Sunday, October 31, 2010

House, Thai Northeast Street Food - Surry Hills

There is one thing that my eating companions really don't understand about me. No, its not the obsessive need to try new places or treating food the way paparazzi treat Lindsay Lohan - what confuses them the most is my inability to tolerate spicy flavours in food. You see most of my friends, especially Mr Empty Fridge, eat chilli like it was popcorn. I on the other hand, am a wussbag. Personally, I do not enjoy a severe burning taste sensation at all and I try to order everything "Mild" where I can.
"You are not going to enjoy this" My Mom (aka Mrs Fridgemagnet) tells me, as we walk towards House. "Everything will be spicy and everything will be covered in coriander so get your antihistamines ready" (Yes, my random allergy to coriander manages to attack me at every new restaurant.)
Mrs Fridgemagnet is a huge fan of Spice I Am, and when I read that the Chef Sujet Saenkham had opened up a street-food inspired eatery, we were both eager to try it. We arrived at about 4pm after a big brunch and some shopping - so this was our version of afternoon tea. House is not your ordinary Thai Restaurant. The dishes on offer are from the North-east region of Thailand, and there is not one Money Bag or Pad See Ew in sight. A Thai and English bilingual menu was provided and it conveniently contained pictures of each dish to tempt eaters, with quite a substantial number of small dishes I might add. These menus made ordering a breeze as you could not rely on the waiters for recommendations, they were however happy to advise that "No, very Hot if you don't like Hot" about the dishes I was pointing to.
I think they were judging my chilli handicap.
We decide to try two small dishes, a small sample of what was on offer. We order the Mackarel salad with fresh vegetables and the barbeque pork skewers.  Mrs Fridgemagnet was not too happy about having to request that the dish not be too spicy, but hey - sharing is caring. She told me the last time she had tasted anything this authentic was at one of the food stalls in Bangkok's Chatuchak market. My pork skewers also take me back to my trip to Thailand as well and I can distincly remember the smell of the smoke comming from the food vendors at Lumpini Night Markets or the street stalls in Phuket. All I needed was a cold Singha beer and we would be back in beautiful Thailand.
The fresh and crisp bamboo shoots are a great contrast to both the fishy-ness and oilyness of the Mackarel salad. I have never tried Bamboo shoots previously but it really cooled my mouth after trying the salad, as it was still hot despite us requesting minimal mouth burning please.
 Mrs Fridgemagnet was quite happy not to share after I had a small taste, and continued to enjoy her Mackarel salad.
The serve of pork skewers were just enough for this small food break. Man they were delicious! They were not too thick which makes the crunchy charred bits a great contrast. The sauce is not too sweet but it contains the right amount of chilli keep to make it seem less boring..afterall, they were just mini skewers. However, they are very lean cuts and perfectly cooked whilst still keeping the meat very juicy and flavoursome. 
Now I'm not sure if you guys have herd about this dessert. I think its had quite the cult status of late, but with a name like "Better than Sex" I would think that severe diners are keen to challenge the comparison. 
This dessert was absolutely delicious, to the point that Mrs Fridgemagnet and I were just about ready to order a second plate. It consists of a sugary sweet toasted brioche, a scoop of the most awesome pandan flavour ice cream, and then covered in a dark palm sugar syrup. Thinking about it now makes me want to drive there this very second! The thick slice of brioche is light and fluffy with a very strong eggy flavour. I thought it may have even been a slice of brioche french toast. The pandan ice cream was a standout dessert in itself. This was the first time I  had tried this flavour and I feel like I found what was missing in my life. Yes, dramatic I know, but I have only tried pandan in drinks, jellies and other desserts - never in ice cream form. The sauce just brings it to another level, I enjoyed the contrast to the sweetness of the ice cream and brioche, adding almost a dark and even more sinful layer to the dessert. 
I would honestly go back there just for the B.T.S dessert. Its not listed on the menu but i'm sure if you ask it will be available. The dessert is supposed to be a "special"  but I can only imagine the uproar if they decide to take it off the menu. Consider this a warning, House.
Id like to try a larger selection of the dishes when a return, and will without a doubt leave room for dessert. I think that with an awesome sweet dish like the B.T.S. on offer, I should be able to try my hand on some mouth burning epic dishes - I can use "recovery" as an excuse not to share dessert. Price wise, it is reasonable compared to the more "posh" thai eateries around the area. I think if your eating what is essentially street food, it would not feel right to be charged an arm and a leg. Besides, the portions are not large at all.
So if you are up for a casual night out and keen to venture out of the Pad Thai takeaway box, then House is definately a must visit. As we left content with our afternoon tea, the early dinner crowds were starting to arrive. For those Balmy summer nights in the horizon, I can't think of anything better than sitting in the beer garden and downing copious amounts of Singha to stop the burning of spicy thai in my mouth. Until next time, House.

