Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Meal of the Month: December

It was another busy month of eating. And I'm not even going to count the meals I had in Hong Kong at the end of December...those will have to be it's own separate post. Just like those delicious meals in early December while I was in Australia. I guess meals had in a foreign country don't count.

What that leaves is about two weeks time when I was in California in December. Throw in Christmas party after Christmas party, and two multiple Christmas dinners...and you get a lot of delicious meals.

The feast that my friend Michael prepared for a small group of us in early December was a highlight (and I'm still waiting for photos from Michael!!) But the delicious stew was roasted in a beautiful pumpkin, and I find myself still craving those bacon wrapped asparagus spears. Yum!

I had a classic home cooked meal with Christy, Rick and the boys...a yummy turkey meatball spaghetti. The beauty of this simple, but delicious meal was of course the company. Seated in between two of my favorite little boys in the whole world, the meal was extra special because I was with my Sacramento family.

There was the night I had dinner with my good friend Matt and his family right before Christmas. Seeing Matt is always a treat, and we had a great time making a Ina Garten chicken stew with biscuits. Surrounded by Matt, Mama Maureen, and 'little brother Brendan' was a special treat. I always love my time out there with them, and it's also one of those special places when I feel right at home. The wine is always flowing, and the conversation, laughter, stories, and jokes make the night fly by. The chicken stew was DELICIOUS, and the minor 'biscuit incident' was well worth it!!

Not to mention of course the AMAZING dinner Christmas Eve I had with my family and our good family well as our Christmas dinner that my dad prepared. Both of those feasts would have won out in any normal month. Hands down.

So why aren't I talking about those meals? Because as soon as I had finished the winning Meal of the Month, I knew it was going to have to be my December Meal of the Month. The winning meal was my dinner at Quince Restaurant in San Francisco.

My friend Wendy was celebrating a birthday (a good friend never tells how old!!) and like me, she's a food person. We decided to go to Quince for dinner to celebrate. She's been many times, and I've been wanting to go for a long time. A friend of mine is the executive chef there, and he's been telling me I needed to go in. And then what really did it? Was when I was talking to Chef Neil Perry in AUSTRALIA, and he mentioned that Quince was one of his favorite restaurants in the world. Done. I had to go there for dinner, and I had to go soon.

Quince is the most adorable restaurant, located in lower Pacific Heights. The restaurant is small--maybe 50 seats? 60 max I'd guess? We waited a few minutes for our table, and the maitre 'd gave us a beautiful sparkling rose to help pass the time while we waited. It was perfect, and gave me the chance to really look around the restaurant and take it all in.

We sat down and quickly decided that we weren't going to order a la carte, nor were we going to order the tasting menu. We were going to let Chef Evan cook for us. We started with an amuse that had three little bites on the plate, a crab salad, smoked salmon and porchini arancini ball. Each were perfect!

Throughout the meal, we couldn't resist eating the delicious bread and bread sticks that were put in front of us. Those bread sticks are incredible, light and hollow inside.

From there, we ate an olive oil poached octopus that was served with escarole and a persimmon puree. I love octopus. But it's not easy to prepare. And I've had some bad octopus in my day too--from being overcooked and rubbery, to being burned. So it took everything in me not to clean my plate (and I had to explain to our server that I was just pacing myself, not that I didn't love the dishes!) But I knew we still had a lot of food ahead of us.

Next up was scallops. Served with a pomegranate puree and a little sliver of a Mandarin orange. SO SO GOOD. I did finish this plate. I had to. Both of those courses were paired with a dry Riesling from north east Italy. Perfectly paired.

We moved onto our pasta courses. Now Quince is well known for their house made, fresh pastas. We started off with a sea urchin spaghetti. It was PERFECTLY paired with a viognier blend. I am a big sea urchin fan, and loved this unique preparation. (Up until then, I've only had fresh raw sea urchin and a warm sea urchin served in the shell at Anchor & Hope in San Francisco.)

We moved onto a black pepper pappardelle served with a local goose and pumpkin puree. Also perfect, and so seasonal.

The next pasta course (yes, that's three pasta courses!) was probably my absolute favorite in the night. It was actually TWO pastas on one dish (ok, so I guess you can technically say we had four pasta courses...). On the right hand side there were small round ravioli like pastas filled with a mixture of veal and guinea hen. SO GOOD. On the right hand side, we had a salsify puree and black truffle stuffed ravioli, larger than the ones on the right hand side. This was my single favorite item of the night. Paired perfectly with a sangiovese, I could eat this every day.

By this time, I had not only not finished everything on my plate, I was only taking small bites (except for the salsify/truffle pasta, I ate it all.) With a slightly guilty face, we had to tell the server, that we were getting full. He told us to hang more course to go.

The last course was a huge treat. Unlike all of the other courses, we each had a different dish! We tried a guinea hen with a turnip puree, a duck with parsnip and squash, and a lamb. All were amazing. And I honestly loved each and every one of those dishes.

We gave our server a very quick "NO" answer when he asked if we wanted a cheese course. Instead we ended with a few shared light sorbet desserts for the table. SO GOOD.

Now dear reader. I tried my best to remember every single dish and preparation. BUT. I usually rely on my photos to jog my memory for each dish. Well, not only is my friend Chef Evan not a big fan of people taking photos in the restaurant, his restaurant is TOO DARK for photos. I didn't want to use the flash (that didn't seem appropriate), but without it, the photos were really not coming out. I tried to jot down notes when each course was presented. But after awhile, with the wine kicking in...and my food coma was just getting harder and harder. Deepest apologies to Evan and Quince if I've gotten my details a little mixed up. It really was one of the most amazing meals I've ever had. Maybe I'll just need to go back and eat again!

Monday, December 29, 2008

My Last Meal

The Last Meal game. It’s one games chefs like to play the most. And a question I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. There was a book published last year ("My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals", it's on my Christmas wish list!) where chefs were asked this very question. I was thinking about it again recently when I saw this post on Slashfood.

Because now it's my game, I get to set the rules. And my rules are? There are no rules. I get to pick whatever I want to eat (can be multiple dishes for the meal), made by whomever I choose to make it for me, and I get to eat this meal with anyone that I want to eat this meal with. The chefs and dinner company? Can be dead or alive.

What would your last meal be? Who would you eat it with?

For my last meal, a lot of thoughts come to my mind.

One of my first thoughts? I'd crave the simpler days of my childhood. Every Saturday, without fail, my parents and sister and I would climb into the car and drive the 45 min or so up the Peninsula to San Francisco to visit my grandparents. We’d spend the day grocery shopping in Chinatown, the afternoons playing in my grandparent's house with my cousins, and then at the end of the day, we’d all sit down around their long kitchen table and sit and have a meal together.
My grandfather and grandmother would have spent the last few days preparing this meal, doing the grocery shopping and prep work. Spending hours chopping and cutting, preparing stocks for soups. We’d feast of my grandfather’s delicious fish cakes, which weren’t flat and your typical fish cake. They were actually more cylindrical spheres, kind of puffy. He wouldn’t buy fish paste, he’d make his own. And actually spend the time chopping up the fish by hand until it was a paste. And they had finely minced dried shrimp and small pieces of Chinese sausage in them. They were delicious. And one of my most absolute favorite things to eat in the whole world. I can still see him standing there with his ratty old green apron.

Another thing on the table? We would have tons of veggies. Sometimes some roasted pork. And if we were lucky, my grandmother’s perfectly steamed eggs. Such a simple dish, and yet something that is so hard to make. I can still picture the dishes she had, white with simple purple flowers on the side.

Those family dinners rank pretty high up there for me…and if I could recreate one of those nights for my Last Meal, I’d be pretty happy.

The other contender? My family’s Christmas dinner. We typically had Christmas dinner just the four of us, and my mom would prepare a delicious roast beef. The entire house would smell so good, and my sister and I would walk by the stove and have to resist opening the oven door. Instead, we’d turn on the little light in the oven, and look in to see what progress the beef had made.

We'd have white rice and baked potatoes (which I would eat with my mom’s delicious gravy drizzled on all over.) There would always be vegetables, usually Chinese broccoli. Sometimes there might be a baked yam that we'd drizzle honey all over.

A simple meal, but that would leave us all satisfied and stuffed. When we were young, we’d get to drink sparkling apple cider in these special wine glasses that my dad had. And as we got older, the real wine came out, but we still used those special glasses.

The best part? The leftovers. After dinner, my mom would take the pieces of leftover roast beef and spend time dicing them all up into smaller pieces. The next day, we’d always have the leftover roast beef over a rice noodle soup. The steamy bowl filled with the simple rice noodles and roast beef that had spent the night soaking up the gravy was as equally delicious as our first meal.

That Christmas meal would be another Last Meal contender. I’d want it to be in our old house, with my whole family sitting around the table together in our 'usual spots', just like we use to.

It’s funny. They say that people’s Last Meal requests tend to either be extravagant or reminiscent of their childhood, or families. More of a comfort meal.

