Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Vietnamese @ Xinh Xinh Cafe in Urbana

Growing up, my family would go out to eat Vietnamese food almost once a week, so I'm always on the lookout for good Vietnamese restaurants. When we found out there was a new Vietnamese place in Urbana we rushed up to it at the first oppurtunity! A few days ago we went for our third visit to try one of the specials which I highly recommend if it's still available (many of the specials rotate in and out of the menu).

The special was a salt and pepper fried shrimp rice dish. The shrimp was super cripsy and tasty, flavored with salt, pepper and crunchy fried garlic bits, and it was served with pickled vegatables over rice and garnished with cilantro. Ironically, I used to hate those pickled vegatables as a kid, but now I think they complement the dish perfectly. There was also a tangy pepper-lime dipping sauce that accented the shrimp well. It encapsulated what I love about vietnamese food - the flavors are light and fresh and aren't overpowering, and theres a balance of hotness, sweetness and tartness that I don't think any other cuisine matches.

As an appetizer we had grilled marinated beef skewers that were extremely flavorful and tender. Along with staples like pho, vietnamese BBQ meats are some of my favorite parts of it, so these were right up my alley. The side of spicy carrot and papaya salad was delicious and balanced out the saltiness of the beef with some sourness.

Mollie has become completely addicted to the banh mi's at Xinh Xinh, particularly the BBQ pork one filled with pickled carrots, daikon radish and cilantro. If you've never had a Banh Mi before, it's a very unique experience. They're the result of the French influence in Vietnam, sort of like early fusion cuisine. The one's I'm used to in Toronto were usually also filled with a sort of rolled pork and pate, but Xinh Xinh has a very wide assortment of them that I'm eager to try.

They also serve bubble tea (aka boba tea) - tea served with tapioca balls. I ordered the milk tea while Mollie got the green tea. Hands down, Xinh Xinh's got the best bubble tea in town, at least out of the several places we've had it so far. The trick is getting the tapioca to have the right consistency, and they nailed it here.

All in all, whenever we're in Champaign-Urbana, we have a hard time not returning to this place, and we can't wait to try their other dishes. I'll have to post again sometime about their pho, and they recently announced that they're beginning to serve vermicilli bowls which I'm REALLY looking forward to! Just be warned that at the moment they don't take credit or debit.

Xinh Xinh Cafe
114 N Vine St
Urbana, IL 61802
(217) 337-7600

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dim Sum @ Saigon in Champaign

Mollie's been bugging me to finally get into this food blogging shenanigans, so I thought I'd make my first post about one of my food LOVES - Dim Sum!

Coming from Toronto which is a huge metropolitan city with a large Chinese community, I really took Chinese food for granted. When I first moved to Charleston, IL I was a little shocked at how the only Chinese food you could really get was in buffets. Soon enough I was yearning for many of the dishes I could get so readily in Toronto, and two of them were Chinese BBQ and Dim Sum. While I've yet to find a Chinese BBQ joint (that's a topic for another blog post), I was ECSTATIC that we managed to find a really great place for Dim Sum in Champaign-Urbana called Saigon.

While the restaurant is primarily a vietnamese place (we'll have to blog about their vietnamese fare after another visit!), they have a bunch of Chinese dishes on the menu, along with a dim sum menu they serve until 3PM. For the uninitiated, dim sum is sort of like the Chinese version of tapas or brunch - small servings of various appetizer-like dishes, usualy served with tea. Traditionally dishes are just marched out onto little carts while the waitresses call out what they have and you pick things off the cart, but here things are made to order. You lose a little of the dim sum experience this way, but at least you know what you're getting is fresh. While they don't have every single type of dim sum I'm familiar with, their selection is very good and the quality is quite excellent! Now onwards to the food!

Here is one of Mollie's favorites. I'm not sure what the real name is (I'm not fluent in Chinese), but I've always called them breadstick rolls. I think they called them bread stick crepes on the menu. They're crispy deep fried bread sticks wrapped with a soft, thick rice paper roll called cheung fun, topped with green onions and drizzled with a sweet soy sauce. The contrasting textures and the sweet and saltiness mixes together into a pretty addictive package.

