MEGU New York: Friends in high places lead to magnificent spaces by Amanda Liew

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Taste: 4.5 / 5Ambience: 4 / 5 Would you want to eat there again?: Yes Was the price worth it?: No

"Do you have dinner plans for tonight?" And that was the little text I got which led to the best Friday night surprise yet. I first met my friend Amalie at Penn through Greek InterVarsity, but since moving to New York, we've become so much closer thanks to joining the same church and running in the same communities. Though she would certainly laugh that she's a "friend in high places," she does in fact hold a crazy cool job, and her boss had an unused gift certificate to Megu, an asian-fusion restaurant, that was going to expire that day. Ever so flattered I would be considered for such a cool outing, we quickly made reservations and battled the freezing cold to make it there alive. We were rather surprised by the fact that we could make a same-day reservation at the Tribeca location and by how empty it was (only half of the tables were filled), but we wondered if that was attributed to the awful weather outside. photo (29)

Because we had a restaurant voucher, the 5-courses were already pre-set. We started out with the "Crispy Okaki Aspargus" - Japanese cracker battered asparagus which was presented in such a fascinating way. The savory crackers added such an interesting (and familiar) flavor to the asparagus which we both enjoyed quite a bit. We were surprised, though, because it seemed to be quite a filling appetizer and first-course. Next, we had the Seaweed Salad which was light and surprisingly flavorful.

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Our third course was a few different components. We had goat "meatballs", roasted peppers and scallops (not pictured). The goat meatballs were rich in flavor, but not overly oily which I appreciated._DSC0099_Megu 2014

For our entrees, we were given a few choices and I selected the kobe beef with caramelized onions. Little  did I know that it would come on a lava stone and be lit on fire. Casual. I snapped as many pictures as I could and absolutely love how the photographs turned out. Fire is such an interesting subject - it's constantly moving and you can never truly capture it's essence, can you? At the same time, the blend of blinding whites, oranges, yellows, and blues is such a beauty you can't find anywhere else._DSC0100_Megu 2014 _DSC0102_Megu 2014

I was amazed at how tender the kobe beef remained - I suppose the quick sear served its purpose to caramelize the onion and the outside of the beef, leaving the inside a perfect medium-rare. It was an excellent portion size as well._DSC0105_Megu 2014

Amalie selected the pork chop with (ginger?) sauce on it. She loved it just as much, although there were no flames on this one!_DSC0106_Megu 2014

At last, the 5th course of our meal was dessert! Little did we know that we would have not one, not two, but three components to desserts. We each got a mini creme-brulee, a multi-layered green tea crepe cake, and a chocolate lava cake. The creme brulee and chocolate cake were quite standard, so I was most excited to dig into the green tea crepe cake. However, I found that the texture was a little mushier than expected. The cream, without a doubt, was phenomenal and had a subtle tea bitterness to it which I thought made it more authentic. However, I think the crepe layers were in fact too thin and therefore became soggy from the creme. The creme brulee was the winner of the trio, but then again I tend to love creme brulee more than other desserts. (Unfortunately at this point, my DSLR died and I resorted to my iPhone)photo (33) photo (34) photo (35)

And of course, who can resist a 6th course of late night lattes?photo (32)photo (31)All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed the meal. However, by the end of it we started wondering whether or not we would have found the meal worth it had we paid for it in-full. The voucher on Gilt Group was $119 total, so at roughly $60/person for a 5-course meal, it would be more than reasonable. However, at a full-price of an estimated $200 or more, we agreed that it wasn't worth $100/person. Of course, the meal was still fantastic overall and if money is not an object for you, I would recommend it. Many thanks to Amalie for bringing me along and treating me to such a wonderful spontaneous night!

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In terms of photography, I tried to use my 50mm prime lens, but with such dim lighting and social acceptable behavior severely limiting me, the photographs didn't turn out nearly as well as I had hoped. The ISO had to be blasted so high just to get some sort of focus, and even then I was too close to get the full subjects in focus. If any other photographers have some experience shooting in restaurants, I would love to learn more! Namely, how do you get a decent photo without completely embarassing the rest of your party? Haha luckily Amalie was a good sport through and through and even helped me move plates around so I could get better shots.

City Living | City Loving

I've realized that despite moving to New York City eight months ago, I still have yet to actually blog about this city. When I first moved here, I was so awe of this city. Even after two summers here, this city blows my mind time and time again with its endless beauty, mouth-watering restaurants, and a whole new breed of people. Without even realizing it, I started hashtagging my Instagram accounts with #citylivingcityloving - it just sounded so right, and I was positive I had heard it before. Soon, my friends started making fun of me with #countrylivingcountryloving and all sorts of ridiculousness. When I clicked on the hashtag itself, I realized that apparently I'm the only person in the world who uses this saying. So hey, in the spirit of that, I've started a new category on my blog to feature NYC at its finest: City Living | City Loving.

Measured by the broth: Ramen at Tajima by Amanda Liew

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While back in San Diego over Christmas, my family decided to warm ourselves up on a chilly day (aka dropping below 60 degrees) with some delicious bowls of ramen! We went to Tajima 2 and ordered 4 bowls of the Kakuni Ramen (pork belly & egg) with thin cut noodles and the original Tonkotsu broth along with a squid appetizer and scallop croquettes. Personally, the scallop croquettes were my favorite - I'm amazed at how the outside can maintain a perfect crispyness without getting soggy, yet the inside breaks open into a tasty scallop mix. As for the ramen, the pork belly and egg were so tender and flavorful and the noodles were absolutely divine. One issue we had, though, was that the broth was a little bit on the blander side. Ramen is often measured by the quality of the broth and I would have much preferred a richer taste. Nevertheless, it was still a solid bowl of ramen and I would definitely return!_DSC0342_Christmas 2013 _DSC0343_Christmas 2013 Photography Comments / Critiques:

One thing that I wanted to test out in this restaurant was shooting in low light - even with the low aperture, I had to turn up the ISO pretty high. The croquettes photograph turned out the best (also due to the amount of depth I could get) and was shot at f/2.2 1/50 ISO3200. For both the ramen and the squid I had to up the ISO to 12800 in order to accommodate an f/4.5 aperture which makes the photo so much grainier than I had anticipated - it's hard to tell when you're quick shooting and just looking at your screen!