I’ve been lucky to have many extremely decadent and extravagant meals that anyone would be lucky to have as a last meal. To name a few, meals at: Chef Barbara Lynch’s No 9 Park (followed by cigars in Boston Common afterwards!), Chef Laurent Manrique’s debut menu at Fifth Floor (followed by a second meal at SPQR!), amazing meals at the Hong Kong University Club (where I ate the biggest shrimp I've ever seen in my life!), Chef Evan Rich’s delicious food at Quince, Chef Ravi Kapur’s special tasting menu at Boulevard, all of my meals at Postrio, dinner at The Dinning Room at the Ritz Carlton San Francisco, the Head to Tail Dinner Chef Chris Cosetino prepared at Incanto

I know that no matter how amazing each of those meals and experiences have been, what would ultimately satisfy me would be something more homely and familiar. And at the end of the day, it almost wouldn’t even so much be about the food, as the people that I’d want to surround myself with.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Heading to Hong Kong!!

I leave tonight for Hong Kong! Yay! I know. I'm a lucky gal. My second big international trip in two months. This time? I'm traveling with my family! I'm so excited to be in one of my favorite cities in the world, and with the people I love the most in the world.

A photo my sister took during our last trip there in August 2007

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that three of my good friends might also be able to 'pop down' and hang out with me in Hong Kong. Wendy and Mark will be spending the holidays in Vietnam, and Matt will be working in Shanghai. SO, only a few hours away! Hey, how often do a group of Californians all end up in the same region of the world? Hopefully they can make it! It would be great to spend time with good friends in a different city than we're use to.

I'm looking forward to great shopping, delicious food, and ringing in the New Year in Hong Kong!

In the meantime, I've got a few new posts ready to go for you while I'm gone...lots of photos and recaps from Hong Kong coming at you when I return!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!!

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!

One of my favorite photos, Law Family, Christmas 2005

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Have Your Tastes Changed?

I saw an interesting posting on the Epicurious blog a few days ago. Click here to read it. The article was based on a simple question: Have your tastes changed?

I know personally, mine have. For example, growing up, I didn't like eating tomatoes, and now, I can't wait until heirloom season comes! When I was little, I didn't like brussels sprouts, but I don't even think I had ever even tried them. I think it was just something I thought I wasn't suppose to love. I heard other people say they didn’t like them, so I did too. Now? I crave brussels sprouts, even most recently trying my hardest to track some down in hopes that I hadn't missed the last of them for the season.

Other things? Cilantro? Yea, still not a huge fan, but I'm getting better. I can tolerate small bits of it (like in salsa for example.) I find myself trying it every now and again, in hopes that my taste buds will have grown up a little bit more. My dear friends Rick and Christy love cilantro. And I remember one slow day in the office years and years ago, Christy and I were naming our favorite spices/flavors and Christy even told me cilantro would be at the top of Rick's list. I remember letting out a big "YUCK". See, I'm already making some progress there.

I've always disliked pickels and really anything pickeled (kimchee? No thank you.) But then guess what happened recently? I tried a pickle, and I liked it! My friend Wendy is the reason I tried the pickle. She reassured me, "It's not too pickley, just try it!" Hmmm. Are we onto something here?

What about liver? Always been a fan. (All my chef friends would be so proud.) But seriously. I grew up eating roasted duck liver from the Chinese BBQ shops. YUM. I loved it with steamed rice (still do.) I'd mash it up into my rice, and look over at my dad with envy as he ate it with a beer (now that's become one of my favorite snacks!) Hmmm, guess that should have been a sign that I'd have a love and passion for food. My sister never did like it the same way I did.

I have never been a huge fan of gamey meats, and have grown to like them a little bit more. Lamb's a hard one for me (I have a theory. I think it's because I was born in the year of the Ram according to the Chinese zodiac...just doesn't seem right to eat one of your own, does it?)

Goat was another one I never particularly liked, until last year. I distinctly remember being at the Share Our Strength San Francisco Taste of the Nation event, and Chef Chris Cosentino was preparing goat. There was only two of us at our table, and I knew my friend Vanessa was not going to be digging into the large platter of goat that had just been put in front of us. I was willing to try it, and boy am I glad. I loved it. Absolutely and thoroughly enjoyed my goat.

Other silly things? I love mushrooms, but don't love portabellas. It has something to do with the size of the mushroom cap for me. And something about seeing the porous fibers. I know, I'm crazy. I can eat liver and other offal, and all kinds of meat, fish, fruits and vegetables, but you put a portabella mushroom in front of me, and I've got to cut it up into smaller pieces before I'll eat it.

All in all, I've become a more adventurous eater. Maybe it has to do with my job? I've learned, that if a chef puts something in front of you, you should eat it. At least give it a try. You never know. What's the worst that could happen? You just might like it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Seeing the World

How do you see the world? Some people see it through the mountains they’ve climbed. Or the amazing reefs they’ve dived. Some people see the world through the people in small villages that they meet. Others see it through the shops they’ve shopped in, while others see it through the wonders of the world that they’ve seen or even the baseball parks they've been to.

Me? I see the world through the food I’ve eaten, and the food that a certain country or region has to offer. I see the world through fresh produce, and regional delicacies. I see the world through the wines of a region, through the locally distilled spirits or locally brewed beers that's produced in an area and that the locals drink. I see the world through Farmer’s Markets, fish markets and grocery stores. Through late night dinners, brunches, afternoon cocktails, snacks, and amazing pastries. I see the world through the people that make the food I eat, as well as through the locals sitting next to me eating.

I enjoy seeing the typical tourist sights, but what I do is pick and choose my sights. Just a few in each new city, and then the rest of the time is spent exploring neighborhoods, meeting new people, and finding the local favorite restaurant (after all, a 'famous' restaurant is a sight to me!)

Have I been up the Eiffel Tower? Nope. I don’t want to spend all of my time doing the toursity attractions, so I pick and choose them. For example, in Paris, I walked by the Eiffel Tower (just didn’t go up, it was also rainy the day I was there), and then instead, I went up the Arch de Triomphe. And Paris, to me, will really be about my first steak au poivre, and the sunny Sunday I spent in the Marais looking into the shops and sitting at the side walk cafes.

In Amsterdam, I chose to go to the Anne Frank House, but that was really the only sight I saw. Instead, I think about the meal we had at the original Supper Club (and the hard time we had finding it!)

Hong Kong you ask? Yea, I've been up to the Peak. But I'm scared of heighs you see. And so to me? That was more of a scary, touristy experience than anything. What do I remember instead? Oh the street food! The most memorable being the crab dinner (complete with two large beers) I shared with my dad one night (after we had just finished eating our first dinner mind you!)

In New York? Ask me how many times I’ve seen the Empire State Building? Or the Statue of Liberty? None. Well, I chose Central Park instead. And SoHo (including a stop in the famous Dean & Deluca store). And Fifth Avenue (and of course, the Tiffany's store!) But really? The memories of New York for me include the wine I drank while waiting for a table at Momofuku Saam (and of course my meal there...the yummy pork buns and brussel sprouts!) And then there was drinking ‘til the wee hours at PDT (and eating my very first David Chang dog!)

The reason I’m thinking about this? One of people I love most in this world is a vegetarian. She eats to sustain herself, and as long as it's not horrible tasting, she's content. Breakfast is light. And lunch? Maybe a fruit salad. When it comes to dinner, simple. And of course, no meat. Pretty much the exact opposite of me. Especially when I’m on vacation.

Now don't get me wrong. When I'm at home, breakfast is yogurt, maybe one of my whole wheat waffles (yum). Lunch is typically leftovers or a salad. Dinner is either at a local yummy favorite restaurant with friends (how many times have I been to Beretta or Nopa you ask? Too many to count.), or something something simple I make at home. Usually with meat.

But on vacation, it's a different story. I’ve spent weeks leading up to it doing research. I’ve researched all of the restaurants I want to eat at, neighborhoods with the best cafes, local favorite ‘celebrity’ chefs, etc. I become engrossed in the eating culture of that city. I plan out breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And I’m sorry, but there will be days when you have to sneak in a few meals in-between (the tough life of a food obsessed person).

For me, seeing a city is seeing it through it’s food and even more importantly, it’s food culture. If there’s a farmer’s market, I’ll be there. If there’s a fish market that’s well known, I’ll want to be there. A late night chef hang out? You bet. Wouldn't miss it. Street food? I'm not scared. Bring it on.

So what happens when you put these two people together and they decide to travel together for 12 days? Compromise. I refrained from planning every single meal (and in-between meal), and my friend probably had to hear more analysis about restaurants than she cared to. (But I guess unless you're by yourself, there's always some compromise that has to be made, right?)

And there was some of me eating alone.

I love my friend. She is really and truly one of my favorite people in the world. A good mate, and a friend that I will always cherish and have fun with forever. A friend that's supported me through a lot, and I'm sure will continue to through the years. We had a fantastic time traveling together—a once in a lifetime trip that I’m never going to forget.