House - 202 Elizabeth St, Surry Hills. 02 9280 0364
Cash Only but there is an ATM at the Pub next door.

House on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 29, 2010

Orange Chicken and our 5 Minutes of Fame

If there is one thing that I love as much as food, its fashion. Yes, it is a shallow cliche but I am drawn to pretty things and shiny objects. One would think that very manly other half of The Empty Fridge would be uninterested in all this but that is not the case. Demos is one heck of a fashionista. Yes - I just called my bloke a fashionista. Our overseas holidays consist of as much shopping as they do eating, and most of the time it is spent in men's stores. Demos actually has a bigger closet than I do and takes much longer to get ready when we go out, he says its because he is indecisive - I think he is just a fussy dresser. 
So, imagine both of our excitement when we found ourselves in a window display for the French luxe brand Hermes. Yes folks, my life is now complete. I was lucky enough to be spoilt with a very special "Little Orange Box" on my birthday this year and thanks to some fun happy snaps taken during Vogues Fashion Night Out, our mugs have been on display at the Sydney store.  I plan to break in and steal the portrait once our 5 minutes of fame is over.
Hermes Orange bags and boxes aside, lets get back to food quick smart! This is not a well known dish in Australia but it is one of the dishes I love to eat when I visit the USA - and we can stick to the "Orange" theme Here is my take on...
Orange Chicken!
It is a similar concept to Honey Chicken, that dish you usually get in Chinese takeaway shops or seedy varieties in food courts. A very popular version that I crave is from Panda Express, a chain of Chinese takeout in the USA. How can you resist sweet citrusy goodness and some fried chicken? With the abundance of Oranges in the shops at the moment, I wanted to try my hand in replicating this. I googled some recipes and followed this simple version from Rasa Malaysia with a few adjustments. Firstly, I had no ginger or scallions at home.. and as I have previously established I am still trying to find my kitchen prowess.
Mmm..Orange guts. I love freshly squeezed oranges and for this dish I used 2 large navel oranges. It produced more juice than needed so I had a nice drink too! The recipe calls for just 1/4 cup of juice but I added 1/2 a cup . I figured I would just reduce the sauce longer to get a stronger orange flavour.
I diced up more garlic than the recipe required, and again to add to the orange bite, I finely chopped up some orange peel instead of just using the grater. I also added 2 teaspoons instead of just 1.
I used about two large chicken breasts, but unfortunately I didn't think to coat the chicken pieces with flour before dipping it into the batter. Silly me, another cooking fail. This resulted in the batter not "sticking" onto the chicken pieces, so I didn't get that outer crunchy crust. 
We did not have any fresh chillies readily available either, but because it is a partly greek kitchen, there is always a container full of homemade marinated chillies in the fridge, and boy did they bring the heat. As you can see, my batter didn't stick at all when I was frying.
When I was adding all the ingredients together for the sauce, the smell of the orange peel, juice, garlic and chilli just took over.

I was very disappointed that my chicken did not have a crispy crust to coat and soak in the sauce. However, the dish was full of flavour and tasted really exciting compared to the usual stir -fry's. Although the sweet, citrus and spicy flavours sound a bit much together in one dish, Demos and I really enjoyed the end result. It was very different to the takeaway version but I was happy to discover a yummy new stir fry with a kick. I served the chicken over some brown rice, but it would go well with some steamed bok choy or snow peas for a crisp taste.
There we have it, another attempt in the kitchen - not the ideal end result and yes I did get a bit upset and emotional about the batter and coating not sticking. At least I know for next time. Now I have two coping mechanisms when things dont go right in the kitchen, the first being Ben and Jerry's cookie dough ice cream. If that doesnt fix it then I can wander down to the local Hermes store and be that crazy lady that yell's out to the tourists walking by..
"That's me in the window..That's meeee"

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Porteno Argentinian Bar and Restaurant, Surry Hills

"Get to my place at 6:30....We are cabbing it in. It's date night!"
Yes, after reading a bit about Porteno and some of the cocktails on offer there would be no driving of any sort involved. Having heard that the Bodega boys were opening a new place we were eagerly anticipating a night out once Porteno had opened it's doors. Given that it was now open now for 3 weeks I thought that a date night was needed to try it out. We just needed any sort of excuse really, so what better way to score brownie points than by making it date night.

