Thursday, July 31, 2008

Meal of the Month: July

Back by popular demand…it’s time for my Meal of the Month! As my loyal readers will know, this is where I recap my favorite meal from this last month. Here’s a link to my first Meal of the Month column.

As I mentioned before, the Meal of the Month may not necessarily be the meal with the best food (although it certainly does help if the food’s good!), but it might be because of the overall experience. Here are some of the top contenders:

- Breakfast with celebrity/eco consultant/overall cool guy, Danny Seo

- A fabulous Fourth of July BBQ feast in Portland

The Jello shot American Flag

- Spanish tapas dinner at Lolo Restaurant with my chef friend John

- Yummy Thai street food with two good girlfriends at Pok Pok Restaurant

The Glowing Pok Pok Sign

Siobhan and I in front of Pok Pok (Sorry Tarlan, there wasn't one of all of us in it!)

- A home cooked ‘kid friendly’ meal in Diamond Heights

- Lunch in the courtyard café at the Legion of Honor Museum with two of my favorite kids

Will and Nate with their favorite Auntie!

- Casual Friday night BBQ at a friend’s house

- Yummy Italian meal at Tuli Bistro with my friend Denise, sitting at the chef’s counter, while chatting it up with the newest chef to join the team (best scallops I’ve had in such a long time)

- Enjoy a wonderful relaxing meal outside with old friends (and new ones!) at Parkhouse Eatery

Another glowing sign--this time at the Parkhouse Eatery

Old Friends (Bahram, Bowman J and Siobhan) with New Friends (Jason and Devin)

- Late night dinner with my friend Josh at one of my local favorites, Berretta Restaurant, after cocktails at the Grand Café (celebrating Bastille Day), and more cocktails at the Clock Bar opening party…oh, and before more drinks at Alembic Bar!

- Fun dinner at Poleng Lounge with friends Josh and Tim (see earlier post here)

Meals were enjoyed in San Francisco, Portland, Sacramento, and San Diego. Whew! What a lucky gal I am! How does one even choose a favorite? Well. For the month of July…I am choosing my recent dinner at SPQR Restaurant with my brand new foodie friends!

It was a late dinner, with four ‘new friends’ and they were all out of towners. All of them worked in restaurants (two were chefs, one was front of the house.) We were a motley crew of sorts. And it was awesome.

We had been drinking cocktails at another event for a little while (ok, so for more than three hours) before deciding to head to SPQR for dinner. There was still a wait when we got there, so we went down the street and had some wine while we waited. By the time we settled in for dinner, we were starving!

From the corner of my eye, I could see Chef Nate Appleman behind the line, and I knew we’d be in for a treat. We started right away with some of the antipasti: fried cauliflower with garlic, parsley, capers and lemon; fried chicken livers; (there was one more appetizer, but I can’t remember!) We also had the fried sweetbreads with celery, garlic, parsley and lemon as well as one of my all time favorite pastas, the cacao e pepe- rigatoni with pecorino romano and black pepper. So delicious!

We ended with two desserts. And I’ve got to be honest, I should have written this weeks ago after we ate the meal, because I don’t even remember the first dessert. Only the second one. The one I wanted. it was a hazelnut panna cotta and I don’t think I even put it down. It was so good (and again, my love for panna cotta remains true!)

I’m fairly easy when it comes to choosing dining companions. I don’t love eating with vegetarians (it just limits me in what we can taste!), I need to eat with people who are up for trying new things, and everyone needs to share! That’s it. Pretty basic. This night was one of those nights…where the food was yummy, service amazing, conversation was fun, and the wine just flowing.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Good vs Bad – Bad Meal in San Diego

Although I love making sweets, I’m not the biggest fan of eating sweets. However, a do appreciate a good cupcake and am even more excited by interesting flavor combinations. My friend Jonathan told me about a place, Eclipse Chocolat, that we just had to check out. He had recently heard that they had a bacon/chocolate cupcake! It was definitely worth the trek to check it out!

To my disappointment, the night we went, the bacon/chocolate cupcake was not available. We settled for a mixed box of goodies.