Also, I recently discovered that for my Nikon D3100, the autofocus assist light that goes off when you press halfway down on your shot can be turned off! There have been way too many times I look obnoxious in a dimly lit restaurant and wish I had known that.

I just can't seem to stay away: Brockton Villa at the Cove by Amanda Liew

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Returning to the Cove yet again, my childhood best friend Ruth & I decided to try out a new brunch spot: Brockton Villa! The restaurant is actually located at the street level of the Cove, almost directly underneath George's. Nevertheless, the view was still as beautiful as ever, and we were lucky enough to snag one of the tables closest to the water. I ordered the Puerto Huevos Steamer (above) and Ruth ordered the House Made Beer Brined Corned Beef Hash (below). As a huge lover of chorizo and soy chorizo, I wasn't mightily impressed with my dish. I thought it would have worked better separating the eggs and chorizo separated - the way that it was mixed together made the flavors hide in each other. I also should have anticipated that the eggs would be wetter since they are steamed, but I thought that detracted as well. Ruth enjoyed her dish, but I think wasn't overly blown away by it either. We both agreed that it was quite a heavy dish for brunch - I'm wondering if they could have found a way to balance the strong flavors yet make it lighter. Perhaps a different "vehicle" for the hash? The service was wonderful and the view was great as well. I regret not ordering the Coast Toast which they are supposedly famous for (I'll forever be torn with the savory-or-sweet question at brunch!) I'm not sure I'll be returning here since I think there are other fabulous brunch options in La Jolla and the beach is always an easy post-meal walk away._DSC0349_Christmas 2013 _DSC0356_Christmas 2013 _DSC0360_Christmas 2013 _DSC0364_Christmas 2013 _DSC0374_Christmas 2013

These are a few of my favorite things...George's at the Cove by Amanda Liew

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One of the things I was most excited about with getting my Nikon 50mm prime lens was shooting more...FOOD! Whenever I'm back home in La Jolla, I try my best to cram all of my favorite restaurants and all of my favorite home cooked meals into the few days I'm back. While I went straight from the airport to In-N-Out (animal style fries and a cheeseburger with grilled onions, please), my post-Christmas lunch with my little sister, Kiersten, had to be at my all time favorite restaurant George's at the Cove! As a native La Jollan, I have two favorite restaurants in the village: Don Carlos Taco Shop for that authentic Southern California style Mexican food, and George's at the Cove's for delicious new American lunches with a view. The restaurant is technically three levels, and I've admittedly never gone to the "actual" restaurant for dinner, because I'm too obsessed with the Ocean Terrace's views during midday. In years past, you had to wait at least an hour or two to get a lunch table on the weekends, but the world rejoiced when they finally took reservations on Open Table (hallelujah!). The view from the terrace looks out upon a phenomenal view of La Jolla Cove on the left and La Jolla Shores on the right - it's truly breathtaking. The weather was unbelievable at a hot 79 degrees, but our very wonderful waitress kept us cool with endless water and ice teas.

This picture really doesn't do it justice - I almost creeped in between two tables to get a better shot, but decided I better not._DSC0328_Christmas 2013We started with the chips and salsa ($6) which is a huge plate that can really be shared by 4-5 people. I ordered the Blackened Seasonal Fish Sandwich ($13.5) which was so flavorful and spiced the perfect amount. The bread is often one of the key parts of a sandwich and I was super happy with it's perfect crunchyness. Also, it had avocado and who doesn't love avocado? I opted for the side salad which was surprisingly tasty with a tangy champagne dressing (I say surprisingly because so few restaurants actually put effort into the salads or fries that come on the side!)_DSC0325_Christmas 2013

Kiersten ordered the Grilled White Shrimp with Tabbouleh Salad which was much different than what we expected, but in a good way. The shrimp was plentiful and the presentation showed a lot of attention to detail._DSC0326_Christmas 2013

So there it is, one of my favorite things: George's at the Cove! _DSC0330_Christmas 2013I don't think this blog is popular enough for a disclaimer of any sort, but I'm not affiliated with George's or any other establishments. All opinions, however, are highly influenced by my taste buds.

Photographic Thoughts/Critique: Sometimes with photographing food at restaurants, I feel the need to choose between embarrassing myself/everybody else at my table and getting a good shot. I'm hoping getting good shots will become easier and easier as I practice, but there are some imperfections with my photos that definitely drive me crazy. For example, I think the chips and salsa photograph would be more interesting/stronger if the salsa were more in focus rather than the chips. One thing I've found particularly difficult with the 50mm prime lens is being too close to my subject and not being able to focus easily on the right spot. I often have to back up more but then I don't get the close up cropping I want. As for the sandwich, I think I could have rearranged it a little bit to show the inside details (the fish, avocado, etc.) to let the photograph describe itself. Again, how much do you want to look like a fool at a restaurant? And finally, I think the shrimp salad could have benefited from including the end of the bread stick on the left to make a balanced photo. The end is cropped off and a little distracting to the eye.