Category Archives: Restaurant

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! Trip to the Unilever Test Kitchen

A few months ago, I was contacted by I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter to attend a V.I.P. event at Unilever Test Kitchens  in New Jersey to test products and recipes .  I was truly ecstatic — #1 this would be my first traveling opportunity as a result of the blog and #2 I get to go on a FOOD related adventure, what’s not to love about that? The trip and expenses were all generously provided by ICBITNB (I am one lucky girl!).

They placed me in the swanky Hudson Hotel in New York right by the fabulous Columbus Circle.  It was a very modern-chic upscale hotel with random quirks that give it a little spunk.  The lobby was breathtaking, with the gigantic crystal chandelier and the open-window roof draped with plush green vines, gave the entire room a very cool greenhouse effect.

It was pretty amazing, the patio was converted into a bar at night.  Filled with the beautiful and the fabulous young professionals of New York City — I was pretty awestruck by it all.  Until I got assigned my room number.  I was placed in – “666”.


hotel clerk: yeah don’t pay attention to the number — I know what you’re thinking.

me: Are you sure satan doesnt live under the bed?

hotel clerk: Everyone has the same reaction, trust me it’s not cursed.

me: (*thinking to herself*) yeah easy for you to say because you’ve never slept there.

I accepted my room key wearily — Okay but if anything is funky I am requesting a different room!  Thankfully no evil juju seemed present.  The room was pretty small, especially the bathroom (anyone above 5’4″ would have leg room trouble big time haha) but the bed was very comfy.

I was able to meet up a couple of friends that lived near my hotel, and Patrick suggested Meze Grill — which is a Mediterranean themed eatery with a modern eco-friendly twist.  Owner Marwan Salem,  came up with the concept back in college: he wanted to offer a fast, healthy (extremely delicious) affordable meal with a modern Mediterranean twist.

Not only does Marwan make amazing food but he loves the planet — most of the restaurant is made from recycled materials, my favorite being the wooden walls made from recycled barn wood.  All of their dressings, dips and desserts are all made in house and they use all natural meats with no artificial ingredients.  One can see how Meze Grill was selected by diners as one of Google’s favorite places in New York to eat! (Out of the 28 million businesses, only less than 1% of businesses receive this honor.)

Now let’s move onto the food! You start out by selecting a choice of pita sandwich, rice platter or salad and then inventing your own creation from a vast choice of toppings and meats.  If you need a little help, any of the friendly employees will guide you down the right path 🙂

They make fresh pita chips daily which pairs perfectly with their rich and smokey babaghanoush — a Mediterranean dip made mainly from eggplant and of course the traditional hummus made from FRESHLY soaked chickpeas NOT canned.

I told Marwan to give me his special and he created a  half pilaf half bulgur wheat bowl with a falafel and grilled chicken on top and finished it with lettuce, tomatoes onions and my favorite — pickled turnips.  OKAY folks before you start scrunching your nose, these turnips are out of control.  THEY ARE SO GOOD, crunchy and brined in a magical concoction, I would put these on everything.  One of my favorite dressings would have to be the VEGAN garlic aioli, that’s right, it is not made from eggs — just a simple but perfect combination of garlic, olive oil and salt.  It packs a nice bite to awaken your senses.

I think my only complaint would be to have a bigger stomach, so I could’ve fit all of the delicious food that was given me, the portions are HUGE.  Not only did I find Meze Grill’s food to be inspiring but Marwan’s journey to this place reiterates my belief in life — “It is important to pursue your passions”.  Marwan is an inspiration indeed.

(pictured above: left, Patrick Chang; right, Marwan Salem)

Born into a family of mostly doctors, Marwan received family pressures to puruse the medical field.  But deep inside he knew his true calling was someplace else.  With the encouragement of his favorite college professor, Marwan followed his heart and opened up Meze Grill — a place that shares a piece of where he comes from as well as making it healthy and good for you.