The Upstairs bar area

So into the cab we go and I tell Gianna about all of the different things i've read about that would be interesting to try,  eagerly looking forward to getting there to try the suckling pig especially. It was pretty exciting to be going somewhere newly opened, never having actually done so before. All was going well until we actually arrived only to be told that they weren't taking names for the waiting list. At first it was pretty devastating but as the saying goes, when a door shuts a window opens, or something along those lines. Not being able to put our names on the table waiting list the maitre de told us to go upstairs and have a drink and come back to see him a bit later on - our window of opportunity. We were lucky to get a spot at the upstairs bar because it was teeming with people waiting around for a table, much like we had planned to do. I must say though that Porteno is gorgeous. It is beautifully furnished and well decorated and upstairs has that cool retro feel - especially with touches such as the vintage fooseball table.
 Palermo Hollywood $17, Banana Old Fashioned $20,

We sit at the bar and peruse the very interesting drinks menu. We decide to start with a Banana Old Fashioned and Palermo Hollywood. All I can say is wow. Our bartender friend in suspenders who shall be known as Nelson got us hooked on the drinks right from the word go. I am aware that I might be sounding like an alcoholic but I highly recommend all to come to Porteno to at least try the cocktails because they are that good. Basically the Banana Old Fashioned is banana infused Jack Daniels with house maple syrup. The Palermo Hollywood is Herradurra blacno tequila, cloudy apple juice vanilla syrup with sage leafs. Both were sweet and well balanced and went down an absolute treat. Striking up conversation with Nelson he explained that they make their own infused whisky by a process known as fat washing. They cook the banana with butter and pour in the whisky and let it sit. Separating the fat from the liquid you get the byproduct - banana infused whisky. Stay tuned for my attempt to replicate this in the near future. 
So getting through the first round of drinks quite easily I head downstairs to talk to the maitre de. Great success - we could at least put our names down for a table albeit being a 1 hour wait. But hey with a full assortment of cocktails to get through and our buddy Nelson at the helm it was no drama. It's actually quite pleasant sitting at the bar especially when you can also pick on some food while chatting with your bartender.
Empanadas $4 each, Vegetable Fritters with aoli $10 
To start we had some empanadas and vegetable fritters. The empanadas were crisp on the outside and stuffed with pork, roasted capsicum and something else very tasty that escapes my memory. They were very delicious and went really well with the drinks. The Vegetable fritters made up of  corn, zucchini and parsley were also very nice and were served with aoli. Both were excellent nibbles to accompany drinks and it would've been quite easy to stay at the bar nibbling away on plate after plate of empanadas and fritters. 
But there were still more drinks to get through until we could have dinner.
"Nelson, what would you suggest?"
Santa Cruz $18 - Anejo rum, pisco sour, pear apple rhubarb syrup with lemon, lavender and a dash of bittersSanta Rosa $17 - Aperol, blood orange juice, caramel syrup & lemon juice with grapefruit bitters with orange peel
Still happy to kill time waiting for our dinner sitting we called on Nelson to suggest something for us to try next. We settled on a Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz. I really enjoyed my Santa Cruz - that is until Gianna took it. It was very sweet and easy to drink. But the Santa Rosa was just as good - very sharp flavours and just a beautiful colour.
Our "to do list" the Cocktail Menu
Magellan Straits - $18 In house spiced rum with pineapple and five spice syrup, sparkling wine and nutmeg
Finishing up Nelson couldn't leave me with an empty glass so he served me a glass of Magellan straits. "He discovered the Philippines!!" Yes Gianna, yes he did. It looks somewhat girly but as Nelson explained "it's all about the taste and the combination of flavours. If you want a mans drink you can have a bourbon. That would be boring." The addition of nutmeg over frothy top layer just made it 'taste like Christmas' according to a very happy Gianna. 
Top view of the Magellan Straits
Meatballs with romesco sauce - $10
Getting a bit hungrier we started ordering some more nibbles. Meatballs were next. Salty, well seasoned and a crisp crumbed outer layer they were just scrumptious.
A Birds eye view of the dining area downstairs
The very very hard working and classy bartenders
Sangria Soda $12 - Martini rosso, red wine, lemonade with macerated fruits
Aeroplineas Argentinas $18 - Aviation gin, maraschino cherry & lemon syrup and star anise.