But did I get to see Australia through food? Not as much as I would have liked. Who wants to go back with me? Because the fun in eating, for me, is eating with someone who is equally obsessed. I'm ready to return to Melbourne and really explore those alley way restaurants. And what about the amazing Chinese, Thai, Malaysian and Vietnamese influenced food?

And in Sydney, who will splurge for Tetsyua’s? And try kangaroo pizza? And the supposedly famous Hugo’s pizza? Or what about fantastically mixed drinks at Otto, Victorian Room, Lotus and Bar Reggio? Or Chinese food at Golden Century and late late night at BBQ King?

Cause I’m ready to go back. And And this time, I'm ready to really eat.

Aussie Food!

Some of the food I ate while in Australia

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Welcome Home

Feels like it’s been a busy fall. I was gone for most of November, in New York and Australia. Before that? October was a busy month too. Weekends in Cazadero and Davis took me out of San Francisco. All of this time out of San Francisco was fine with me. I loved my time in each of these locations, and always enjoy exploring new places.

But after a little while, I start missing things at home. Among the things about SF I miss most? The Farmer’s Market. My Saturday routine. It's a good time for me to go and see what fruits and vegetables are in season, and also a fun way for me to learn about new ingredients. It seems like no matter how often I go, or how many cookbooks and magazines I read, there is always something new to be discovered at the market!

My sister and I like to go together, and we have our own little routine. I’ve written about the Farmer’s Market lots of times before, here’s a good recap from one of my fall trips to the market from earlier this year.

The first thing we do is stand in line for a cup of Blue Bottle Coffee. The weather this December Saturday was nice—chilly and brisk, but the sun was out. As we walked up to the market, we noticed that it wasn’t nearly as crowded as it usually is. It was kind of nice. The line at Blue Bottle was actually SHORT. We were thrilled. (And given the coldness in the air, we steered away from our standard New Orleans style coffee for a latte this time.)

My pretty coffee

Once we have coffee in hand. Michelle and I always go and pick up some type of breakfast sandwich to share. Sometimes it's a Prather Ranch breakfast sandwich, other times it's a Boccalone one. On this day, we decided to go for a Boccalone breakfast sandwich. Yum yum.

While we were at Boccalone, I got my water bottle refilled too. That's another must-do at the market. I always come with my water bottle in hand, and get my fill of delicious and refreshing sparkling water.

On this particular day, as we were walking towards Boccalone, I looked across the way and saw a familiar face. I stopped in my tracks and let out a gasp under my breathe. “Oh my god.” Michelle looked at me, looked in the direction I was looking at, and said, “What? What’s wrong? What do you see?”

It was Alice Waters. In the flesh.

She was signing books, and my loyal readers and friends will know, I have an obsession about getting books autographed. (Ok, I have a lot of obsessions, this is just one.) It was pretty neat to meet her (not my first time!), and to get a book signed. Surprisingly, there wasn’t a line, and not even a crowd of people around her.

After this pleasant surprise, we had to move on. Other things we love? We typically like to see which chef is doing the demo in the CUESA Kitchen. This Saturday? Staffan Terje from Perbacco restaurant was doing the demo. Perbacco is one of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco, and it was nice to see Staffan doing the demo. (Another familiar face! Gosh I love this place!)

We saw a lot of familiar chef faces, and stopped by some of my favorite farm stalls as well. I picked up some winter Clementines (yum!), and even a guava (that I wasn’t planning on buying, but because of the strong delicious smell, I couldn’t resist!)

We smelled some great fresh lavender. I had to refrain from buying about a billion of the little sachets—it made me think of one of my favorite people in the world, Miss Chloe Grace. My dear friend adores lavender, and I thought about buying a whole bunch and mailing them to her in New York.

I also made a stop at the tofu stand that I love. Hodo Soy Beanery is probably one of my favorite stalls (a favorite of Daniel Patterson’s too I believe, as we’ve seen him picking up items from this stall frequently.) My favorite item there? The tofu jerky. The fried tofu is marinated in Chinese five spices and I love eating them just plain. They are so delicious and I wish I could buy them every time (but at $7 a pop for a small container, it’s something that’s a splurge for me.)

One of these days, I’m not going to eat them all plain, I’m going to cook with them. I think slicing them up and tossing them into a stir fry or using them in a chow mein type of dish would be really good too. Sigh. Maybe I’ll have to buy two packages, one to eat plain, and one to cook with.

We drooled over the pardon peppers from Happy Quail Farms (and even chatted about the wonders of the pardon with a nice man who also happened to be admiring them.) We eyed some specialty salts. We almost stopped at the salmon stall to get a ‘sample’ of the yummy salmon jerky we love so much. But too crowded. And sadly, I think we’ve tasted more samples than we’ve actually purchased, so again, we had to refrain.

We ducked into Recchiuti so Michelle could purchase some Christmas presents. While this isn’t normally a stop on our stroll, it was a treat. We looked at all of the beautifully wrapped boxes and gift sets. And the “Holiday Motif” boxed chocolates with the beautiful holiday images were so amazingly beautiful. Michelle drooled over the Obsession Box while I nibbled on the yummy chocolate covered apple slice. We didn’t leave with only presents for others. We bought two house made marshmallows and enjoyed them in the corner of the market along with the creamy hot chocolate sample they gave us. Perfect ‘dessert’ to our Farmer’s Market outing.

The familiarity of the market, knowing where the stalls are, knowing I will always see familiar faces and friends, my delicious coffee, seeing what’s in makes for a nice say to kick off my weekend. I don't need to spend a lot of time there. Even in just a few short hours, I always leave with a smile on my face. And every single time I go to the market, I’m reminded of why it’s my happy place and why I'm so lucky to be living here in San Francisco!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Reflections: Hamilton Island, Australia

Hamilton Island is an amazing place. Since my visit there, I've come up with many theories and analogies, maybe I'll share those with you all one of these days. In the meantime, I want to share my favorite memories and things to do on Hamilton Island.

Pool Bar
First thing my mate Shaye and I wanted when we landed after almost 20 hrs of traveling? To jump in a pool and have a cocktail. What better place to go than to the Pool Bar, a "Cocktail-esq" bar in the pool! Beautiful views all around us while we swam and floated with cocktails in hand. The trip was getting off to a good start.

Live Music on the Marina
We lucked out. Turns out Sunday nights, there's a band that plays on this little stage down by the Marina. Not sure if it's the same band or a different one each week, but the band we heard, was amazing. Shaye and I were just taking an evening stroll, looking for a diner spot on our first night on the island, and the second we heard the music, we knew we had to plop oursleves down on the grass and stay for the show.

Music isn't complete without wine, so a quick stop into the Marina Tavern Bottle Shop, and then we were back on the grass, watching the band, taking in the views and sunset over the water.

Turns out it was a cover band, playing many of our favorite songs including "Jack and Diane" ('two Aussie kids, doin the best that they can'), "Brown Eyed Girl" (upon my request!), and even "Down Under" (and yes, at that point, Shaye and I did get up and dance. And yes, we were the only ones dancing.

Our time here was also the perfect way to meet some locals, and Shaye and I made friends that ended up showing us around during our trip (thanks to Dave and Matt!) An absolutely perfect way to spend an evening.

One Tree Hill, day
They say it's one of the most beautiful spots on the island, and they're right. Absolutely stunning views of the surrounding islands. We were amazed by how far we could see, and how clear the water was. We missed it, but hear that if you go up here at sunset, you can have a cocktail and take in the sunset from the top of the island. Probably a good spot to see the sunrise too!

One Tree Hill, night
The day views are pretty spectacular, but the night views even more amazing. You can see the water crashing, low tide, and then the lights of the resorts and marina down below. The night we went, there was actually a band playing at one of the resorts, and we could clearly hear the music as we took it all in.

Southern Hemisphere stars and constellations
While you're up at One Tree Hill at night, be sure to look UP! Especially for my Northern Hemisphere friends, you have no idea what we'e missing. The stars and constellations look completely different. There is no Orion, no Big Dipper-instead it's the Southern Cross.

Click here for some photos from all over Hamilton Island!

Great Barrier Reef
If you're already at Hamilton, the 2 and 1/2 hour boat ride to the Great Barrier Reef is definitely worth it. The water is unlike anything I've ever seen.

We went to Reefworld, and was able to go snorkeling there. People. You MUST do this. The wildlife and fish we saw was so beautiful. The colors of the fish and coral all popped. I saw bright almost neon colored blue and yellow fish, a little one that looked like it had zebra stripes (made me think of Kimpton!), a bright green and purple fish, one that was black and had a red mouth and you could almost see it's teeth (I called it the Joker Fish). It was all very 'Finding Nemo'.

Great Barrier Reef

Some of snap shots from our day on the reef

I saw sword fish, a little shark, and these clam things that had a purple top that almost looked velvety. There were areas of really shallow coral, and then suddenly it would drop off into a really deep section. At one point I saw almost a wall of silver fish in one of these drops. And I swam through it all!

