Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dear Louisville....Did you know you have a restaurant that serves up traditional Dim Sum??? It's Jade Palace and it's fantastic.

Dear Louisville,

You are one lucky city. For a town of your size you've got some big city perks. You have a wonderful park system. You're chock full of culture. You have bourbon. You have baseball bats. And yes...oh yes...you have a restaurant that serves traditional Dim Sum.

You never cease to amaze me,
Love and Sui Mai,

I'm serious when I say that Louisville keeps pleasantly surprising me. And my latest surprise is something that felt I MUST share with all of you...Dim Sum at Jade Palace.

The hubby and I simply adore Dim Sum. For a time while living in Philly we were borderline obsessed with it. I don't have the exact figures but I would be willing to bet that my husband ate at our favorite Dim Sum restaurant dozens and dozens of times in two years.

Dim Sum, for those unfamiliar with it, is a traditional Cantonese breakfast/lunch consisting of many small plates of food and accompanied by the all important tea.

The dishes served are not your typical "Americanized Chinese" but more traditional dishes...things like turnip cake, chicken feet, sweet rice wrapped in lotus leaf, etc. And since they're practically all savory and very unlike a good 'ol southern fry up, I think that some people are hesitant to partake in the meal before lunch. Perhaps that's why Jade Palace doesn't start serving until 11:30am. But let it be known that it is often eaten very early in the morning as well.

The hubby and I showed up at Jade Palace a bit earlier than 11:30(10am), as we used to eat Dim Sum at a typical breakfast hour, but killed some time doing last minute Christmas shopping and returned at 11:31 with ravenous appetites.

We were seated immediately in a large dining room with a few other full tables and were happy to see that other people were as ready as we were to get their Dim Sum on. We were asked what we would like to drink and ordered hot tea, as it is the traditional beverage, and actually, how Dim Sum came about at all.

We then asked the waitress if they offered cart service or if we had to order from the menu. Most Dim Sum restaurants use a cart or conveyor belt method to display and distribute the food. She told us that we could either order from her or ask the cart waitress to bring around a variety of dishes. Since the cart server was not in the room at the time we ordered some dishes from her and then grabbed some more off the cart when she came around.

I was glad to see cart service, however, they only had one cart while we were there. I was happy that we didn't have to wait long or fight with other tables for the cart to come to us. Also, the waitress that was running the cart service spoke perfect English(I've had issues with not knowing what I was getting in the past and simply had to point and smile) and wasn't so busy that she didn't have time to bring out different carts so we could peruse them(she was very, very helpful). But it was missing that wonderful bustle that I love when eating Dim Sum. Half the fun, after all, is looking around the room as the carts dance around the tables and picking out what delightful dish you'll share next. That being said...beggars can't be choosers...and I was very, very, very happy to see cart service at all and loved every minute of it.

Now for what really matters...taste.

The food was, honestly, some of the best Dim Sum Nick and I have ever had. Some things we ordered were far an away the best of that particular dish that's ever crossed our lips. And forgive me Louisville, but I never expected to say that about a Chinese Restaurant that wasn't in New York or San Francisco. I'm still in shock that I found it nestled in Westport Village. Kudos Jade Palace. Well done.

We ordered..........

- Sui Mai (a pork and shrimp dumpling that is open at the top). This is a Dim Sum staple for many people. It's delicious and the perfect thing to start with.

- Yeong Pek Koo (minced shrimp in a black mushroom). This was a new one for us and we loved it. The minced shrimp was sweet...the mushroom was full of umami...put them together and you've got a great flavor combination.

- Steamed Pork Bun (pork steamed in a soft, almost sponge-like bun). This steamed bun won me over. The bun was moist and fluffy. The pork inside was rich and delicious. I've had some so-so steamed pork buns in the past...this one was the best I've ever had.

- Beef Tendon (melt in your mouth bits of delicious beef tendon in a spicy sauce). Do me a favor...try this. It's fatty and beefy. It's rich and delicious. The texture may throw you at first but you'll find yourself immediately going back for more..

- Seen Chuck Kn (pork and shrimp wrapped in tofu skins). This was another mind blowing dish for me. The tofu skins packed so much flavor in a thin little package, and there was an explosion of tastes inside. Delicious.

- Nor Mai Gai (pork, chicken, shrimp and other things mixed with sweet rice and wrapped and steamed in a lotus leaf). This dish is high on my top 5 Dim Sum list. You open this little lotus leaf packet to find a mound of sweet rice cooked with all sorts of yummy bits of meat. You know how maple syrup goes so well with sausage? The same sweet and savory thing is happening here. It's one of the best Dim Sum dishes ever created.

- Red Bean Paste Bun (a sweet red bean paste in a steamed bun). You must try at least one dessert before you leave Jade Palace. This red bean paste bun may not sound like your typical dessert but it's got all the makings of a sweet treat. The paste inside is rich and satisfying and if I didn't tell you there were beans in it you would never know.

If you're a Dim Sum newbie I would recommend trying any of these dishes. They're all relatively approachable if you're not used to traditional Chinese fare and they offer a mix of many different flavors as well as cooking techniques. I would also try Cheung Fun if you're new. It's shrimp (or pork or chicken) wrapped in a very thin rice paper roll. Very traditional Dim Sum and very good for a not so adventurous palate.

Looking for an adventure??? You must try the chicken feet at least once. Get them in a sauce. Also, tripe is amazing if you've never had it. I personally love the turnip cakes. They're like Cantonese comfort food to me. And I know some people who are addicted to the fried tofu, although I'm not the biggest fan. Honestly...of all the Dim Sum dishes I've ever tried(and we're talking over 50) I think I've only disliked one or two. So the odds are good that you'll love almost anything you try.

