How Time Has Changed: Brasserie Le Vive at JFK

An airport is not necessarily the first place people associate gourmet dining experience with, unless, of course, you’re at the Jet Blue terminal in New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

If you’ve flown to NYC with this modern airline in recent years, you know what I’m talking about. Terminal 5 looks more like a spacious shopping mall with great restaurants and stores rather than an airport terminal.  There’s even a touch-screen monitor in the middle of the terminal where you can order food and drinks and a server will bring the food straight to your gate. I hope Los Angeles and / or Burbank airports would offer such service!  Oh, how time has changed.

I was able to resist the shopping temptation (well, sort of, if you don’t count the shopping bag full of stationary I picked up at Muji), but I could not stay away from walking in to one of the alluring restaurants that sit in the middle and around the circular terminal. Dining selections here include a casual cafeteria (with the usual selections of sandwiches, salads, pizzas and boxed sushi, etc.), a steak house, a sushi bar, and a seafood place, among many others.

Everything looked wonderful, but one place that caught my eyes in particular was a small French brasserie that sat on the very end of the restaurant row. I sat at a bar counter at Brasserie La Vie and treated myself to a glass of Chardonnay to celebrate the end of the work week in NYC.

The place is totally cute, offering seemingly authentic dishes like Escargot with Garlic Butter, Duck and Pistachio Terrine, and Moules Frites aux Pernod (mussels and French Fries) on the menu — something you’d expect to find at a brasserie / bristro in Paris, certainly not in a middle of the busy airport terminal in the states. There are more mainstream items on the menu as well, like French Onion Soup and Croque Monsieur / Madame. Particularly craving something light, I ordered Salad Nicoise (no surprise here as I am obsessed with this salad) with a side of Pommes Frites (the ultimate guilty pleasure).

The salad was pretty darn delicious, with vinegary anchovy fillets and seared tuna atop a bed of arugula, tomatoes, haricot verts, olives, boiled eggs, and roasted peppers tossed in vinaigrette. Each bite went incredibly well with the glass of chilled white wine, with a side of crispy French fries with a touch of ketchup and Tabasco.

I’m not sure if it was the atmosphere of the brasserie or the fact that I was finally coming home, but I was feeling very happy sitting at the counter at the restaurant. I had a few hours to kill before my flight, and while I usually get bored and antsy waiting, that was not the case this day. I caught up on my leisure magazine reading and just enjoyed the time passing by, while soaking up the energy of New York City.

My Sweet Religion: Patisserie Sadaharu Aoki

After we grabbed a quick but wonderful lunch at Cuisine de Bar, Maya and I headed over to Patisserie Sakaharu Aoki for another round of dessert. I am not over-exaggerating when I say that this Japan-born and trained pastry chef, who now runs an extremely successful pastry business in France with numerous store locations in Paris, as well as in major department store like Galleries Lafayette, is the reason why I now am obsessed with sweets. I have not had the honor of trying his famous pastries until this trip but it’s the concept of incorporating wonderful Japanese ingredients like matcha green tea, yuzu (Japanese citrus that is slightly more bitter than orange), and goma (sesame) into French classics that inspired me to do the same in my little kitchen.

The moment Maya and I reached the store on Rue de Vaugirard, a 10-minute walk from Cuisine de Bar, I almost kneeled down and cry. Okay, that’s a little melodramatic, but I felt a powerful energy rush through my body, like I have finally arrived to my culinary mecca.

The shop was everything that I had imagine – a very simple, white and black / silver interior, with rainbow-colored macarons and chocolate- and green tea-inspired cakes filling the showcases. There were many kinds of confectioneries, like candied orange and other heavenly morsels lined up against the wall.

I had to fight the urge to buy up the entire store, and settled on the following: Bamboo, a green tea opera cake; Fuwafuwa Fraise, a soft and airy sponge cake with whipped cream and strawberries (“fuwa fuwa” is the term Japanese use to describe something airy, like a cloud); Citrus Tarte; Green Tea Eclaire, and five different kinds of macarons. I tried matcha, hojicha, jasmine, chocolate, and wasabi. I know that wasabi-flavored macaron can sound a bit strange for some, but it was one of the greatest sweets I’ve ever had – along with all his other creations.

Because there was no indoor seating, Maya and I “smuggled” our purchases to a nearby café, where we sat and enjoyed hot beverages with our cakes. It started to rain but we got the best seats inside a tent, under a warm lamp, overlooking the beautiful St. Sulpice church. The waiter didn’t mind that we brought in our own desserts. In fact, he looked more curious as to what we were about to indulge! And if any of you are wondering, yes, we ate all the dessert in one sitting!

I am so glad that I had the chance to experience the wonder that is Sadaharu Aoki. He made me fall in love all over again with pastries and Paris, the birthplace of all things wonderful.

Patisserie Sadaharu AOKI Paris
35 Rue de Vaugirard and other locations
Metro: St Sulpice or Renne

Smoked Salmon Tarte on Naan

I was in Atlanta several months ago for business, and across the street from the hotel I stayed was this little French bistro with outdoor patio, just like you would see in streets of Paris. My colleagues / friends and I stopped by there for dinner one night, and went back for late lunch the following day. It wasn’t that the food was particularly special (the beuf bourguignon that I ordered was slightly on the bland side) but the atmosphere was so lovely that we had to go back for one more time before we headed to the airport. On both occasions, we shared a plate of Tarte Au Saumon, a thinly sliced smoked salmon, capers and tangy sauce layered on top of a flatbread, and loved every bite of it.