In order to snorkel there, you need to put on a stinger suit, fins, then of course the snorkle mask and mouth piece. As I was dresing, I did find myself thinking, isn't it a little unnatural that we have to put on all of these clothes and dress in sting suits, flippers, etc in order to go down there? Maybe humans weren't meant to be in the water and weren't meant to disrupt the wildlife?

Don't get me wrong, it was beautiful, and I've done other arguably 'unnatural' things (umm, you really think mankind was made to jump out of a plane?) But I found myself thinking about it.

Also while I was down there, for a second, literally a split second, I found myself not wanting to eat fish and understanding how a vegeterian might feel. The wildlife was just so beautiful in it's natural habitat. It quickly passed though, and I found myself thinking about which type of fish would be the tastiest.

Whitehaven Beach
Another 'must see', is Whitehaven beach. It's a 30 min boat ride from Hamilton Island and it's one of the most amazing places in the world. BBC voted it a 'must see place before you die', and now I know why.

First, the sand on the beach is a super-fine grain white sand, and actually, isn't even really sand. It's silica. And second, there's nothing out there. Nothing. Your boat gets close to the beach, then you have to take something else to get to the beach. Once you're there, that's it. No stores, no restaurants, no bars. Just miles of beautiful and secluded beach. Click here to see our photos from Whitehaven!

Catseye Beach at night
This is one of the beaches behind one of the resorts on the island. It's pretty during the day, but at night, it's even better. The sand is hard, and you can sit down without sinking in. When it's in low tide, you can't see or hear the water. All you see is pitch black. And since there aren't many other people on the beach, it's just you and the mates you're with. Enjoying each other's company.

R Bar
*Disclaimer: This one on the list is probably the most difficult of them all. Not something just any one can go and do. BUT, if you're up for the challenge, please try. *

Hamilton Island is a resort island. Which means there's a bit of an "us versus them" culture. The staff that works there aren't suppose to mix and mingle with the resort guests. You do your thing, we do ours. That's the mentality.

Well, that's fine. Unless you're two young gals vacationing together. You tend to look for the younger hot spots. All around us were honeymooning couples, and families. Neither group really appealed to us in terms of fun people to meet and hang out with. So what did we do? We broke the barrier.

We ended up meeting some of the staff on the island. And learned that there was a staff bar! Drinks were half the price, it was up a little hill (with signs marked "Service Road" and "Staff Only" the whole way up). They often checked for employee IDs, and no guests staying at the resorts were allowed in. So what did we do? Sneak in.

Yes I know, not my finest moment, but it was one of the most fun nights we had on the trip. There was a musician playing rock songs that Shaye and I sang outloud with from our table. There was dancing on a little dance floor (which we had to restrain ourselves from doing- couldn't try any attention to ourselves!). It was all very "Dirty Dancing" if you ask me! (Well, minus the actual 'dirty dancing'!)

The best moment of the night? Our friends went to the bar to get drinks (we had to stay behind, in case they asked for staff id). Well, someone tapped us on the shoulder and we heard "Staff ID please ladies". Our jaws dropped. Were we going to get kicked out even before we had our first drink here?

As we were both speechless, the guy started laughing. It took us a moment, but we realized, he was one of the bellmen from our hotel! We had talked to him several times, but just didn't recognize him without his moustache!

In any case, this staff only bar gave us a glimpse into life on the island.

Night tour of the island on a buggy
There are no cars on Hamilton Island. Just golf carts. Or buggies as they call them there. We had decided we didn't need to rent a buggy for our short time on the island, after all, just about everything was within walking distance. And there was even a free bus that circled the island. It was generally very easy to get around.

But then we realized, there are spots on the island that really aren't walking friendly. And in order to really get a sense of the whole island, you needed to drive around it. So how did we manage to get a night time tour from our new friends.

The locals we met were kind enough to drive us around the island on our last night, showing us lots of different spots on the island that weren't over run with tourists. We noticed that there weren't many drinking and driving laws on the islands. Everyone was driving around with 'roadies', beer in one hand, steering wheel in the other. Interesting.

However, near the end of the night, as we were heading home, we did see a breathalyzer check point. It was nuts! Guess there are some rules on the island.

My parting words? Go to Hamilton Island! Make the trek, it's well worth it and you won't regret it.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Reflections: Sydney

By the time I reached Sydney, I think I was mentally and physically exhausted. Relaxing that much can be draining! But seriously, all of the plane travel, combined with going out, staying out late, and drinking too much vino, made for two tired gals. But my mate Shaye and I were both determined to continue having fun, and to end our trip on a high note!

Some of my observations of Sydney? It’s a much different city from Melbourne. It’s a little bit more sprawling. Lots of different neighborhoods, but so difficult to get around! Not like Melbourne (or SF, or even NY…), in Sydney, you have to navigate between multiple public transportation systems—from light rail, to monorail, to buses, and of course ferries! (Which sadly, we never made it onto the ferry!)

In Sydney, we were clearly in a big city. The people were not quite as friendly. There were plenty of skyscrapers and large buildings. I walked by a number of major corporations, and saw lots of familiar shops and brand names. Suddenly, it almost felt like we weren’t that far away.

In any case, there were lots of things about our few days in Sydney that I did loved. Here’s a few of them:

Bondi Beach
One of the most famous beaches in the world, it’s about a 30 min bus ride outside of the Central Business District in Sydney. There are many beaches to choose from when you’re visiting Sydney, and we did think about seeing some of the other ones (like Manley!) But again, this was our first trip out there. It just felt wrong to go some where other than Bondi—this really is the beach that Sydney is known for!

The view from Icebergs is a must see

It’s a beautiful stretch of beach, and a cute little beach community. My friend JT was lucky enough to live out here for a year and she loved it. Having been there myself now, I can understand why. We chose to go out there on a Sunday, so it was filled surfers, families, and people trying to get out of the city. It was a bustling beach scene.

The day we were there, it was sunny and beautiful out. We spent our time there sitting, drinking mimosas, and doing a lot of people watching.

For more photos of beautiful Bondi, click on the slideshow below:

Bondi Beach!

Wildlife Park
It seems silly to do this, and I’m not really a big zoo or animal person, but how can you go all the way to Australia for the first time and not get up close and personal with a koala and kangaroo? You don't. I guarantee you, when you come back from your first trip to Australia, everyone will want to know if you saw a koala or a kangaroo (especially if you know any kids at all!)

We were actually kind of lucky. As part of our wine tasting tour, we had about an hour at this Wildlife Park. It was just the right amount of time for me. We ‘met’ a koala bear (poor thing, had just woken up and was bombarded by a bus load of American tourists), and had the chance to feed a kangaroo. Now, let me be the first to warn you. Those kangaroos are vicious! They go after you when they want more food, and sadly, we even saw one go after a young boy. You’ve been warned!

Here's a link to some photos of our time at the Wildlife Park. I know you've always wanted to see a photo of me and a koala. Or me feeding a kangaroo. Or better yet, a photo of an emu.

Was it a little silly? Yes. Is it still a must do? Yea, probably. At least if it’s your first trip Down Under.

Hunter Valley
Now, onto one of the best days of my vacation. Wine tasting day! Shaye and I signed up for a bus tour, so that everything would be all taken care of. The bus picked us up from our hotel, drove us to the different vineyards, had VIP tastings all lined up, and even lunch was provided (and it wasn’t half bad!)

As we drove through some beautiful parts of Australia, we learned a few things. We heard stories about the prisoners that first came to Australia, saw some of the original roads they had built, and even an old graveyard. We learned that avocados, navel oranges, and tons of stone fruits grow in this region. The Wollombi Valley is beautiful, and there is a healthy farming community there.

We started off the day with a quick stop at the Wollombi Tavern where we sampled some of the famous Dr. Jurd’s Jungle Juice (this is something you’ll have to ask me about in person…or check it out here.)

From there, we moved on and tasted at Brokenwood and Oakvale vineyards in the Hunter Valley. The wines at both vineyards were amazing. Really good. And really reasonably priced. We learned the grape harvest in Australia usually beings in mid January, and goes until the end of March. The region we were in gets HOT HOT HOT, and they’re really known for their semillons and shirazs. All of the wines were screw tops (yay!), and at both vineyards, we had knowledgeable people leading the tasting for us.

At Brokenwood, I was intrigued to see a Nebbiolo on the menu, and was happy we got to taste it. Grant told us his description of the wine (which I loved!), “Tar and Roses” he said. Grant had a lot of little sayings, and I couldn't help but smile each time he gave us a new one. When describing the Cabernet and Merlot blend (which I actually really liked, although I’m typically not much of a merlot drinker), Grant said “the cab is a doughnut wine, the merlot rounds it out and fills in the middle part.” Interesting descriptions. Interesting guy.