It was really quite a pleasure to meet someone like Marwan — though we met as two strangers, I left the restaurant feeling as if I’ve made a friend.  His warm charismatic personality, instantly makes you feel at home– it is hard to meet people of such genuinity now and days.  I told Marwan – “Dude you gotta open up one of these in Texas, people would go crazy for it.”  His reply?  “One day I will.”  Marwan, I will be patiently waiting for that day :).  Until then you guys can enjoy the hummus recipe I made in honor of Marwan’s delicious food.   For all you lucky New Yorker’s, check Meze Grill out.  I promise you it won’t disappoint!

I hope you guys have a great weekend, please stay tuned for the 2nd part of my New York trip :)!

Part 4 of 5 — Wuxi SuZhou and Chenghuang Miao

The second part of the Wuxi trip we went to Turtle Head Peninsula on Tai Lake.  It is the most beautiful place of Tai Lake and the name comes from  the tip of the peninsula that is shaped like a turtle head!  Inside the park are ten famous scenic spots, which include Chongshan Garden, Jiangnan Orchid Garden, Taihu Fairy Islet, and Guangfu Temple.

We only had about an hour to venture through the park, so Collin and I practically sprinted through the different scenic spots.  Inside the park was filled with lush vegetation of vines, trees, and vibrant flowers, creating a serene and splendid view for the eyes.

The traditional Taoist culture has influenced this island in many ways of becoming a natural wonderland.  The Sanshan Taoist Temple built during the Taibo era (around 3,000 years ago) was actually the only Taoist temple built on an island in China.

Scattered all around the park were these uniquely shaped limestones, I especially liked the checker board carved into a large slab of stone, complete with 4 little stone chairs.  Legend has it that the emperor of the Song dynasty nearly bankrupted the country because of his obsession with finding these uniquely shaped limestone rocks.  What unusual formations they were indeed!

I saw this alluring women adorned in traditional Chinese silk robe playing the Gu Qin – which is a seven stringed zither with no bridge, I call it an old-fashioned Chinese piano.  The notes are strummed by the hand, creating different effects by the skillful techniques of well trained fingers. Confucius was actually a master in this instrument, and said it had powers of enriching the heart and elevating the human spirit.

There were so many different types of flowers, the colors and fragrance permeated throughout the entire park.  I couldn’t help but snap numerous pictures of their magnificent beauty, I find flowers fascinating.  To think that all of their traits were developed soley for evolutionary effects — with their sweet scents, rich colors, various formations — they not only attract humans but so many different types of animals and insects too!

A friend once jokingly said — “Joy you take pictures of food and FLOWERS.  You’re just like my mom, always snapping random pictures of flowers and trees and plants and stuffs.”  Gosh, I honestly have NO idea what she’s talking about! 🙂  It comes down to the basics for me though, the simplicities of life.  The beautiful and pure things that people often overlook throughout the day but never realize their enchanting effects.

9 times out of 10, if I see a beautiful flower I will stop to appreciate it — whether it’s to observe it’s exquisite flawless beauty or it’s intoxicating smells, it never ceases to amaze me what the world is able to create.  Are you diggin the babushka I am sportin on the left?  Also note the lack of enthusiasm on my face, that’s because sprinting through a freaking GIGANTIC park and then getting LOST in between made Zhang very tired.

Our last stop of the day: Su Zhou.  By this time, it was around 7:00 PM, we were all very tired but a wedding dress had to be made people!  Most well known for their silk industry, Su Zhou is also heavily populated with wedding factories (score!).  As we were taking the city bus to the area, Jiu Ma just so happen to sit next to a young man whose family designed wedding gowns. WELL THANK GOODNESS FOR THAT because upon our arrival, there were THOUSANDS of wedding dress boutiques I honestly don’t know where I would’ve started.  It was absolutely overwhelming.

But wait.  The story gets better. The minute I walked into the young man’s boutique I spotted a dress that was almost IDENTICAL to what I wanted.  I couldn’t believe my eyes, I literally thought I would be stuck in SuZhou for hours searching through hundreds of thousands of gowns until I found the perfect one.  Thankfully all the praying I did in the temples brought me good fortune :).  I picked out my dress, made a few modification, took some measurements and BAM I was out in less than an hour.  Oh did I also mention that my custom made gown was a whopping $85?  Verrry niiice!

