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Originally published at Velvet Kerfuffle. Please leave any comments there.

This was my second sushi experience during our weekend in the Helsinki greater metropolitan area last July. This was also my second sushi experience with this particular Finnish restaurant chain, Hanko Sushi. I use the term “restaurant” loosely because I would classify this more as fast-food sushi, really. Except for the not so fast part. But wait, let’s start at the beginning. So the day before, I’d taken the bus out to Espoo to visit a friend and have an awesome lunch at LN-Sushi Art. Wanting to sleep in late and knowing that we were leaving that afternoon, I stayed …

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Originally published at Velvet Kerfuffle. Please leave any comments there.

Last summer, I accompanied the hubby on a series of weekend trips to various cities around the country for his RC car competitions. In the process, I took what was basically the abbreviated Sushi Tour of Finland. Such as it is. Finland doesn’t have a huge number of sushi joints, so there are usually only a couple per city at best, unless it’s a particularly large one like Helsinki. Then they might have, like, ten or so. Sadly, I do not exaggerate. And most of them probably opened in the recent past, because there were considerably fewer when I first …

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Originally published at Velvet Kerfuffle. Please leave any comments there.

In late August of 2012, I had to return to Taiwan due to familial obligations. Afterwards, we spent a bit of time exploring some local attractions that I didn’t get a chance to see last time we were there. This included sampling some of the more unique food offerings at a night market. Hence the snake. Amongst other things.

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Originally published at Velvet Kerfuffle. Please leave any comments there.

Back in July 2012, the hubby and I (and both sets of parents, plus his sister) spent most of our July in Taiwan, hitting up a handful of the more popular touristy spots. I shared some of these photos on Facebook when we got back, but haven’t had time to actually post in more detail, thanks to the craziness that started right after we got back. Here’s my chance to finally do so!

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Originally published at Velvet Kerfuffle Kitchen and Garden. Please leave any comments there.

Wow, look what I found lurking in my old to-post folder! The last batch of photos from my London work trip back in spring of 2011. Yeah, the one where it became my mission in life to order steamed dumplings from every place within delivery range that made them. Seriously, I've got the pictures to prove it. It was an obsession. Just thinking about the woeful lack of delivery dumplings here makes me sad. It's almost criminal. Why do you hate me so, Finland?

Stopped by a nice little Thai restaurant after work my first night and… guess what I ordered.
Dumplings in soup AND steamed dumplings.
Shumai from another place on another evening.

Shrimp hargao from the same place as the shumai.
Bonus shrimp crispies! I think this place was my favorite. I have their menu still somewhere.
And one night, I gave in and just got fried seafood noodles. Because they used actual large prawns and not tiny baby shrimps like in Finland.

This is what I get for not making notes — the closest sushi place to where my hostesses lived was also pretty good. I miss ikura :-(
The Warrington, when it was still owned by Gordon Ramsay. Who sold it later that year. Hey, we were curious. It was pretty inside.
The food was… okay. Not memorable, but better than the questionable meat pie from lunch. Which I actually remember better. I guess that says something.

The girls took me to this adorable little fusion dimsum place one evening. I think these are sweet buns?
Fruity drinks. The one on the right even has basil seeds. I can barely find lemonade in restaurants out here.
These might be the duck ones.

Classic charsui bun with barbecue pork.
The squid ink dumplings! So cool. They stopped making these, it seems :-(
Random squid, I think?

Fancy shumai. There were twists on all these dumplings, I wish I remembered :-I
Pretty little desserts. Mine is the mango pudding, of course.
Ping Pong Dimsum! That was the name. That’s why I took a picture of the menu :-)

Thought I’d try some fast food sushi as well, since I’ve never done the conveyor belt thing before. There was a Yo!Sushi at the mall, so I went.
This stuff was actually a half step better than Sushi Boy, the fast food sushi place we went to in Cali. Well, maybe the plates helped.
That, and they did hand rolls on demand. I miss having a sushi place.

Sweet shrimp :-D One of my all-time faves and hard to come by in non-shrimp producing places.
The conveyor belt! All the plates had time stamps on the lids, which probably helped with the freshness thing a lot.

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Originally published at Velvet Kerfuffle. Please leave any comments there.

