goodness, who knew that scallops could be so filling?!

Slowly cutting my way through these perfectly cooked mollusks, with a sumptuous and smooth texture, I got to really savour each bite and enjoy the beauty of great produce and really enjoyed the simple and honest way it was served.

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A side of roasted Trompette Royal mushrooms (I think, there was a choice of 5 different mushrooms) proved to be one of the richest dishes of the night! 

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Our night at Craft wrapped up with a silken chocolate pannacotta, with cherries and a complimentary profiterole treat with our bill. Perfect.

I honestly wish I had better words, or a better grasp of words (and perhaps some notes) to really give you a better idea of how wonderful my meal at Craft was. I don't think I've ever felt so well looked after and had such delicious food at the same time. 

To top off the whole experience, as we walked out of the restaurant, we were given a blueberry muffin each, for breakfast the next morning. What an awesome idea. 

To also give perspective on the level of customer service that Craft strives to provide, after leaving my review of the restaurant on Open Table, the US version version of Dimmi, I received an email from the manager at Craft, thanking me for the review. I responded asking for the name of the wine we had, and she was only happy to fulfil my request. So lovely!

Although our meal was finished, our night wasn't. Brad had been doing a little research on comedy in New York, and we discovered that the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Chelsea was not only near by, but also did free 'School Night' comedy on Wednesday nights at 11pm, where you'd get a mix of new and experimental material, from improv, to sketch, to stand-up. Um. Sign us up!

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We arrived a bit early though, but we were happily directed to the Trailer Park Lounge a few blocks away, where I think Brad and I were a little overdressed in. I think this is what you would call a 'dive bar'? (Obviously I'm not very cool)

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With a cheeky and cheery nod to trailer park culture all around America, Trailer Park Lounge had no inch of wall spared of Americana memorabilia. It was kind of like an episode of American Pickers. Awesome. 

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A couple of Pabst Blue Ribbons each, to blend in with the environment a bit more, and we found ourselves back at the Upright Citizens Brigade, for a couple of hearty laughs, which went well into the night, that when we left, the Empire State Building had lit itself up appropriately to celebrate July 4th, which the clock had just ticked over into. 

207 2nd Avenue
New York

Momofuku Ssäm Bar on Urbanspoon

48 E. 19th Street
New York

Craft on Urbanspoon

307 W. 26th Street
New York

271 W. 23rd Street
New York

Trailer Park Lounge & Grill on Urbanspoon