After dress shopping we had to grab some grub.  We went to the main market center in SuZhou where there were numerous eateries, clothing stores and gift shops.  The streets were full of hip youngsters dressed in colorful and ecclectic fashions, I was surprised as to how up to date the youth seemed to be here.  I also saw this donut shop, probably the weirdest donut shop I’ve ever seen.  I usually go for the usual glazed and maybe on a good day I’ll go for a chocolate glazed with sprinkles.  They had crazy flavors like “Italian-style Bacon” (what the heck does Italian bacon taste like??), “Spicy Fluffy” (wow yeah I dont know about that..) and Burberry ( would that donut cost like $400?).  I did not buy one, I just couldn’t — all these flavors were just too much for me to handle. (Shipley’s will always be #1 in my heart.)

The next night, Jiu Ma (#1!) suggested that we check out one of the most famous market areas in Shanghai — Chenghuang Miao otherwise known as The City God Temple, an area of temples that are reminiscent of old Shanghai.  Back then, every Chinese city had a designated Temple of the Town God which served as a shrine for Daoist worship.  The temple in Shanghai was named “Cheng Huang Miao” which was devoted to the god of commerce.

However, the temple was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution but thankfully restored during the early 90s.  It now has been transformed into one of the largest marketplaces in Shanghai filled with gift shops, restaurants, bulk food shops, basically anything you can think of!

I loved the lighting of the shrines at night — the structures looked incredibly magestic.  It is hard to imagine that long ago these were the buildings people prayed in!  The antique Chinese architectural designs really brought you into another dimension of time, especially with the elegantly curved roofs crowning the shrines.

Nestled inside the shrines were individual vendors selling a variety of goods.  This woman sold hundreds of different types of Buddhist bracelets and name stamps carved from stone.  Back then when people wrote letters, instead of signing their signature they would have a name stamp containing the character of their last name.

This man sold Jian Zhi or Chinese Papercutting, an art practiced since the beginning of the Han dynasty in China when paper was first invented.  Back then people who used paper as a means for decoration were considered to be nobels and royalty.  Now they are used commonly in every household for decorative use, many families enjoy placing papercuttings by the front door to bring good fortune.  One must have much patience and a steady hand to master the art form of Jian Zhi!

This man sold miniature figurines and jewelery made from copper that he made with only a scarce set of tools and his hands.  If you look at the bottom left hand corner of the photo on the left, you will notice the miniature little figurines (you can barely see them) but I have blown them up in the picture on the right.  The detailing is pretty incredible, the figurine literally fit on the tip of my index finger.  He told me it took him about 6 hours to mold each of the miniature figurines, I think it’d take me a solid 6 weeks haha 🙂

Now.  Onto the important stuff…THE FOOD.  Oh man, the food possibilities are ENDLESS here.  Many people come to Chenghuang Miao for the infamous Xiao Long Bao — there is a small restaurant here (I do not know the exact address) that serves only Xiao Long Bao.  Don’t worry, you won’t have any trouble finding it once you are here — just look for the long lines that pour out of their doors (the wait could be as long as an hour sometimes!).

We actually went to the main food court for their wide range of options.  They serve hundreds of different types of traditional Shanghainese dishes — think lots of seafood, dim sum, soups, and steamed dumplings.  The woman in the photo above is serving “Tang Yuan”, tiny glutinous rice balls served in a steaming hot broth sweetened by Jiu Nian or fermented rice.  Some tang yuans are filled with traditional fillings like black sesame, red bean, etc.  The weird picture on the top right is Lotus Root stuffed with Glutinous Rice — for those of you who have never had Lotus Root it’s delicious.  It’s the root of the beautiful Lotus flower — with a very slimy but crunchy texture and slightly sweet nature, it is often stuffed with glutinous rice soaked in soy sauce and steamed to a wondrous perfection.

There were so many different types of crab — I honestly had no idea what kind they were.  The common crab we have here in Texas would be the blue crab and other than that I don’t see much else.  Here they had square shaped crabs, trapezoidal (is that a word?)  shaped crabs, tiny round looking crabs — I mean there were a lot of freaking crabs dude!