Our tasting at Oakvale even included an awesome paring of wine and cheese (the Dutch style marinated feta with bay leaves and peppers was AMAZING!) Thank you Grant and Gordon!

We took a break in there and had lunch at San Martino Restaurant. And I was pleasantly surprised. Lunch was good! And we had five or so different wines that we paired with each course/dish. Amazing! Our little tour group had a great time at lunch, and Shaye and I both quickly realized how lucky we were to have a good tour group. These people really helped make the trip as amazing as it was.

After lunch, we stopped in to Blue Tongue, a microbrewery right there next to the restaurant. This was one of my favorite stops. The beer we tasted was delish—why don’t we make more alcoholic ginger beer in the states??

All in all, the day we spent in Hunter Valley was one of my favorites. Having tasted wine in a few different wine regions, this one is near the top of my list. The people were all really friendly, the pairings made for a more interesting tasting, and there was just the right amount of information provided. I would most definitely recommend booking a day trip out to Hunter Valley (the company we went through was Australian Eco Adventures, they were great!)

And to see the random photos from our day in beautiful wine country, click here!

The Food Scene
So, unlike Melbourne, when I mentioned to friends that I’m traveling to Sydney, everyone had suggestions of places to go and see. I had a long list of restaurants, bars, and notable Sydney/Australian chefs in hand long before I headed down there. I almost had too many suggestions.

One of the hardest things was making sense out of it all. Who knew me? Who knew my taste buds and my idea of what a ‘good restaurant’ was? While I like a good ‘scene’, I don’t like it to be too ‘sceney’. Get the difference? I want to be comfortable in a restaurant. I don’t want to be in a restaurant where I feel the people are there just to be cool (and trust me, we did end up seeing tons of those spots). I go to a restaurant for it’s food. Yes, the décor and atmosphere play into it all, but that’s secondary. As we sorted through dozens of restaurant and bar names, and decided each meal or each night where to go, I had to take into consideration who provided the suggestions to me.

The other interesting thing? What is ‘Australian cuisine’?? Cynics would say “What Australian cuisine?”, making a jab that it is a cuisine of ‘borrowed flavors’.

Me though? I liked it. Maybe it’s because of my love for Asian spices and flavors, but I thought there were some interesting spices and flavor combinations that I don’t get to see often here in the U.S.

In San Francisco, we are just beginning to see a greater variance of Asian flavors, with people like Chef Tim Luym bringing ‘fusion’ flavors of Southeast Asian, and with Thai, Indian and Malaysian cuisines becoming more and more popular, there’s finally more awareness and understanding of these cuisines. Yet it’s still not as wide spread as it was in Australia. Obviously, given Australia’s proximity to Southeast Asia, one would expect there to be greater influences from that region.

I think there was definitely a lively and bustling food scene in Sydney. Lots of local ‘celebrity chefs’ the Australian’s are excited about (from Neil Perry to Tobie Puttock to Kylie Kwong…) There is a lot to taste in Sydney. It’s all still ‘growing up’ and coming to it’s own. I think it’ll be an interesting food scene to keep our eyes on in the future.

Here's a link to some snapshots from our time in Sydney. All in all, we had an amazing time in Sydney...and the next time I return? I think I'd be curious to check out more of the neighborhoods, steer away from the super touristy spots, and continue to eat my way through the city!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Reflections: Melbourne

When I told my friends that I was going to Australia and that I was going to be in both Melbourne and Sydney, what was the response I got? “Oh, you’re going to love Melbourne.” I had no idea how right they'd be.

Melbourne is like San Francisco in many ways. There’s a lot of unique neighborhoods. The city is fairly easy to navigate through. And there are a lot of options of things to do, places to see, and restaurants to check out. It's got a bit of the same feel as many European cities, and as my friend Sabine pointed out to me, a bit of an artsy feel (like another one of my favorite cities, Portland!)

The funny thing is, when I asked people for specific recommendations of restaurants or places to check out, there wasn’t many. People seemed to have lots of recommendations for Sydney, but when it came to Melbourne, all they could say was “just explore it!”

Well, explore it we did. And here are some of my favorite sites and moments from the short time I spent there.

The People
Have you all noticed? The Australian people are nice. Seriously. All of them. I don’t know if it’s something they teach here in school, or maybe it’s the drinking culture that brings out the niceness in them, or maybe it’s even as simple as the fact that they’ve got these great accents so everything they say seems nicer, but I’m not joking. My mate Shaye and I had the opportunity to meet so many different people. Just from chatting with them at the bar, or because they were friends of friends, or even just because they happened to be sitting near us at one thing or another. I think they’re onto something here. Maybe the Americans can learn a thing or two from them.

The Trolley’s
No, not cable cars, actual trolley’s. Like the F line. Going all around the perimeter of the Central Business District. Not only did it make it easy to get around, but it made me think of my favorite city.

The Alley’s
Explore the alley’s!! Go against your instinct and don’t avoid the alley’s! Down these different alley’s, you’ll find rows and row’s of restaurants, unique boutiques, and other interesting spots. Many of the most popular bars in the city are down one of these infamous alleys.

The first night Shaye and I arrived, we were exhausted. We had been up early to catch our flight, and had had very little sleep while on Hamilton Island. By the time dinner time rolled around, we were exhausted. During dinner, I could see Shaye’s eyes dropping…and I saw an early night in our future. Part of me was equally tired. But the other part of me wanted to explore. We had just gotten there after all, and it was our first night in town!

We decided to go into one bar, have one drink, and then head home. As we walked down one of the major streets in the Central Business District (CBD), we realized we weren’t coming across anything. So we quickly went down the back alley of the street, and began to realize there were tons of cute boutiques and shops down this alley! We walked by a restaurant that seemed to have a great crowd, and good music playing and we ducked in for a cocktail.

Stumbling into Hairy Canary was one of the best things we did. Richard behind the bar made one of the best drinks I’ve ever had, called a Bourbon Street Sour. And I could see by the way he was mixing the drink, I had found myself a mixloligst! At that bar we ended up meeting people, learning of other restaurants and bars to check out in not only Melbourne, but Sydney as well. It was definitely the perfect spot for us.

Late late nights
So, after our first drink at Hairy Canary that night, do you think we left and went back to the hotel? Ha! We actually ended up having three there, and making spots at two other places that night and getting home at 6:30 am!) Which leads me to another favorite thing about Melbourne! Things are open LATE!

All around Australia, we noticed signs that read “Trading Hours: 5 pm- Late”. We got a kick out of it. What exactly did ‘late’ mean? 10 pm? 2 am? Later? And if you didn’t know what time the restaurant or bar closed, how would you know when to go? While I envy the Aussie’s and their ability to stay out late, I will say. There is something easier about the way it’s done in the states. There’s a closing time. You know when you have to go home.

In California, you can pretty much bet that your night will end shortly after 2 am (Ok, not always true…there are those late night clubs, and late night restaurant/bars, and even better, those certain bars that will sometimes let you stay past closing—I can’t disclose which bars those are, I want to enjoy them still!)

But as an American on holiday, I loved the fact that the night didn’t have to end. Similar to how I feel about New York, there’s something special about being able to stay out late, and continue to check out spot after spot. (Like New York though, I often find that you’re in a time warp, and even though you don’t mean to stay out late, the next thing you know it’s 4 or 6 am, and the sun’s coming out, and work’s calling in just a few more hours!)

But if you are up for a mellow late night, check out Supper Club Bar. It was truly one of the coolest wine bars I've ever been to. With views of the Parliament House, there are wines from around the world on this list. Our night here was made even better by one of the best practical jokes that have ever been played on me...ask me about 'snickerdoodle' and I'll fill you in. But regardless, go check out this spot.

Queen Victoria Market
The San Francisco Ferry Building is my happy place. Shoot, most farmer’s markets are. I really enjoying seeing the local produce, what’s in season, and meeting the locals. Well, Queen Victoria Market is a MUST SEE on my list. Whether or not it’s truly a tourist attraction or really a place the locals go, doesn’t even really matter in my book. Click on the photo below for a slide show of my favorite pictures from the market.

Queen Victoria Market

First, there’s the meat and fish area. Literally dozens and dozens of stalls and shops selling fresh meat down one side of the hall and then dozens and dozens of stalls and shops selling fish down the other side.

In another back area, there were dozens and dozens of vegetable stands. Selling tons of fresh produce and fruit. I saw some things I have never seen before, as well as plenty of familiar fruits and vegetables.

There was a food court area, not unlike other food courts I’ve seen, but this one was prettier. There was even a wall filled with black and white photos of the market, some old ones (showing the history of the market), and other newer ones.

There were other tents and stalls filled with things to buy. Knick knacks, almost like the night markets in Hong Kong, or even a flea market. Some cheesy touristy things (yes, I did make a few purchases). Nevertheless, interesting to walk through and peruse.