Interested in giving Dim Sum a try? Here's how to do it...

It's meant to be shared. Most dishes have 3 or 4 pieces on them and each plate also has a corresponding size and price.

The waitress will mark the price on a card that is kept in the center of your table. When you're done with your meal she'll tally it up.

Don't be scared to order A LOT. Nick and I ate and ate and ate for $20 last Sunday.

And be sure to give yourself plenty of time. Go ahead and use the cart service the whole time if it's your first time. There are so many things to try so go slow and let your eyes and your stomach do the deciding for you.

Don't listen to the names...I know tendon doesn't sound great...but it's delicious. And chicken feet taste just like chicken wings...just with a bit less meat.

So be daring. Be bold. Be Cantonese for the day. Go to Dim Sum and try a few new dishes at Jade Palace next weekend. I promise you'll love it.

Jade Palace on Urbanspoon
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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Erika's German Restaurant - What You Crave On A 20 Degree Day

The weather channel said it was 8 degrees when I woke up this morning. All of the sudden it felt like fall passed right by Louisville this year and the dead of winter filled it's place.

When cold weather rolls in to stay I find myself craving completely different types of food. I could eat fish and raw veggies every day during the warm months but come winter I turn into a bear preparing for hibernation. I'm looking for rich, satisfying dishes. Give me some meat...then braise it, stew it, roast it. Add some root veggies to the plate...au gratin pretty much anything...and throw a small arugula salad on the plate to make it look a teeny bit healthy and you've got a winter weather dish to satisfy.

So needless to say, I'm not looking for sushi on an 8 degree day...I'm looking for comfort food.

Are you looking for comfort food? Why not give Erika's German Restaurant a try. It's inexpensive. They serve hearty home made fare. And nothing says winter like gulasch, spaetzle and pretty much anything prepared a la schnitzel.

The hubby and I love us some German cuisine. When we were in Munich I think my husband ate his weight in schweinshaxe ("pig knuckle") and I ate enough kaesespaetzle (German noodles (spaetzle) in cheese) to put me into a mid-day-coma. We also enjoyed an amazing variety of head cheeses (I know...not everyone's cup of tea but Nick and I love the stuff) as well as some other offal-type dishes.

Unfortunately Erika's doesn't have schweinshaxe on it's menu...nor does it have some of our other, what some would consider "crazier" favorites. It does, however, succeed in offering a small variety of well made German dishes that I'm sure even the pickiest of eaters would enjoy.

After perusing the menu and preparing ourselves for a gut busting experience Nick and I passed on starters (although they had two amazing sounding soups and a potato pancake platter that was hard to pass up) and headed straight for the mains.

I'm eternally indecisive so I told myself if they made their bratwursts in-house I would choose that...otherwise I was going for the sauerbraten. I ended up with the bratwurst platter and was happy about it. For the low, low price of around $10 I was treated to two wonderfully crafted brats, a side of warm German potato salad (chock full of flavor and bacon) and a heaping helping of sauerkraut.

As much as I enjoyed my bratwursts dipped in German mustard and my warm bacon-y potatoes, I have to say that my favorite item on the plate was actually the sauerkraut. Sometimes the simplest things turn out to be the best. Typically something that gets overlooked, this side dish was really amazing. It was more reminiscent of a braised cabbage than a pickled one. It was sweet and savory with just the right amount of acid. Even after the meal, sitting there with a stuffed belly, I found myself picking at it over and over again.

Nick had the jagerschnitzel...two thinly pounded, breaded and fried pork chops smothered in a rich mushroom gravy. His pork was tender and flavorful. He commented that it was slightly over salted but he enjoyed it all the same.

Both he and I wanted to order the kartoffelknoedel, however the menu said to allow 20 minutes for preparation, and although 20 minutes really isn't all that long to wait, neither of us were interested in doing so. I somewhat regret passing the kartoffelknoedel by as it's one of our favorite side dishes. Essentially a potato dumpling, the kartoffelknoedel is a large, almost gelatinous ball of potato that is boiled and served as a very traditional side dish (see stock photo). I think it would have gone wonderfully with Nick's dish as the dumplings typically beg to be dipped in gravy. I'll be sure to order some next time I go.

As for the rest of the experience.....

The wait staff...which consisted only of one very pleasant woman(whom I suspect is Erika) and someone who bussed plates to and from tables...were courteous and warm, even though they had their hands more than full with a jam packed dining room.

I was somewhat disappointed with the salad that they served as a starter and might have rather been given the option to just add a second side dish to the plates as they all looked delicious and it was hard to choose! I have to say, I didn't actually ask if that was possible or not. It's entirely possible that all you have to do is ask...perhaps I should have.

I would have also liked to see a larger German beer selection, but weiss and dunkels were represented, and to be honest, most restaurants we went to IN Germany only served one or two brands of beer at the most. So I suppose as far as authentic goes, it's not far off.

As far as reservations go...I highly recommend them. We ate VERY early on Friday night...like 6:15...and I'm happy we did because not 10 minutes later there was a wait for those without reservations.

Erika's German on Urbanspoon
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I'm back!

Hi all!

I'm back! Sorry for being gone so long, but between the holidays and buying a new house (new...AWESOME...house) my mind has been elsewhere. Fortunately, my appetite hasn't been and I've got a few new places to write about!

I'll be sure to put up a new post...post haste, but in the meantime, I've got a question. What's shakin' around town as far as New Years Eve celebrations go??

The hubby and I typically visit a new city each year for New Years Eve, however, this year it looks like we'll be smack dab in the middle of moving, so all trips are off. But the more I thought about it the mores I realized that we still will be spending New Years Eve in a new city...because this will be our first New Years in Louisville! So if anyone has good tips I'm all ears!
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