We ended up picking :
- Kentucky Bourbon and Pecan Cupcake
- Lemon Dulce du Leche Cupcake
- Macadamia and Toasted Marshmallow Cupcake
- Macademia and Ginger Brownie
- Masala Chai Brownie
- Espresso Truffle
- Lavender and Sea Salt Caramel

I was really excited about the bourbon cupcake as well as the marshmallow one. The chai brownie was my pick as was the lavender and sea salt caramel.
Imagine my disappointment when we got home and started cutting into them…just to find the cupcake flavor combos weird, and the cupcake itself super dry. I’ve had a lot of good cupcakes in my time (Kara’s Cupcakes in San Francisco, Miette Cakes in the Ferry Building, Berkeley's Love at First Bite Bakery, Saint Cupcake in Portland), and these were probably some of the worst ones I’ve ever had. I'm no professional baker, but mine are even better!

I really wanted to like them. The brownies were generally better than the cupcakes. And of all of the cupcakes, the marshmallow one was ok--probably because the fluffy marshmallow in the center at least gave the cupcake some moisture.

Goes to show...don't try and be so clever with the original flavor combinations. Stick with the basics and be sure to perfect your basic cupcake before venturing out.

Good vs Bad – Good Meal in San Diego

When I went down to San Diego, I knew my fellow foodie friend Jonathan would be thinking of some good spots for us to check out. And boy did he deliver! We headed to the Linkery restaurant—and my initial thought was “We’re going to a place that only has sausages?” But this place is so much more than that.

Not sure what use to be in the space, but there is a great roll-up door that on the hot summer night I was there, it was rolled up and people could feel the cool San Diego breeze. The menu is awesome—and includes details about the farms the food comes from, the methods of preparation, and really focuses on local, organic and sustainable. There’s a whole section on the back of the menu called “Meet Your Meal” that even talks about the farmers themselves. I loved it.

The house made links are awesome (our favorite of the night was the Sweet Chinese link—I think I might have a new nickname…), and the one that sounded really good (but they had sold out by the time we got there!) was the curry chicken link.

Highlight of the dinner (for me!) was the Complete Burger. Grass-fed beef, house cured bacon, aged Gouda cheese, tomatoes, grilled onions, grilled pineapple, and topped off with a fried egg. YUM. (Although kind of filling—good thing I had my friend Bahram to share it with!)

A great place for dinner…especially for those who care about where their food comes from!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

What are YOU doing?

I've been thinking a lot about technology...and how in just a little over 6 months, I've gone from pretty much only using email as my primary electronic means of staying connected to friends, to now using Facebook and to even having my ow blog! This from the gal that hated blogs just a short time ago. I've embraced blogs, and with the help of my Google Reader, I monitor almost 100 different blogs and am able to scan them all quickly for stories that peak my interest. And for my loyal blog readers still reading off my website, you'll see the shared items on the left hand side-these are the best stories I come across.

I'm finding so much enjoyment from reading the blogs I've found. Many are like little short stories, snippets of a person's life. I'm now freakishly connected to people I've never even met before. I hear intimate details about their life, and well, in my case, hear about most of their meals and what they're seeing food-wise where ever in the world they might be!

Another thing I'm really enjoying is one of the functions on Facebook- the 'status' section. For you non-users, this is the place for you to post what you're up to, or how you're feeling. It's actually my favorite part of Facebook. It's fun to think of something clever to say...or to use it as a place to express to your friends what you're doing, what you're up to or where you're coming from.

I've seen people use this as a place to:
-share where they're heading ('Heading back to DC!', 'NOLA, watch out, here I come!')
-to publicly mourn the death or public figures ('Who will meet the press now?', 'Picture it. Italy. 1951.')
-to express frustration ('flight delayed...stuck in Dallas')
-to express joy ('just had the best meal...and is stuffed!)
-to communicate to friends ('thanks for the birthday wishes!')
-to look for tickets to concerts and sporting events

But what I'm seeing more and more now, is people using this as a means to share really big news. This is actually how I sometimes learn about what's happening in my friends' lives. Obviously not super close friends...but still people that I think fondly of and enjoy staying in touch with!

Via Facebook and status updates, I've learned...
-of friends having had children (congrats again Jake and Matt!)
-I've learned of engagements this way (yay for Erin!)
-of people moving (ahem,Theron!!)
-of people quitting their jobs and moving! (Elliott...this one's for YOU!)
-of people mourning the deaths of loved ones
-of people who's marriages are falling apart

What I want to know is, is it appropriate to respond and react? This is a relatively public forum (there are some privacy settings, but for the most part, not only do your friends see it, but in many cases, their friends can view your status too.