But don’t panic non seafood eaters, there’s plenty more to choose from.  They also had a variety of fried foods — fried chicken wings, tempura vegetables, fried fish cakes, fried rice cakes as well as various types of chow mein, soup noodles, cold noodles, hot noodles… I think even the pickiest of all picky eaters would be able to find something here.

They also had a HUGE selection of dimsum, some things I recognized other things I hadn’t a clue.  They had Xiao Long Baos, Glutinous Rice wrapped in Bamboo Leaves, various types of Puddings, Steamed Cakes and Desserts, different kinds of steamed dumplings, it was seriously the most intense dim sum spread I’ve ever seen.  Mind boggling.

Unfortunately, the dishes we picked actually weren’t that great.  The weather was really cold that day, and they don’t really use heaters here so all of our food was cold by the time we brought it back to our table 😦 Better luck next time as one would say!

With full tummys and empty pockets, we headed home to enjoy a homecooked meal from Jiu-jiu.  The livin is good in Shanghai!  🙂  My last installment will be more family photos, more food of course and any other random blurbs (they are pretty random…) If you have any questions about the places I’ve been or good places to eat in Shanghai, feel free to contact me!

Friday Night Dinners

At Mealtime Market, every Friday night Chef Thomas hosts a private dinner for about 8-10 people, reservations only.  The menu, which changes weekly, features a 3 course menu that also includes wine tasting!  At $70 a couple you start off with a choice of appetizers and soup, followed by an exquisitely prepared entrée by chef and ending with an array of sweets designed by yours truly :).

For an appetizer we had a Pan Seared Ahi Tuna served with Micro Greens and a Crisp Sesame Cracker drizzled with a Wasabi Vinaigrette.  I really enjoyed the delicate tuna with the crispness and the fragrance of the toasted sesame seeds on the cracker — it made a great combination of textures and flavors.

If you are not a fish person you could choose the second option which was a Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup — ooooh man this soup is delicious!  Being a huge fan of mushrooms I couldn’t help but sneak a bowl of this soup.  It was rich and decadent, with a delicate earthiness in every bite.  Also since the weather is cold, nothing soothes the soul like a bowl of warm soup.

It pairs perfectly with some freshly baked bread (which we offer)! Now let’s move onto the fun stuff — the beautiful entrees!

First choice of entree would be — Pan Seared Salmon served with Braised Spinach, Potato in a Blood Orange Bur Blanc.  The Bur Blanc sauce was rich with bright citrus notes which went perfectly with the tender salmon.  The spinach was braised with a little bit of garlic and olive oil served along side of some fluffy whipped potatoes.

Enticing, no?  The colors were really nice too, the creamy orange sauce contrasted with the blood orange slices made this dish very appealing to the eyes.  The salmon was seared to the perfect tenderness, the delicate flakes of salmon immersed impeccably with the decadent citrus bur blanc — I would’ve cleaned the plate but there was another entree that needed to be tasted!

The second entree was my favorite one of the night — Pan Seared Greek Chicken Breast in a Lemon Cream Sauce with Sauteed Cherry Tomatoes Kalamata Olives and Spinach topped with fresh Feta Cheese.  Talk about an amazing flavor combination!

The chicken was cooked perfectly, the meat was juicy and tender and immersed in the amazing lemon sauce that really gave this dish a kick.  Topped with the colorful vegetable medley and the fresh crumbled feta cheese,the only thing you’d be missing was a glass of ouzo and a loud and glorious “OPA!”.

I thought the fried lemon slice was a creative twist on using the fruit, it gave the dish a nice rustic appearance (I had to ask chef if it was edible and he said it definitely … was not 😦 ) The combinations of colors were beautiful, it was a color explosion on a plate!

I save the best for last of course — DESSERT! For the dessert trio we had Huckleberry Empanadas with a Huckleberry Vanilla Coulis, a Dark Chocolate Espresso Mousse with Chantilly Cream and Chocolate Shavings and Toasted Spiced Pecans.

I really loved the empanadas, I tucked fresh huckleberries and ricotta cheese into each one.  The result?  An ooey gooey filling paired with the flaky emapanda crust, it was almost like a miniature huckleberry pie!  The smells were absolutely amazing while baking these and the huckleberry vanilla coulis further accentuated the empanada.