If you like calamari, this dish is right up your alley - curried baby octopus (though I believe they're actually cuttle fish, but I could be wrong). They're steamed in curry sauce and the result is an extremely tender texture with just a little bit of bite to it. The best thing is biting into the cap part of having the curry sauce explode in your mouth. Don't be scared away by the tentacles!

Next up we had something I *believe* is called something like Oo Gok, but it was called a Deep Fried Taro Dumpling. I affectionately call them "hairy balls". The dumplings are made of taro which is a root vegatable sort of like potato, but stickier. It's stuffed with ground pork and fried in some sort of batter that becomes super fluffy as you can see. YUMMY!

Next up was stuffed eggplant. I believe they're stuffed with deep fried minced shrimp and covered with a chicken broth-based sauce that had subtle hints of ginger and soy and finally topped with green onions.

Here is one of my favorites, a steamed BBQ Pork Bun, aka Char Siu Bow. These morsels of steamed heaven are filled with a sweet and savory BBQ pork that will instantly ignite your appetite when you crack one of these bad boys open and let the steaming aroma fill your nostrils.

These are called Shu Mai and they're steamed pork and shrimp dumpling wrapped in a wonton skin. I believe there's also a little mushroom mixed in with the pork and shrimp. They're a staple of any Dim Sum menu and you can't go without trying them. They're perfectly cooked and tender, and you'll find yourself wanting more after you've quickly popped them all down.

Here's my favorite - steamed shrimp dumblings (aka har gow). shrimp is stuffed into these little sticky rice flower pockets and steamed. Again, this dish is a staple of dim sum meals that I simple MUST have every time we go. This last time they might've been a tiiiiny bit overcooked (usually they're completely emaculate), but I still wolfed them down like there was no tomorrow.

We finished off our meal with these steamed egg sponge cakes that are topped with a few sesame seeds. They're extremely fluffy, but have a little elasticity from the eggs and are the perfect way to end a meal.

So, all in all, for this transplanted Chinese-Canadian Toronto native, Saigon's dim sum is a godsend that I highly recommend for people in central Illinois looking for dim sum, or people totally unfamiliar with dim sum who want to try something new that's not your usual Chinese buffet fare. Trust me, you won't regret it!

1333 Savoy Plaza Ln
Savoy, IL

(217) 351-8880

Monday, March 16, 2009

Siam Terrace

A few weeks back, we stopped in to Siam Terrace in Urbana for some dinner. I wish I would have taken a few interior photos - it is pretty cute inside. Instead, here's a shot of our Thai Iced Tea:

YUM. We had the Dragon Shrimp as an appetizer: "Four marinated tiger shrimp wrapped in egg noodles and deep fried served with our special orange sauce."

These are delicious. The sauce was sort of like orange juice - quite watery, so we dipped them in the sweet chili sauce that came with our other appetizer, eggplant tempura:

We shared 2 entrees - the first: scallops in a clay pot with glass noodles (below). The scallops were perfect and gingery. Highly recommend this dish!

The second was the Pad See You - big ole flat noodles! This dish is super yummy and i love eating those wide noodles.

The whole reason for this post? To show the best dessert in Champaign-Urbana: the fried bananas with coconut ice cream and honey. OMG - you have to save room for these. I'm actually thinking right now of going up there tonight just for these dang bananas. Ken calls this his "Ratatouille" moment - the scene where the critic eats the ratatouille and flashes back to his childhoood. He says these bananas do that to him! Just look at them:

They are hot little blobs of goodness.

Siam Terrace
212 W. Main Street
Urbana, IL

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


YES - we made okonomiyaki the other night and it was awesome as usual. Okonomiyaki is like Japanese pancakes. They are savory, though. Wikipedia just taught me this: "The name is derived from the word okonomi, meaning "what you like" or "what you want", and yaki meaning grilled or cooked." I think it is one of the best things we make at home. And we get to do it together - awww. <3 Did you know there is another contributor to this blog? It seems like it's just me - right? Oh well, let's move on....