I decided to recreate the French appetizer for lunch today, using the leftover Indian naan I had in a freezer from Aarti’s Indian Pizza I made over the weekend (delicious!).  I purchased mine at Trader’s Joe’s (look for a package “Tandoori Naan” in a frozen food section. One package comes with four naan flatbreads).  This dish is really easy to make but sophisticated enough for a special occasion (like a luncheon with your girl friends) and is absolutely delicious. Too bad it was for a weekday lunch and I couldn’t wash it down with a chilled glass of Chardonnay!

Smoked Salmon Tarte
(Serves 1)

The Sauce:
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
1/2 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon capers
Salt and pepper to taste

1 Frozen Indian Naan
3 pieces of smoked salmon, or enough to cover the top of the flatbread
1/8 of onion, finely sliced
More capers to garnish
1 lemon wedge

Baked the naan based on the package instruction (I baked mine in 375 F degree oven for about 5 minutes). When the naan is baked, smear the sauce on top. Layer the smoked salmon and sliced onion on top, and sprinkle capers. Serve with a side of vegetable such as asparagus spears or broccoli rabe.

Sweet Nostalgia: Cream Puffs

mothers-day-002Cream puffs (or we call them “Choux Cream”) have a very special place in my heart, and probably in many Japanese kid’s as well. They were one of those special snacks that you only get on special days in Japan – birthdays, graduations, or when your mother’s rich friend visits (the guest either brings them as a gift, or your mother goes out to buy them to show off). Even now, I get pretty nostalgic when I make cream puffs, remembering the colorful rows of French-inspired puff pastries in a glass showcase in an upscale department store and wishing that I can have a piece.

Despite the sophisticated exterior and image, cream puffs are one of the easiest desserts to make. I’ve tried several recipes and liked them all, but decided to go with Martha Steward’s recipe from Baking Handbook this time for the first time because her version used a total of eight eggs between the pate a choux and the pastry cream, which was exactly the amount I had in a refrigerator (I was too lazy to run out to the store).

mothers-day-flowers-and-puffsI didn’t follow the recipe exactly and altered it slightly. Instead of using the recipe for Cream Puffs, I used the recipe for Pate a Choux and the Pastry Cream and combined them together to make my version of Cream Puffs. I added fresh strawberries to add a touch of spring to the dessert.

And look at the beautiful bouquet of flowers my boyfriend brought for my mother for Mother’s Day. They were beautiful and the wonderful floral scent, coupled with freshly baked cream puffs, filled the entire room with sweet nostalgia.

Best Friends Forever: La Frite

My best friend and her family recently relocated to a place far, far away, and although I’m really happy for her and her new life, the move has left a tremendous void in my heart … and my stomach. Not only was she my best friend, she was also my epicurean soul sister, and there was nothing we cherished more than spending time together over a glass of wine and fabulous food. And boy, did we eat over the years (but she never gained weight whereas I gained at least 20 pounds from hanging out with her! Man, what I do in the name of friendship!

One of the places we frequented was a little French cafe called La Frite in our neck of the wood because we both loved affordable, friendly, low-key places. The restaurant offered good food and relaxing atmosphere, and although I never thought it offered the best French food in town by any means, the experience certainly hit the spot whenever we were looking for a place to unwind after a long day at work.

The last time we were at La Frite, we spotted a lady eating a cheesy, casserole dish at a table next to us and I had to have whatever it was that she was having. The casserole turned out to be a Ratatouille Crepe. I ordered it out of curiosity and while the idea of having a ratatouille on top of a crepe and baked in cheese sounded heavenly, the whole thing was just a little tad too much for me. But it sure was interesting and I’m glad I tried it (I’m sure Remy will be proud of me).


Crepe Ratatouille

On the other hand, what my best friend ordered, I thought, was out of this world. It was a daily special of lamb smothered in garlic sauce. I though the meat was cooked to perfection (a little on the rare side which I prefer) and the garlic sauce made my eyes roll backward.


Rack of lamb with garlic sauce

And of course, what’s a French café experience without a plateful of perfectly golden French fries and …


…. cream burle to share?


I guess the reason why La Frite holds such a special place in my heart is because this was (along with other places all over town) our place where we shared laughter and, of course, food coma, together.

La Frite
22616 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills, CA 91364

Shabby and Chic: Riverside Cafe

a-matredA commercial I see on television often now is the one for Sour Patch Kids candy, where a chewy, sugar coated sour candy figure plays terrible pranks on people, only to get away with it because, “first they’re sour, then they’re sweet.” I don’t know anyone who’s charm is so big that they can actually get away with chopping off someone’s hair, throwing eggs with intent to hurt, and allowing a cheerleader to fall on her butt!

When it comes to a restaurant, however, there is a place that is so lovely and charming that it can get away with pretty much anything – even tables and chairs made out of cheap plastic straight from Home Depot.

Tucked away in the residential neighborhood of Burbank is Riverside Café, a roadside French bistro so tiny that you can drive by it and never realize that you just passed a little gem of a place. The restaurant serves selections from an authentic French menu, from French Onion Soup to lamb – a little difficult to believe from the extremely humble, bungalow-like exterior.

a-shephard-pieI ordered a medium rare Maitre’d (top), a 12 oz. steak smothered in rich and flavorful garlic butter mixed with a generous portion of chopped Italian parsley. The meat was a little on a tough side but a full juicy flavor burst in my mouth at every bite. My boyfriend ordered the Shepard Pie (above), a layer of seasoned, slow-cooked ground beef resting nicely between a bed of mashed potatoes from the chef’s daily offerings, with a side of crisp French fries (which I devoured most of, as usual).

A dining experience at Riverside Café is like having an intimate dinner at friend’s — a friend who has absolutely no sense of style with her not-so-chic-but-very-shabby floral table cloth and plastic furniture — but can cook up a wonderful and cozy meal that will compensate for all the shortcomings.

Riverside Café: 1221 W. Riverside Drive, Burbank, CA 91506