All of this was amazing, but my favorite area of the market was the deli. There were stalls and shops, all specializing in one thing. For example, the little French Cheese shop, or the Polish shop selling polish sausage and condiments. There was the tofu guy, selling all things tofu, and then the Greek deli selling what looked like hundreds of special dips and olives. I was amazed by each and every one of these stalls, and took the time to really look at what each one was offering. It was pretty amazing.

This was the point during my time in Melbourne when I found myself really wishing I lived there. I just know I would be at this market often, and not only buying items to take home to make, but buying some of the cooked food items from the deli area, and also getting to know each and one of these shops.

I was lucky enough to explore the market alone for a few hours while my mate Shaye went for a run one morning (yea yea, we obviously know who the healthier one is, I prefer walking, hiking, yoga, pilates, biking, swimming...but run? No thank you. And besides, I’m a food lover, there’s nothing better than exploring the market early!) I struck up conversations with a number of the vendors and farmers, and even chatted with a few chefs while I was there while they were making some early morning purchases. It was nice to see a piece of the Melbourne food scene.

All and all, Melbourne has quickly joined my list of Favorite Cities in the World...I hope to make it back soon.

If you want to see other sights and sounds from the city, click here for a link to more photos of fun in Melbourne!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Reflections: Down Under

I recently came back from the most amazing trip to Australia. I was there for 10 days with my mate Shaye, and we explored three different parts of the country. We went to Hamilton Island, a resort island out by the Great Barrier Reef first. Then we spent a few days in Melbourne, and finally we ended up in Sydney.

Over the next few days, I'm going to share my reflections and stories (and photos of course!) from my trip. I have a bit of that Type A personality in me, so would like to go in chronological order of our trip, but sadly, I'm still waiting for some of our photos from our first stop! SO. Rather than keep all of you waiting, I'm going to start with Melbourne, the move to Sydney, and finally end with a recap of our time on Hamilton Island (probably the most beautiful photos are from this leg of the trip!)

All in all, Australia is a country filled with amazing sights and kind people. Every where we went, people asked us where we were heading and what we were going to do and see. And every person we talked to, was eager to offer up their suggestions of things to do, sights to see and restaurants to eat at. We collected a number of small pieces of paper with notes jotted down eagerly.

And speaking of the people, boy can they drink! No matter what time of day, or where we were, I felt like we say people drinking. Beer. Wine. Cocktails. All of it. Pubs were open all day long (and all night long), and you could almost always guarantee that there'd be at least a few people sitting there drinking. (Our lists of recommended 'must see places' included a healthy number of bars and pubs!)

While Australia was never super high on my list of places to visit, I have to say, I was wrong. Boy, was I wrong! It's a unique place (that has qualities similar to the U.S., and yet, reminds you that you are a world away.) Everyone reading needs to make a trip to Australia at least once in their life. It really is a unique place that we should all be so lucky to see.

To me, Australia will always be a country filled with beautiful places, lots of great experiences, and memories of all of the people we met along the way. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Life I Missed

It’s always great being on vacation. Exploring a new place. Meeting new people. Being away from your normal, day to day life.

But what happens when you’ve been gone for a little while? What do you start missing? Me? Here are a few things I found myself missing when I was on vacation in Australia:

My family
I don’t necessarily think it was the number of days I was away from my dad and sister, I’ve been away from them for longer. But it was because it was over the Thanksgiving holiday, and also my mom’s birthday. All of that combined made me miss them more than normal. I found myself wondering what they were doing, how they were celebrating Thanksgiving, and what it would have been like if I was home with them. I also found myself seeing things and thinking of them, and wanting to pick up the phone to call my sister to share with her.

My friends
I realized, as much as I adored my traveling mate, I missed many of the people that are in my daily life. From friends that live near me in San Francisco, to friends that I email frequently with, to my friends at work. You don’t realize the people that play such an important role in your daily life until you’re away from them.

Mainly in my own home kitchen, but also in the Postrio kitchen. There is something comforting about making your own food, and doing all of the prep work (and even washing the dishes after…)

I know, dorky. But seriously. Blogging’s become a bit of a diary for me, and I had lots of random thoughts and observations I had jotted down throughout my vacation. I really couldn’t wait until I came home and could put all of my thoughts together and share my adventures online.

My own familiar apartment and bed
There is something hard about picking up and ‘moving’ every three nights or so. I found myself confused a few times when I woke up in the middle of the night, wondering where I was. After awhile, I realized I missed my own little apartment.

Don't get me wrong, the vacation was amazing. I'd go back in a heart beat! And I was a little sad when it was all ending. But it did make me appreciate my own simple life in San Francisco.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Meal of the Month: November

End of another month. Time for another Meal of the Month recap! Sorry for the delay, I know you’ve all been anxiously waiting. But hey, better late than never, right? Blame it on vacation.

So aside from my amazing New York trip earlier in the month (click here for the recap on meals from that trip!), I’ve had plenty of other really fine meals. Many in San Francisco, but many in Australia as well. From fun and casual meals with my dad and sister, to having the girls over for cheese and nibbles at my house (along with yummy crème fraiche ice cream!).

I also had the chance to eat at Poleng Lounge with my good friends Wendy and Mark (where Chef Tim Luym spoiled me!!), as well as eating at Baraka with JT, Troy and friends (where Chef Chad Newton continues to amaze me with his food.) I was lucky enough to have a homemade meal at my friend’s Sabine and Rohit’s house—where we feasted on braised short ribs and a pesto faro salad. Yum yum.

I enjoyed pizza at Beretta with two friends from out of town, as well as a delicious meal at Postrio with some of my favorite PR people from around the country! And that was just all in San Francisco.

In Australia, I had a delicious Italian meal overlooking the ocean, dinner at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen in Melbourne (where Tobie Puttock is the executive chef), a delicious Thai dinner at Longrain, dinner on a historic tram, and an amazing lunch in Hunter Valley wine country. WOW!

So, from all of that, which is my Meal of the Month? Lunch at Rockpool restaurant in Sydney.

Neil Perry is a famous Australian chef, with restaurants in Sydney and Melbourne. His Rockpool restaurant is in the Rocks neighborhood of Sydney, and is a beautiful spot, with a great open kitchen. I ducked in for a solo lunch (my traveling mate isn’t much of a foodie), and I settled in at a table with a great view of the kitchen. Lucky me, I was looking right into the pantry (or garde manger) station, which made me both so happy, and also sad and missing the Postrio kitchen.

In any case, I started with thinly sliced serrano ham, served with slices of pear. It was light and perfect. A great balance of salty and sweet.

I moved onto the fried fish over rice, served with a ginger and shallot sauce. Simple yet perfectly prepared.

All of the food I had was great. I wish I had a table full of friends with me so that we could have ordered the whole menu! But what really made my experience? Having a view into the kitchen. From where I was sitting, I could actually hear the chefs talking to one another. The first thing I noticed about this kitchen? It’s QUIET! They were working with their heads down. There was very little talking and interaction with each other. This was a serious kitchen.

What else did I notice? There was a flat screen TV mounted on the wall—and it was video footage into a kitchen. I looked closer, and I noticed it wasn’t the kitchen of the restaurant I was in. I asked the waiter, and he explained. It was looking into the kitchen of the Rockpool restaurant in Melbourne. And what were they seeing? Into the Rockpool restaurant in Sydney of course! At the time I thought this was absolutely one of the coolest things ever. (I still kind of do.) But when I was telling this to my friend Tim, he commented “Oh, like Thomas Keller’s kitchens.” Oh. Hmm. Guess Neil wasn’t the only one that had this idea. Well, until I make a visit to the French Laundry or Per Se, Neil did it first in my book.

I saw that they had three people working the pantry station, and from where I sat, I could see five working the line in the back. A smile quickly came to my face when I started hearing the sound of a ticket coming in. Oh how I had missed that sound! How I missed being in a restaurant and cooking at Postrio!

I saw one of the gals working the pantry line kind of picking on one of the other guys working the station. She kept looking up to see what he was doing, and I even saw her go over to him, and re-plate the salad he was working on. As I paid closer attention to their interaction, I could tell he was new.

As the lunch service came to an end, I was one of the remaining guests in the dining room. I could see the cooks begin to loosen up. Now they’d have a few hours to regroup and relax a little bit before dinner. I saw one of the cooks grab a clip board and went down a long list of what prep needed to be done before dinner. I saw deliveries come in. I saw laughter and cooks joking.

And I saw the gal talk to the new guy. She asked when he had started, where he was cooking before, how long had he been cooking, and on and on. I felt bad for him. I could relate. That was me. The newbie. Getting all of the questions. Not knowing what I was doing in the kitchen. Getting tested. I wanted to go and talk to him so badly. I could sympathize. As they were talking, I could see her warm up to him. At one point, I even heard her say, “It’s ok. It really is all just practice, you know?”

Taking all of this in, I realized why this slower down time was one of my favorite times of day in a restaurant. The calm before the storm. It also really made me miss the cooks and team at Postrio.