Next we had the Dark Chocolate Espresso Mousse with Chantilly Cream — I love this mousse, it’s fluffy and airy yet rich and decadent.  The slight bitterness of the dark chocolate and espresso was calmed by the sweet Chantilly Cream and served alongside some fresh berries and chocolate shavings? MMMM HMMM!

I whipped some up to put in our cases as well, so if any one of you are around the neighborhood you should definitely stop by and visit 🙂 I even took it a step further and added some brownie chunks (From scratch of course!) and folded it into the chocolate espresso mousse.  Oh yeah, that’s right — Bad is my middle name!

Then we had the Toasted Spiced Pecans — these are always wonderful as a dessert, or ontop of another dessert, or makes a wonderful mid-afternoon snack.  I like to add a kick of cayenne since the Pecans have such a high oil content, it kind of wakes up your mouth a bit.

This is usually what I do to any innocent bystanders that I find sound asleep, I simply take out a Sharpie and scribble on their face, but since I am no longer in college and rarely have sleepovers my only options are my pets.  Don’t worry, I didn’t draw on Lily’s face THIS TIME, but next time instead of photoshop it’ll be a big BLACK MARKER face 🙂 I kid, I kid! Happy Friday folks, next week I plan on featuring an Indian Feast, Portabello Mushroom Risotto and last but not least…Turtle Cheesecake Cupcakes.

(image from

Now I usually don’t enter contests and sweepstakes because honestly I never win anything so I save myself the disappointment.  HOWEVER, this contest that I got through FoodBuzz just seemed to good to pass up so here it goes.

“… Foodbuzz has partnered with S.Pellegrino Sparkling Natural Mineral Water to provide the opportunity for two Featured Publishers to attend The S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition. The Almost Famous Chef Competition gives top culinary students from around the world a chance to showcase their skills to top chefs, culinary experts and media and the opportunity to win cash and a paid apprenticeship with a top chef to jumpstart their career.”

Now I am suppose to tell you guys why I’d like to attend.  Well the better question should be WHY WOULD I NOT WANT TO ATTEND??? What could honestly beat eating food artistically crafted by top chefs in NAPA VALLEY? That’s right, nothing.  I would spread the word by painting my entire body like the san pellegrino bottle and walk around with a huge sign that says “PICK ME TO GO TO NAPA VALLEY” — now granted I do not have a professional body painter on hand this will just have to do…

I think if I were chosen to attend I would do a fantastic job of keeping fans posted, a play by play if you will, on this fabulous event through numerous pictures and writing.  Did I also mention that Mealtime Market uses ONLY San Pellegrino to make our Italian Sodas??? That’s right we only use the best!

So San Pellegrino and FoodBuzz, pick me, Joy Zhang, to be YOUR guest at the S.Pellegrino Almost Chef Competition, I assure you you won’t be disappointed 🙂

Home Is Where the Heart Is

It has been a few months since I’ve been home to Houston to visit my parents.  I realize as I grow older, the more I begin to appreciate all the things my parents have done for me.  I often feel foolish for the way I acted during my adolescence but being good parents, they handled me with great patience and love.  Every time I leave home, I am always sad to go — granted I only live 4 hours away I miss being able to see my parents whenever I want to.

I had a wonderful time seeing my mom and dad, granted I did not have a traditional Thanksgiving, I had a wonderful one with both of my parents.  In the early afternoon, my father and sister and I along with some family friends went to eat at Kim Son — where they featured a hot pot and Vietnamese/Chinese themed buffet.  I am not a big fan of buffets, only because I tend to always over eat at them.  And this time was no different…

Where to begin?  There were so many buffet lines that I felt a little overwhelemd — a few for Hot Pot, Sushi, Hot Line, Cold Line, and Desserts.  They also had a side station where they served roast duck and soup noodles — that was probably my favorite station.  The Hot Pot selection was fair, they really didn’t have much of a meat selection — I was hoping for a glorious spread of chicken, beef, pork and lamb but all I found was pork.  My father actually asked them “Where is the lamb?”, they claimed it was frozen and after about 35 minutes they brought it out.  After getting an entire plate of lamb for the table, it turns out my dad doesn’t even like to eat it but wanted to get his money’s worth.  🙂 Asians always love a good deal.  The seafood spread was pretty extensive: shrimp, squid, various types of fish balls, tilapia, fresh crab, etc.