The next round of drinks were a twist on some established classics. Sangria soda was very very good to drink and I just loved the blood red colour. The soda part was a nice touch because I find that sometimes bubbles are just add that little bit of lift. At this stage we were getting somewhat into a belligerent state so I can't really remember what the Aeroplineas Argentinas was a twist of but it was equally as good.
Croquettes with Mahon cheese and corn $10 
Looking at the photo of these croquettes as a write this now I am salivating. They were so so good. I don't really want to write about them because I implore you to go and try them. Goooey cheese, corn, parsley and a crispy outer layer they are unreal. They were sold out when we arrived but thankfully were replenished in time for us to try!
House made bread with pork pate - $4 
So after a somewhat enjoyable hour and a half drinking ourselves through the menu we get taken to our table downstairs. We don't waste much time in ordering. Starting with some bread and pork pate to get things going. The bread is made by the restaurant and served with a pork pate. It was nice but a little bit on the strong side with a really bitter aftertaste. I also got what I will call my favourite drink of the evening - La Boca. But once again it was pinched.
La Boca $20 - Herradurra blanco tequila, cumquat jam, honey & ginger syrup with aperol on the rocks

BBQ calamari with pickled heirloom tomatoes - $18
The BBQ calamari was amazing. Salty, soft, smoky in flavour and served with pickled heirloom tomatoes. Lathered with lemon and littered with chilli it was such a fresh dish, we couldn't get enough of it. Fortunately for me, Gianna isn't really into the pickled vegetables so I had them all to myself.
Beef short ribs with salsa & chimichurri - $34
The beef short ribs were our next selection given that the kitchen had run out of the suckling pig. It was a shame in a way but it gives us an excuse to go back again. Nonetheless the short ribs were nothing short of amazing. Cooked to perfection with nice pink centres and served on a wooden board with salsa and chimichurri they went down a treat. The charred and smoky flavour was there and I loved how tasty it was when combined with the fresh salsa.

Veal Sweetbreads - $18
Now the veal sweetbreads were something I had read about and just told Gianna we had to try. Just as well because they were amazing. They were very soft and tender and had a very smooth consistency. It's hard to draw comparisons to liver but I suppose there is nothing else I can think of that they would be similar to. They melted the minute you had them in your mouth and if I wasn't so full from all the rest of the food I don't think Gianna would have had a chance to even try them. 
The photo that pretty much sum's up the night. Bursting at the Seams!
So by now as the photos demonstrate the conversation was roughly as follows:
 "Do you have panadol?"
"I'll take 6 thanks. Prevantative Measure"
But wait...desserts were still to come!
Dining Area

Interior Shots and the Wine Cellar
Leche Quemada - $14 
Managing to save some room in our stomachs and muster the ability to string a few sentences together we managed to order some desert. Leche Quemada. A burnt milk custard with cumquat jam, dark chocolate ice cream& salted popcorn. This was an interesting desert seeing as it was sprinkled with salted popcorn. The burn milk custard was smooth and creamy and their were bitter notes with the ice cream and cumquat jam that served to compliment the sweetness of the cream. Strangely enough the salted popcorn really made the dish a standout. 
All in all a very enjoyable experience at Porteno which we encourage all to go and try. Take on the cocktail challenge friends, but since we shared our cocktail picks with you, please share with us your favourite cocktails, do you stick with the classics? Or do you venture into the exciting?
Gratuitous dessert photo's

No Bloggers were harmed in the making of this post, and there were hardly any sore heads the next day..all the meat soaked up the alcohol.
Porteno on Urbanspoon
358 Cleaveland St Surry Hills 02 9210 7766
Bookings only taken for groups of 6 or more.


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