The other reason this special meal is my Meal of the Month? Because I met Chef Neil Perry. A very well known chef throughout Australia, I had read a lot about him before my trip. I knew he had a mini empire in Australia, and not expect him to be at the restaurant the day I was there.

Through my conversations with the manager and my server, they came to learn that I had come a very long way to eat at this restaurant. They had learned that I was a foodie, and had even spent a little bit of time cooking in a restaurant kitchen. When I asked whether or not they sold Chef Neil Perry’s cookbooks at the restaurants, the manager told me yes, and then leaned in, as if to tell me a secret. “Chef Perry is here today, he could autograph and personalize your book if you’d like.” Sold.

Not only did Chef Perry sign my book (and spell my name correctly!), he came out to talk to me. When he learned I was visiting from San Francisco, we launched into a long conversation about San Francisco restaurants. His favorites? Zuni Café and Quince. He was extremely kind, and interesting to talk to. He seemed genuinely interested in hearing what had brought me to his restaurant and about my eating experiences in Australia. He was truly a classy guy. And made this not only an amazing meal, but an amazing experience.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Reflections: New York

I’m still thinking about my last trip to New York. This is what always happens. I come back from a place, and think about the differences between that city and my own beautiful San Francisco. I find myself exploring each city thinking, “What do the locals do? Could I live here? Which neighborhood would I live in? What would I do? What’s different between here and San Francisco? What do I like more? Less?” In the case of New York, a few observations are sticking with me.

The honking!
Yes, the cabbies there are crazy with the horn! And it’s everywhere! No matter what part of town, what time of day. It’s all around you. I think they should start making NYC taxis without horns. I think New York would be a much nicer place.

Cab drivers not knowing where they’re going
Yes, I realize, Manhattan is big. Toto, we’re not in San Francisco anymore. I get that. BUT. When I get into a cab and ask to be taken to a major hotel, or well known restaurant, it still shocks me that a cab driver can have no idea where it is. I know there are TONS of hotels and restaurants and stores and landmarks in New York. But I see it is kind of their jobs to keep tabs on the city. To at least have a sense of where things are.

Produce goes to NYC to die
Do my other Californians wonder what happens to produce when it goes bad? My new guess? It gets shipped to New York, where New Yorkers will pay three times what we would have paid for it when it was healthy. Seriously. I found that everywhere I looked, from corner stores to grocery stores to even the Farmer’s Market, produce just wasn’t the same. Beets were soft to the touch. Veggies were limp. Colorless. Sure makes life in Cali seem even better.

We hear it a lot. New York is one of the most diverse cities in the world. I think it’s true. After spending time exploring multiple neighborhoods (even checking out the coolest Indian specialty foods store, Kalustyan's, with the largest selection of Indian spices I have ever seen in my life!), I believe it. I tend to think San Francisco is pretty diverse (in case you can’t tell, I really do think San Francisco is one of the most special places in the world.) But in terms of ethnic diversity, New York may have us beat.

Just some of the amazing spices at Kalustyan's

It’s a small city if…you have a community
New York always seemed so big to me. Harsh and cold. You know, the theory that the bigger the city, the lonelier you can actually be? Well, this last trip to New York opened up my eyes to another thought. That any large city, no matter how large, can seem small if you have a good community or network. I know this sounds like I’m stating the obvious, but let’s take me for example. I love food. And the restaurant business. I have a network of friends in my industry and with this same interest. Well, through this network, I continue to meet more and more interesting people. This isn’t limited to just San Francisco. Through my network of friends, I’ve met so many equally amazing people all around the world.

Just takes time to get use to…
Like anything, it just takes time. Because of multiple trips to New York within the recent years, I feel more and more at home there each time I return. I have a better sense of the neighborhoods, how to get where I need to go to, and how to even make suggestions of where to go. More than any other trip before, I could actually see myself living there after this last trip (I think I even know what neighborhood I’d live in!!)

All in all, my last trip to New York was amazing. And as always, it continues to be one of those cities that I want to live in. Until next time…

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Morning Regulars

How much do you know about the people around you? I don’t mean your colleagues at work, but what about the people living next door to you? Or the people that you interact with on a daily basis?

I grew up in a suburb south of San Francisco. It was a wonderful neighborhood and community. We knew all of our neighbors, we knew the people walking down the street with their dog, and the kids riding their bikes around. Parents knew each other. My friend’s younger brother might be in the same grade as my younger sister. Their older sister would have been our babysitter. We were all interconnected.

When I moved to San Francisco, it all changed. Not only did I know longer know my neighbors, but I was living by myself, and I felt more cautious. I’m lucky, I generally feel extremely safe in my neighborhood, but I still don’t let down my guard, and have to remember that it is a city. And things are just a little different.

I found myself thinking about this a few weeks ago when I was waiting in line to cast my vote in the elections. (There sure is a price for civic duty—lines at voting booths were long that day as it was one of the highest voter turnouts in history!)

In any case, I found myself looking at the people in line—they were all in my precinct, which meant they all lived nearby. Since I live in a pretty high density neighborhood, it meant that everyone in that line was literally living within a few blocks away from me (as there were 2 other voting stations within blocks!). And yet, not one familiar face. It was odd to me how little we know about the people around us.

After I voted (or Ba’rocked the vote if you will), I headed up the little hill and stood waiting for the cable car (some days I walk, some days I take the bus, but when I can, I enjoy taking the cable car to work. It’s early enough so none of those pesky tourists are on and it really is the most enjoyable way to get to work!). I looked around me. Now here were my many familiar faces. The school crossing guard lady that I see every morning. She was talking away to the kids and parents. The lady walking up to the corner restaurant, unlocking and opening her doors and beginning her long day. Then there was the guy that ran the corner liquor/grocery store. He was outside smoking, smiling at his regulars walking by—including a nod and smile to me as I walked by. I looked across the street and who did I see? My cable car buddy. An older gentleman that’s on the same schedule I am, and almost always on the my cable car I’m on when I take it to work. Always with briefcase in one hand, and book in the other. And always a serious look on his face.

I didn’t know any of their names, and they don’t know mine, but I see all of these people virtually every day. In some creepy way, there’s something comforting about that. It’s not a suburb. It’s not the type of place where you do know every one of your neighbors. But yet, every morning, I could count on these people being there.

As I got on the cable car, I thought about the conductor I haven’t seen in weeks now. He’s my favorite. Really smiley and talkative. He grew up in the Mission neighborhood, and has since moved out to Alamo. He’s got kids (a son and a daughter) and his parents still live in the same house that he grew up in. He’s great. He’s literally held the cable car in the middle of the street waiting for me when he seems me half way down the block walking up. He knows the stop I get off at. And when ever I’m leaving and we’re saying good-bye, he always leaves us with “Bye, have a good day kids. See you all tomorrow, now don’t be late!” I never had to take a school bus to school, but I’d imagine this is what it would be like. He’s great. Oh, what’s his name you ask? No clue.

Well, I have been secretly fearing that he was gone. Retired. Or off the route. Or what if something happened to him? It had been weeks since I’d seen him. So on this morning, as I was thinking so much about my neighbors and ‘morning regulars’, I asked the other conductor about him (also a guy I see regularly, and ummm, yes, also another guy who’s name I don’t’ know!) After he finally realized who I was talking about (I guess not having the name didn’t help), he said, “Oh! Just on vacation, he’ll be back next week!” Phew!!

Cheerfully walking down the street, I was excited that I’d be seeing my regular conductor next week. Next week—I’ll learn his name.

As I continued on my short walk to work, I realized. There were ‘morning regulars’ everywhere! The doormen of the three hotels I walk by each morning—all of them always wave or smile at me. The guy that opens up the doors to the convenience store by the tunnel, so cheerful always! And what about the maintenance guy at the French church/school? He’s always outside sweeping or cleaning the steps and sidewalk with a hose—he’ll see me walking down the hill from a distance and stop the watering so I don’t get wet, and then smile and say “Good Morning”. Every time.

Speaking of ‘morning regulars’—what about the most important one of all? Your Starbucks barista! We all have our local, corner Starbucks (or ten or twenty), and at mine, I have a favorite barista. He knows my name. He knows my drink (grande soy chai on a cold day, grande non fat iced latte on a hot day). He greets me by name, and is always smiling.

A few months ago, I was going in for my coffee and after he handed me my order, he told me, “Today’s my last day.” I literally stopped in my tracks. WHAT?? How could this be? What would I do without him? He excitedly told me that Apple had recruited him and hired him to be a manager of one of their new stores they were opening. Wow. Good for him. With his fantastic customer service, Apple was lucky to have him (I’ve been a fan of Apple for a while—but ever since their public support and generous contribution to the NO on Prop 8 campaign, I kind of have an even greater love for them.) I wished him luck, and as I walked out, I realized. All these months, and all these conversations, I didn’t even know his name. How rude of me! I was only comforted in that I saw him on his last day and hadn’t decided to skip my Starbucks indulgence that morning. Otherwise, I would have never even have known what happened to him.