I always enjoy having hot pot during the winter, I have to say though that I think I enjoy having hot pot in the comfort of my own home than in a buffet styled restaurant.  The broth they provided was tasteless, probably because it was just tap water and to me that is one of the most important elements of a good hot pot meal.  I really enjoyed trying all the different Vietnamese dishes they had there — fried rice cakes, spicy beef noodle soup (Bun Bo Hue), Vietnamese Crepe (Bahn Xeo) were some of my absolute favorites!  They also had an impressive spread of some traditional Chinese cuisine but I figured nothing could beat my mother’s cooking so I ate mainly the Vietnamese food 🙂

They also featured “duck buns” which are pieces of roasted duck with green scallion and hoisin sauce nestled between a steamed sweet bun.  I ate at least three before moving onto the whole fried fish and the sauteed baby clams in black bean sauce.  The clams were so tender and very fresh too, the sauce could’ve used a little more punch but being at a buffet I guess beggars cant be choosers! You could also order plates of roast duck as well as udon noodles, vietnamese soup noodles, etc.

The dessert spread was really good — a lot of traditional Vietnamese desserts like flan, sweet glutinous rice with beans, steamed yam cake, bahn rau cau and other various cakes and confections made from sweet beans and glutinous rice.  In many instances it was like Thanksgiving, a wide variety of comfort foods with friends and family and eating until you couldnt move.  For $14.95/person for lunch it was a pretty good deal, there was definitely enough variety that would suit everyone’s tastes and there were many dishes that I thought were really exceptional.  Be careful, all the popular items like the Duck Buns and Crepes dissappear the minute the kitchen brings them out.   Since I am an intense eater, I waited patiently and then swooped in like an eagle the minute I saw the workers coming — what can I say?  I know what I want :).

I also thought it was cool how they had an interactive cooking station — here they are making Banh Bot Chien, a fried rice flour cake.  It’s delicious, the rice flour cake is nice and crispy on the outside and soft and gooey on the inside.  The batter is egg based and brings out the sweetness of the rice cakes and provides an interesting contrast in textures.   You can dip it in a sweet tangy soy sauce or eat it plain… *siigh* just writing about it makes me hungry for one.

For dinner, my mother took me out to eat lobster.  It was at this Chinese restaurant that I do not know the name of (I need to get it from my mom) but I was definitely skeptical.   I have never been a big fan of lobster, especially for the price.  To me, I’ve always felt like lobster just tasted like a bigger version of shrimp. After going here, I realize I felt this way because I’ve never had good lobster.

This lobster dish was amazing.  It was the only thing my mother and I ordered, Two Lobsters in a Ginger and Scallion Sauce.  I think this is a popular Cantonese dish and this restaurant cooked it perfectly.

The sauce was sensational — rich but not oily, the flavors were so delicate with the ginger and scallion infused into the tender morsels of lobster.  They also cut it in easy to eat pieces, so you are not furiously digging for the meat.  The sweetness of the lobster was incredible, definitely not comparable to shrimp like I thought before.

I loved the light batter that covered the lobster shells, soaking in the delicious sauce while capturing the essence of the sea.  It was honestly one of the best lobster dishes I’ve ever had.  My mother and I finished the entire dish to ourselves, without a single shred of lobster to spare.

Being home has really brought me back to my roots, I realize since launching this site I have not really showcased my original background in food: Chinese Cuisine.  I realized how much I miss the flavors and the wide variety of ingredients used that I immediately became inspired to share my love for Chinese food with my readers.  I’ve mostly shyed away from making Chinese food because the resources for Asian products are quite scarce around Dallas and the selection is not always great.  However, I’ve found a market that I think will be able to provide great ingredients so I am excited to share some Chinese dishes with you so stay tuned!