Apologies to anybody who was having issues with using the comments system these past few days — there was a glitch involving a naughty plug-in that I just got around to figuring out last night. Everything should work just fine now. Yeah, I take pictures of random food-related things when the mood strikes me. These are pretty obviously for the peeps back in the States, since I’m sure this stuff looks pretty unremarkable to anybody on this side of the Atlantic.  

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Originally published at Velvet Kerfuffle. Please leave any comments there.

Continued from my last set of food diary pictures, a week ago.  

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Originally published at Velvet Kerfuffle. Please leave any comments there.

In mid-September, Rauma really takes on the port city role and has a weekend seafood festival called the Baltic Herring Market. There are other tents selling local crafts and freshly canned produce, of course, but the main attractions are the several large fish booths set up smack in the middle of the event. We went to take a look around last year… One of the stalls, selling dozens of varieties of pickled fish, mostly herring. Pickling being one of the favored ways of preserving seafood in these parts. Smoking fish is the other vastly popular way to preserve it. Several …

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Originally published at Velvet Kerfuffle. Please leave any comments there.

More than half the city of Rauma is probably still hung over as I write this. That’s because not so long ago, they were engaging in the cultural-festival-turned-boozefest known as Black Lace Night. We could hear the fireworks and club music through our windows, but that’s because we’re only a short walk from Old Town, where it was all happening. We visited earlier in the day, when it was still a family-oriented street festival full of candy vendors and balloons. I had hopes for finding a pretty lace dress like the one I’d seen a couple years back at the …

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Originally published at Velvet Kerfuffle. Please leave any comments there.

So, we have a new local sushi joint. “Local” being a relative term, since it’s around an hour’s drive into the nearest large-ish city. But we go there on a fairly frequent basis to visit friends anyway, so it’s just a happy opportunity that we also get a decent sushi fix on the same trip. In fact, the first time I visited this restaurant was with those friends, on what was probably my second trip to Finland. They were telling me about this place that was pretty good, except for the strange sweet mayonnaise that they put in some rolls… to …

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Originally published at Velvet Kerfuffle Kitchen and Garden. Please leave any comments there.

So, we have a new local sushi joint. “Local” being a relative term, since it’s around an hour’s drive into the nearest large-ish city. But we go there on a fairly frequent basis to visit friends anyway, so it’s just a happy opportunity that we also get a decent sushi fix on the same trip. In fact, the first time I visited this restaurant was with those friends, on what was probably my second trip to Finland. They were telling me about this place that was pretty good, except for the strange sweet mayonnaise that they put in some rolls… to which I responded that Japanese mayonnaise is on the strangely sweet side to begin with, so that was in all likelihood what they were tastiing. We decided to visit and settle the matter in person and I ended up having an excellent mixed sushi plate that would have been right at home in Cali. I then spent the next two years trying to drag the boy to this place, but it didn’t really happen until last month. He ordered their largest plate, declared it very edible, and a consensus was reached that we would have to make this a regular thing.

Kado Sushi is located in the picturesque old Turku kaupahalli (market hall), across the aisle from an excellent fishmonger and wedged into a space — narrow and long — reminiscent of a train car. Simple bamboo decor keeps the room from seeming cluttered and large wall windows let you watch the market shoppers bustle by while you sip soothing green tea (or something stronger from their well-stocked imported alcohol section). The guys in the kitchen are all Finnish, which gave me pause when I first came here since there’s an unspoken rule in Cali that you only go to sushi bars with immigrant Japanese chefs if you want the good stuff. However, these guys were definitely trained well by somebody with a formal Japanese culinary education, because everything that came out of that kitchen was fresh and perfect. This wasn’t some ghetto Todai buffet microwave sushi, these guys are serious. They also get extra points for successfully using local fish, which can be somewhat difficult because the majority of Finnish fish come from brackish water rather than the staple fatty ocean fish.

The “big plate”. The piece of salmon nigiri on the far left got cut out because the boy couldn’t pull the camera back far enough :-P This area is known for divine Atlantic salmon, so I needn’t go on about how generous the piece was nor how perfectly buttery it tasted. Moving along. There was also arctic char, tuna, shrimp, squid, burnt salmon, octopus, pike perch, whitefish, surf clam, eel and sweet egg. And the obligatory California roll across the top, of course. Really, the only thing that could make me happier is if they had uni and raw sweet shrimp. However, I have a feeling that sea urchin and amaebi might be a bit too delicate for any but the most expensive restaurants to ship and serve. Sigh.