Most people I know have some type of routine. Whether it’s a morning routine in getting out the door for work, or that yoga class Monday nights that they love to go to, or even that meandering path to the Bart station to avoid the pesky pigeons, everyone’s got some type of routine at some point of the day. Something. If you’re paying enough attention, you’ll realize, you see a lot of the same people around you. They may not be people you have an actual interaction with, or you may just make small talk with them.

But regardless, would it be so bad if we all took a little bit more time to get to know the people around us? Could we create a better sense of neighborhood in some of these high density city neighborhoods? Don’t tell me we’re really that busy and can’t take an extra minute to say hello to someone. Why not start by learning their name?

Me? I’m going to vouch to start with my cable car conductors. If a man can back up traffic for me and keep the cable car waiting for me, I should at least know his name, right??

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving Thanks

Wylie might be thankful that he’s still open for business (a tough feat during these tough economic times, even Eater has eliminated DeathWatch), but what are you thankful for?

I'm thankful for many things...but most of all, I'm thankful for:

My family
I honestly don’t know what I’d do without my dad, sister and Uncle Young. I love them! They’re my back bone. My foundation.

My friends
I have a lot of friends. I have a lot of really good friends. I am one of those lucky gals that has friends from a lot of different times, places and stages of my life. And I love that. I cherish and value each and every one of them for everything they’ve taught me, all that we’ve been through and all of the good times. I’m looking forward to many more fun memories with them!

I have a passion for life. A passion for challenges, for personal growth, for new experiences and for new adventures. Oh. And then there’s my passion for travel and food of course. I’m thankful for all of it! It’s what makes me, me. It’s why I get giddy over silly things, it’s why I tend to always say yes to new challenges, it's why I jumped out of a plane (skydiving!), why I like to explore new places and try new foods and it’s why I love life.

I am thankful for those things today.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Missing Mom

Happy Birthday Mom. I miss you so much and think about you every single day. Not a day goes by when I don't have something I want to tell you, or find myself wondering what you'd think, wanting to ask you a questions, or wanting to pick up the phone to call you and talk.

Wishing you were here with us're in my mind and heart.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Heading to Australia!!

I'm heading to Australia tonight, yay! I can't wait to get away and to explore and experience a new country.

I've written a few posts that will be popping up while I'm away, so please continue to tune in. But expect a slew of new posts, observations, photos and stories when I return! G'Day Mate!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Meal of the Month: November - New York City

It’s only the middle of November…but I have to give an update about my meal of the month. In an unprecedented move, there is going to be MULTIPLE meals of the month for November. Yes, it’s true. Given the month I’m going to have, I just know, that I’m not going to be able to pick just one outstanding meal. Heck, I’ve already had about half a dozen or so meals that in any other month would be the Meal of the Month. Slam dunk. No doubt about it. And yet in this month? Not so easy. In a month where I’m spanning the globe, and eating in San Francisco, New York, Sydney and Melbourne, there is no way I can choose just one favorite meal.

SO. We’re going to start with a recap of the many meals I had while in NYC. Let’s see…starting with an amazing experience at Insieme (which by the way, has a pasta tasting menu—what could be better??) My friend Marshall was behind the bar that night (umm, why else do you think I went here?), and we tasted so many delicious special cocktails and had perfect wine pairings for each of our courses. My favorite from the night? The classic and simple linguine con vongole—perfectly cooked linguine with clams, garlic and hot pepper and parsley. Delicious! Simple and perfect for a chilly NYC evening. The sweet potato tempura dessert was also unlike anything I’ve ever eaten before.

Another fantastic meal? Bobo! It’s a fun space (if you blink, you’ll miss it—there’s no sign, and it’s a non descript brownstone with small stairs that lead you down to the restaurant). Because we ate downstairs, we were able to order from both the dining room menu as well as the bar nibbles menu. Chef Patrick Connolly prepared a great meal for us (he’s adorable too!), and the gals and I enjoyed bone marrow tots (YES! Like tater tots!) with a house made catsup, braised short ribs, a yummy crab salad, fried pickles, a hamburger…and of course, delicious cocktails! Tons of cocktails and wine.

And then let’s see…a delish cheese course at Artisanal Fromagerie Bistro Wine Bar (can we just say, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a restaurant with more cheese!) A great brunch at Pastis, where not only did I have a perfect Eggs Benedict, but I ran into an old coworker (who would think I would run into Mr. Jimmy Suh himself with his wife and new son?!) Small world!

Another yummy brunch? Restro, near my wonderful 70 park avenue hotel, where I ate the Hangover Pasta, cause as it turns out, I was a little hung over. Also the place where I had my first Dutch Baby! (You always remember your first!) AND, a place that has one of my all time favorite cookbooks, Pork & Sons behind the bar. Gotta love a place that’s got the Pork & Sons cookbook in house.

Then let’s see…there was the perfect rainy Saturday mid-day snack. Ramen, smoked chicken wings and David Chang’s famous pork buns at Momofuko Noodle Bar. With a large Japanese beer of course. Nothing better than slurping up ramen noodles with a good friend (coincidentally, another West Coast gal!) on a cold rainy day.

Let’s not forget the casual Monday night dinner at Blue Smoke…perfect spot for a casual and comforting meal after a long weekend of eating, drinking and staying up late. They also have one of my all time favorite beers there—the Allagash from Portland Maine! Yum.

On top of that, there were endless nights of drinking…and yes, to some, these count as a meal (haven’t you ever heard of a liquid diet?) Those liquid meals include:

- Drinks at Tailor (where there was a Sam Mason sighting!)

- Beers at The Room (such a cute place! Awesome beer and wine list!)

- Too many to count yummy Plymouth gin drinks mid-day at Bar Milano from Ross the bartender (my friend Jamie would be proud!)

- A local Brooklyn distilled beer at the Spotted Pig (a beer 'that'll put hair on your chest!' according to my friend Tim)

- Drinks at PDT, from Mr. Jim Meehan himself…where not only did we try most of the drinks on the menu, but I met two awesome OZ industry folks who gave me a long list of places to check out, but also where I had a yummy late night snack of tater tots and a David Chang dog (yum!!)

THEN, to top it off, I was able to attend the new Boqueria Soho opening night party…where I ate more padron peppers than I’ve ever had before…and where there were sightings of local NYC chefs such as Anne Burrell, Marco Canora, Patrick Connolly, and supposedly Johnny Iuzzini made a late appearance (I was LONG gone by then, Barry please don't be mad!) In addition to the yummy pardon peppers, there was quail eggs and chorizo on toast, lamb skewers, cheese, olives and much more. YUM! (Go Baltz team for throwing such an awesome party!)

So! What if not any of those meals, is my Meal of the Month: New York, you ask? (And just how many days was I there for?? I know, it’s a lot of food and drink…) My Meal of the Month would have to go to Dell’anima. I haven’t been able to stop raving about it since I’ve been back. Our table of five took one look at the menu and almost ordered the whole thing. Luckily for our stomachs, we refrained and just ordered ALMOST everything from the menu (they were also kind enough to bring us a few items we didn’t order.) Let’s see. Where do I begin?

Well, first, we ordered all five of their bruschettes…chickpea with preserved lemon, avocado with sea salt, octopus aioli, a soft scrambled eggs bottarga, and a ricotta with sea salt. It was all so good. I could have just eaten these and been happy. The bread was grilled and rubbed with a little garlic. Not too garlicky, but just enough. The soft scrambled eggs were my favorite!

From there, we moved onto some other starters…grilled sweetbreads, braised boar with polenta, and escarole hearts (we had to have one order of something green--Sam and Jamie insisted!)

As if that wasn’t enough…we haven’t even gotten to our pasta course! (And those of you that know me know that I sure do love pasta!) We ordered the tagliatelle alla Bolognese, linguini neri puttanesca, trofie with bacon, tomato, shallots and rosemary, and the garganelli with funghi trifolati, lemon and parsley. How could five people eat all of this?? We’re pros. Not a bite left on the plate. But wait. There’s more.

We finished off with the pork chop, served with sunchokes, prosciutto and mustard fruit, as well as the chicken ‘al diavolo’ served with braised escarole and raisins. The pork chop was a huge piece of meat, and yet when we cut into it, it was perfectly cooked and so moist. Too bad it came at the end of the meal and I was too stuffed to eat more!

Dessert you ask? Sigh. I know they brought us some. But what you ask? I’m a bad blogger and I have to admit, I think I was starting to creep into food coma by then (after all, we had a ton of wine and I was exhausted after a really long weekend.) All I can remember was the perfect shot of fernet I had. Yummmmm, just like at home in San Francisco!

So, what else will this month bring? No doubt lots more good food? When's the next time I return to New York? No doubt, very soon.

Thanks to all of my friends that made this such a fun trip...all of the thoughtfully planned meals, reservations, invitations, suggestions, etc., MUCH APPRECIATED! When are you all coming to San Fran?? Happy to return the favor!