Does it depend on how close you are with the person? Yes. Of course. Does it matter if it's good news versus bad news? Well, sure I suppose. But in general, if someone is choosing to share this information with you, doesn't it open the door to reaction?

Even I've found myself sharing many details from my personal life online. From all of the 'celebrities' I saw at Aspen Food & Wine festival, to where I'm heading for the weekend, to a health scare I had with my dad, to missing my mom on Mother's Day, to silly adventures with girlfriends, inside jokes just for a few people to get a giggle out of, to thanking friends for something nice they've done for me, to sharing news about my latest and greatest crush.

In this day and age, technology is changing the way we communicate with one another. And in a weird sort of way, it's bringing us closer than we've ever been. Are my relationships with good friends still as deep and meaningful? Yes. But am I also able to stay in touch with many more friends that I may not have been able to do so with in the past? Definitely. Is there really anything so bad about this? No.

It took me a long time to embrace all of this. And I still have many friends that reject this, and I can respect that. Do I wish I had this technology as an additional way of staying in contact with them? Well, sure! But I know, it's not for least not yet.

I had a conversation recently with some friends. One of them disclosed that they had a nightmare the night before. They dreamt Facebook gone out of business and was no more. The whole group gasped in horror. It's a sign of the times isn't it?

Weirdest Plane Passenger

So. Most people I see when I travel are 'normal'. Husbands and wives. Families. Groups of girls. Groups of guys. People traveling for leisure, and people traveling for business (my favorite type of traveler to see!)

In any case, only a few times, have I seen some 'weird' behavior. There was the group of tourists from India (I believe) on my flight from SF to Las Vegas recently. They didn't speak a word of English and had a lot of trouble getting seated--people not knowing where their seats were, so they were just sitting anywhere they could. Frustrating, but I guess not actually too 'weird'.

Well. Recently, on my flight from SF to San Diego...I sat across the aisle from a woman that's gonna take the cake for weird. She was singing the entire flight. Yes, it ranged from a low hum to full on, loud singing. And during the low hums, she had her lint brush in her hand, and was tapping it, as if that was her drum stick and she was drumming.

I don't know what language she was singing in, I think and African language, and she actually did have a pretty decent voice. It was just odd...

The couple next to me kept glaring at her (but she was singing with her eyes closed, so really, why bother with the stares?) A lot of people were clearly annoyed and bothered, but no one complained. I guess if the flight was any longer...then maybe it would be worth it. Sigh. In the meantime, maybe this is a reminder to always carry those ear plugs with you!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tyson's Wisdom

My friend Tyson once told me "I fall in love just a little bit each day." I’ve thought about this for a long time. And I don't even know if Tyson remembers saying that to me, or if he realizes the power those words have had on me since.

At the time, I don't think I thought much about it. In fact, you might even say I was in a little bit of a ‘bitter mentality’, so this was definitely not a concept I was open to hearing. Fall in love? Ha! Each day? No way. Frankly, I thought he was a little crazy, and exaggerating a little bit. What did he mean? Those of you that know Tyson, know that this was the truth and he meant it from his heart. He truly did fall in love a little bit each day.

We were at a Movie Night in Dolores Park. I vividly recall sitting on the picnic blanket, holding my burrito, and listening to Tyson explain what he meant by this. He basically said, each and every day, he found something about someone that made him appreciate them. I even remember him smiling a little bit, and telling me about the girl that he had ‘fallen in love with’ that day. And that it was just something simple, her smile, that did it for him. He didn’t say it in a joking kind of way, and he didn’t make the words ‘falling in love’ mean any less just because it was something that ‘happened every day’. He recognized that although he allowed himself to do it each day, it wasn’t something that necessarily always happened, and that when it did, or when he found something special about someone, it was still that—special.

I think about it now…years later…and in a much happier place in my life. I believe he is describing the process of allowing ourselves to be more accepting, and to use our hearts more. We should find more reasons to love the people we surround ourselves with and that we meet. It might not be someone that you know very well, and it might not even be someone you will ever see again. It’s just that ability to see that there is something special about each and every one of us. And that there’s a part of them that you can love.

Thanks for the lesson Tyson. You are far wiser than your age.

Tyson and I circa 2001...I think the week that we graduated from college
Hands off ladies…he is happily engaged now!

Monday, July 21, 2008

To Fuel My Ice Cream Passion

Isn't this great?? Yes, it's another one of those gadgets that are real cool...but who really needs it? Ummm...ME! You know my obsession with ice cream (please don't let the fact that I haven't made any recently make you think I'm any less obsessed.)