More pictures of the interior and menu behind the cut…

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Originally published at Velvet Kerfuffle. Please leave any comments there.

Right. So I can probably count the number of times I’ve been to a McDonald’s in Cali over the past several years on one hand. Usually when I am craving soft serve and there’s no frozen yogurt place nearby. The last time I ordered actual food from there, I can’t even remember. Not that 99-cent Chicken McNugget Tuesdays don’t bring back very fond memories of university roommates and scrounging in couches for spare change, but… let’s face it, there’s a stigma attached to eating at McD’s if you’re not a cheap student or a parent of rugrat-aged children. They cater …

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Originally published at Velvet Kerfuffle Kitchen and Garden. Please leave any comments there.

Right. So I can probably count the number of times I’ve been to a McDonald’s in Cali over the past several years on one hand. Usually when I am craving soft serve and there’s no frozen yogurt place nearby. The last time I ordered actual food from there, I can’t even remember. Not that 99-cent Chicken McNugget Tuesdays don’t bring back very fond memories of university roommates and scrounging in couches for spare change, but… let’s face it, there’s a stigma attached to eating at McD’s if you’re not a cheap student or a parent of rugrat-aged children. They cater to a very specific crowd and anybody who wants a decent hamburger is better off going to Carl’s or In & Out… or, if you have the time to sit down, Fuddruckers or Fatburger. Burger chains are numerous and stratified to fill certain niches, and there’s little room for them to step out of the customer range they’ve boxed themselves into. Not so much the case hereabouts, either in Finland or Europe in general (from what I’ve heard).

McDonald’s has only one major competitor here, the nation-wide (Baltic-wide?) chain Hesburger, known for its creative use of rye buns and tasty range of sauces. And here’s the thing, if you’re a local and you’re told to choose between buying a burger from a locally-owned chain or one run by the Americans, you’re probably going to buy local unless the other guys are offering something different and interesting. So fast food evolution happened.

Despite having visited Finland several times before moving, it never occurred to me to have lunch at McD’s until earlier this week, when I figured it’d be good to try out, if only for comparison’s sake. I avoided the place like crazy back home, so what could be so different, right? Let’s see…

This is our local McD’s. There is not a jungle gym or giant hamster tube in sight. Everything is pristine. The building is surrounded by these picturesque, well-tended planters of flowering shrubs. There is a meeting courtyard in the front (which doubles as an outdoor cafe area on nice days, I bet) and decorative wooden lattices break up the light coming in through the plate glass walls. But what’s inside…?

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Okay, I don’t think this a restaurant review, since the only going out involved was the block that the boy had to walk to go pick up our pizzas. Still, it’s worth a shout-out because this ain’t your ordinary pizza. At least, if you’re from the States. The first time I encountered Finnish pizza was when the boy’s family ordered several different pies one winter evening. They got the usuals — pepperoni and sausage, ham and pineapple, mussels and tuna… Yes, mussels and tuna and shrimp. Quite possibly the most awesome seafood pizza I’ve ever encountered. Back in Cali, even …

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Originally published at Velvet Kerfuffle. Please leave any comments there.

I last wrote about Spinner’s about this time last year and at the time, I didn’t do much justice to their food presentation. Which really is a shame on me, because the way they set things up when you dine in is much closer to a restaurant than most places with a walk-up counter. To be fair, this was because we lived so close that we often wanted to eat at home and so would get everything to-go. We did take the family in to eat a few times, though, and I remembered to bring my camera with me when …

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The boy has been bemoaning the lack of proper kebab places in Orange County for years — pretty much since he first arrived on our shores. We do have a few, but they’re spread sparsely and often of a very fast-foody quality. Just about the only other alternatives are fancy Persian restaurants, which are more plentiful and very good, but with equally higher price tags. I didn’t really understand what the fuss was about until I started going home with him on the holidays and went to the Turkish kebab place that his family frequented. I was completely puzzled by …

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Originally published at Velvet Kerfuffle Kitchen and Garden. Please leave any comments there.