You are going to need a few things from the store, including what you see above - the okonomiyaki sauce and japanese mayonnaise and (optional) benito flakes. You can include any kind of meat you'd like in the mix. We used bacon and little shrimp, but use whatever you'd like. Here's a list of ingredients:
whatever meat items (we used about 8 strips of crumbled bacon and about a cup of mini shrimp)
1 cup flour
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups shredded cabbage (I use cole slaw mix in a bag)
1/4 cup green onions, chopped
2 tablespoons pickled ginger, chopped (I throw it into the food processor for a second, as you see below)
2 eggs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 sheet of torn up nori
bonito flakes (optional)
okonomiyaki sauce
japanese mayo ( both available at most asian grocery stores)

I put the flour, water and salt in a bowl first and mix them up. Then add everything but the sauce, mayo and benito flakes. It turns into a really chunky batter.

Heat up a pan on medium heat with some vegetable oil and pour a little pancake shaped portion on.

Let it sit like you would a pancake, until the underside gets brown. Then flip it over! Smoosh it down so that it all gets cooked. Use a brush to brush on the okonomiyaki sauce on the done side while the other side cooks.

After both sides are cooked, plate it up and squeeze on your Japanese mayonnaise. Then, if you'd like, scatter some benito flakes on top of that. If I had video you would see that they are fluttering around on top looking rather lively.

As you can see, you then both tear away at it with chopsticks (while the next one cooks) like little okonomiyaki vultures.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Hey there. We went to Yellowfin in Champaign this past weekend for lunch and remembered to take pictures! And the pictures look nice since it was daytimey out.

So here is our predicament: it's hard to choose between sushi places! We usually go between this place, Sushi Kame (also in Champaign) and two places in Terre Haute, IN: Sushi Umi and Tokyo Japanese. All are excellent. But this time we chose Yellowfin. It is attached to an Asian grocery store and when we popped in there after eating I saw that they were selling little sushi trays to go. Or were they? It seems like I saw that. Anyway.

The waitress brought us complimentary miso soup and then a little plate of squid salad and oysters - all of this was very good. Ken ordered the Ten Don, which was various tempura over rice and vegetables. And here it is:

I like how he is all poised over it ready to pounce.

Then the waitress brought our big board of rolls:

Nice, huh? I'll try to remember which ones we got. This one below (to the right in the photo) is the deep fried California roll. It might have a name that I can't remember, or it might be called that. It is soooooooo good. I realize now that Ken should have written this post so he can tell you if there's special sauce or anything in it. I just know it is a California roll - deep fried. It makes the rice all gooey and yum.

Look how cute the little carrot/wasabi butterfly is!! The sushi chef here is very creative and my favorite of all the places we go to when it comes to these little details.

Next we have the sushi pizza. I asked Ken to describe it: "I believe spicy salmon with some spicy mayo drizzled on it. And that was a tempura fried rice cake." and "I think it also had some bbq sauce on it. The same kind they put on the eel." I am bad at remembering what is in things.

And now the dragon roll. They have a few different dragon rolls on the menu, this is just the plain old dragon. Now I can't remember what was inside, but it has eel and avocado on top with a bbq type sauce. It is delicious and as you can see: dragon-ey. Next to it is one that I can't remember now. I think it was a spicy tuna over spicy salmon. But I am second guessing myself here.

And just like that, it is all gone!

Yellowfin is very cute inside and they have pretty good service - sometimes they are very busy and it gets a little slower. Make sure you come early if it's a weekend since it's a pretty small place that packs really fast. Twice we arrived at prime dinner time and had to find another place to eat since we were too hungry to wait for a table. Not sure if they do reservations or not. They used to also have Korean dishes on the menu, but have taken that part off, which is sad - those were good, too! It is one of our favorite restaurants.

Yellowfin's Address:
303 Cedar St
Champaign, IL 61820

and their phone number:
(217) 351-7878

Monday, February 23, 2009

Bruschetta for Dinner!

So good. And you think you will want something else, but really you don't need anything else. We found this idea looking through a Nigella cookbook. We just bought a loaf of Italian bread and cut it up and put it in the toaster oven. Then while that is toasting you scoop out 2 avocados and mix it with fresh Italian parsley, salt, black pepper and lime juice. Chop up a tomato and mix it with olive oil, salt, pepper and oregano. And then take the toast out and drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on it and top it with the mixtures. Then proceed to eat the whole loaf like that. It's so quick and it makes you feel like you're being healthy! And economical!