But basically, these are little scoopers, that you put ice cream into (home made in my case!), and then you can just push it up and eat it! Without spoon...without mess. As you can see, there's also a little cap. So you can save it if you don't finish (like you're ever not going to finish?)

Hmmm, my half birthday is in October. Do you get birthday presents for that? I'm adding this to my wish list!

Thanks Christy for thinking of me and for sending this my way!

Without Music...

Life would not be fair.

I have a photo of that spray painted on a wall. I love that saying. Music (like smell or food) is one of those things that can take you back to a place, remind you of a specific feeling, and most importantly, make you think of a specific person. Unlike smells or can be more easily recreated.

These are some of my favorite songs that remind me of a specific moment. I did narrow it down to one song per artist although in some cases, an entire album brings back memories and smiles to my face. Guess you'd call this the soundtrack of my life. It's a work in progress...but these all come to mind. So random right? Hey, that's life. Enjoy!

Beach Boys "Don't Worry Baby"
Beyonce "Crazy In Love"
Blondie "Tide Is High"
Bonnie Rait "Let's Give 'Em Something to Talk About"
Brazilian Girls "Lazy Lover"
Cake "Walk on by"
Cat Stevens "Wild World"
Coolio "Gangsta's Paradise"
Dandy Warhols "You Were the Last High"
Doris Day "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)
Goapele "Closer"
Gorillaz "Feel Good Inc"
Jackson Brown "Stay"
Jewel "Foolish Games"
John Mellencamp "Jack and Diane"
K-Ci and JoJo"All My Life"
Kinks "Lola"
Lee Ann Womack "I Hope You Dance"
Lynyrd Skynyrd "Sweet Home Alabama"
Milli Vanilli "Blame It On The Rain"
Natasha Bedingfield "Unwritten"
Radiohead "Just"
Red Hot Chili Peppers "Hey Oh, Snow"
Sublime "Santaria"
The Doors "Love Street"
Tom Petty "American Girl"
Van Morrison "Brown Eyed Girl"

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Where I Wish I Was...

Lakeside Cabin

Endless Technology Issues

I'm totally annoyed. I don’t know what happened, but I opened up my blog page one day and it was still blue with my polka dots, but all the writing was in a white text box. I couldn't figure out what happened! Obviously I didn't do that (I wouldn't even know how!)

I tried fixing it, I tried looking into the HTML coding, I tried re-choosing my template. All nothing. Same ugly white box. Since I couldn't fix it, I changed it. I don't love this white background, but at least it does have the polka dots (sometimes...a few times I've opened it up, and nothing. Just white.)

SO. For those of you reading this in Google Reader or some other feed, you'll probably never notice the difference. For the rest of you...(Paul, I mean you), I'm sorry. Still working on the background, the template, the spacing issues...sigh.

Thanks for reading though. I’ve got a bunch of posts I’ve been writing that need to be posted…stay tuned! Hope the stories are worth putting up with the ever changing background.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Dinner at Poleng Lounge...and A Lesson in Composting

As my friend Josh was starting to get tired of Italian food on his Tour de San Francisco, we decided it was time to check out another cuisine. He mentioned wanting something I took my him to Poleng Lounge. A place you can always count on for some good food, yummy cocktails and good vibe. It was the perfect place for a meal his last night in SF.

My friend Tim Luym is the chef there, and is probably one of the hardest working chefs I know.
Josh and I enjoyed dish after dish of amazing food. And did ya know Tuesday night is half off bottles of wine and sake? :)

In any case, more importantly, the food!

Walu Kinilaw: A Filipino “Ceviche” with butterfish cooked in sugarcane vinegar, lime juice and coconut milk, with thai chiles, toybox tomatoes and cilantro. SO GOOD. It was one of our favorite dishes of the night. (Note, the poor photography skills are reflection of how the food looked!)

Sizzling Sisig: Pork medley with coconut vinegar, onions, peppers, and fresh calamansi. We added an egg, and it came perfectly sunnyside up, and was mixed in table side. They did it so quickly, we couldn't capture a 'before' photo. But this was good.

Long Life Garlic Crab Noodles: Pan fried egg noodles with garlic and fresh dungeness crabmeat. Yummy! A favorite of mine. Note the photography skills getting a bit better? Josh grabbed the camera and started snapping...he even staged the photos so that you can see the bottle of the “Summer Snow” Kamoizumi Nigori Ginjo sake we had in the background (I'm holding it up by the way.)