The boy has been bemoaning the lack of proper kebab places in Orange County for years — pretty much since he first arrived on our shores. We do have a few, but they’re spread sparsely and often of a very fast-foody quality. Just about the only other alternatives are fancy Persian restaurants, which are more plentiful and very good, but with equally higher price tags. I didn’t really understand what the fuss was about until I started going home with him on the holidays and went to the Turkish kebab place that his family frequented. I was completely puzzled by how something like that could manage to not show up back home in such a purportedly ethnically diverse area. Then earlier this year, one did!

Literally just one block away from us. I was just driving down the street one day and had to do a double take because the sign was brand new and I couldn’t really believe what I was seeing. It was like they were psychic. We went into Spinner’s Turkish Kebab shortly thereafter (okay, practically the first weekend we saw it) and have been regulars since.

The first time we walked in, they were weeks away from having their grand opening and were in the middle of taking pictures of their plates for the menu while we ordered. The place had served kebab in its previous incarnation as well, but had undergone a change in ownership with the newly arrived Turkish chef manning the kitchen. The boy happily recited what few Turkish phrases he knew and got a glowing reception from the pair behind the counter.

We’ve met many members of the extended family that staffs it over the months, and everybody has been immensely kind and welcoming — far more than you’d expect at any restaurant, let alone one with a lighted menu posted above your head. The place is sparkling clean and has surprisingly classy and accommodating seating for a corner fast food retail slot. We are unfailingly offered yummy cardamom scented hot tea whenever we visit. When you eat in, they arrange everything on pretty plateware, a nice change from styrofoam picnic platters at the mall. We were very delighted and immediately worried for their survival in such a mediocre location, especially since their prices were a little higher than fast food fare.

Happily, they have been around for several months now with no lowering of quality and an increasingly larger stream of customers coming and going. There’s even a review from a guy who drove up from San Diego on Yelp. Pretty darn cool. What we typically order, behind the cut.

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Originally published at Velvet Kerfuffle. Please leave any comments there.

A little over two years ago, the boy and I were driving to the supermarket when we noticed a new sushi place had sprung up across the street from it. The slot used to be a quiet little Japanese lunch place, but apparently it underwent a change of ownership and reopened as a cute little sushi place decorated with bamboo and tasteful swatches of purple fabric. We like Japanese food of all persuasions, and were still looking for a local restaurant to frequent, so in we went. They haven’t been able to get rid of us since The unassuming but …

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Originally published at Velvet Kerfuffle Kitchen and Garden. Please leave any comments there.

A little over two years ago, the boy and I were driving to the supermarket when we noticed a new sushi place had sprung up across the street from it. The slot used to be a quiet little Japanese lunch place, but apparently it underwent a change of ownership and reopened as a cute little sushi place decorated with bamboo and tasteful swatches of purple fabric. We like Japanese food of all persuasions, and were still looking for a local restaurant to frequent, so in we went. They haven’t been able to get rid of us since :-)

The unassuming but increasingly well-known Sushi Murasaki of Santa Ana. Housed on the bottom floor of a nondescript business center in a quiet and not-too-inhabited part of the city. Unrelated to any chain places by the same name, owned by the chefs behind the counter and managed by a very nice lady who now can afford to hire hostesses to do the job we’d gotten to know her from. We usually drop in every other week or so, almost always sit at a table for two across from the bar (so we can wave to the chefs), and most of the staff knows our “regular” order before we have to say it. It’s like the local diner, only much less greasy. If there’s one thing that can be said for our dining habits, it’s that we’re quite loyal.

Recently, we saw something new pop up on the menu. While we typically order a pre-set selection of sushi, we do occasionally order omakase when we can afford it. It’s always fun to see what the chef comes up with and I’m willing to believe that they have a better ideal of what’s good that day than anybody else. So now they’ve started doing a five-course meal option for $35ish that’s best termed as “beginner’s omakase” — it’s not as pricey as the real version, features a lineup of the “greatest hits” and still gets mixed up a bit depending on what’s in stock. We’ve done this twice and are quite fond the variety it presents. Some piccies behind the cut of our latest trip there ordering this item.

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