Cebuano B.B.Q. Pork Belly. It was a yummy dish, and no offense to Tim, but the best part of this dish was the accompanying salad...

Salted Duck Egg Salad...with thinly sliced pieces of shallots and tomatoes. YUM! We were starting to get so full, but still managed to eat all of it.

I don't remember the full details/description of this dish. I am so embarrassed. HELP! Tim? Josh? Anyone out there? It was yummy...but it was also the last dish (that we didn't order)...of a long night...with lots of sake...sigh.

It's always fun seeing two chefs get together and hearing what they talk about. In the case of Tim and Josh, the topic moved to composting and gardens. It was pretty interesting stuff...what you can and can't compost. Do restaurants compost? Do certain cities make it easier than other cities? What about those worms? Different types of containers to store the compost. Could you go into the business of composting? How does it affect your garden? Do you have a garden? What are you growing? What do you want to try and grow? Why don't you plant these chilies? And on and on and on.

In any case, a conversation I would have probably spent 10 on, lasted closer to 30 min (maybe over...I swear, I'm not exaggerating). Seriously. They had bonded. I was left to sipping my Fernet. Tim even showed Josh his walk-in (get your mind out of the gutters people! Walk-in refrigerator!!), and gave him some Thai chilies and limes. Lucky guy. Where were mine?

Josh and Tim talking about composting. They weren't this smiley for the whole conversation, although they were pretty animated in their conversation, but here they're just posing for the photo.

In any case. It was a great night. Great food. Great company. What more could a gal ask for?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Good vs Bad- Bad Meal in Portland

The Bad: Clyde Commons

Clyde Commons is a restaurant I had been wanting to check out ever since I had heard about it more than a year ago. When Siobhan and I walked in to meet some of my Portland friends for dinner, I was immediately loving the design and space. It was a nice open space, huge windows, a great bar and open kitchen, and a large communal table.

All in all, our service was horribly slow, and our server did not seem enthusiastic about anything on the menu. Neither the cocktails, starters, wines, anything. It was disappointing since I enjoy seeing the enthusiasm from servers’ faces and expressions. I have even been known to change my mind based on a servers’ description of a dish. What was almost worse, was that he knew one of the gals in the group.

On top of that, I was horribly disappointed with the dish I ordered. I went with the Braised Pork Shank with carrots and snap peas. Usually a pretty ‘safe’ and good dish. It looked great, but when I cut into it, although the meat came off the bone and apart fairly easily, the meat was dry. And I wasn’t happy with the flavor. I was so disappointed! I’ve had a lot of braised pork in my day (and I think Chef Michelle Mah and my friend Eric’s top the list)…and this was pretty bad. Siobhan could tell my disappointment (not that I was really doing anything to hide it!) When I was finally able to flag down our server, I told him I was really unhappy with my dish (all I had eaten were the snap peas), and told him I’d prefer to have a ½ order (he confirmed he could do that) of the pasta dish Siobhan was eating (not that her’s was incredibly delicious, but it was pretty good. It was a tagliatelle with spring onions and king oyster mushrooms.) The server asked if I disliked it so much, he could take the dish away. I said yes.

In the end, it was a fine meal, and with GREAT company and lots of good wine (that the wine experts had brought themselves!) The spinach, arugula, fava bean and mint salad was a huge hit!

We were in no hurry, so the slow service wasn’t too painful. In talking to Portland locals, the feedback has come back very varied. Some loving the place, saying they go multiple times a week, and others saying they weren’t so impressed. One friend went as far as to say he thought the chefs there cooked without soul and love. Maybe he was onto something? That there is something about a dish you can't exactly put your finger on...but that you can taste—that fifth umami flavor. Maybe it was an off night for the restaurant. Would I give them another chance? Most definitely. If I was only in town for one night and had to choose between returning to Clyde Commons or going somewhere new, would I? Probably not. Unfortunately, the highlights of the meal (food wise) are a little buried.
*Disclosure: It really isn't 'bad', it's just 'not as great'. But calling this column 'Good vs Not As Great' didn't seem right. Should I change the title of the column to be completely fair to the restaurant? It really wasn't bad...

Good vs Bad- Good Meal in Portland

The Good: Lolo

When I go out to eat with my chef friends, I tend to let them pick the restaurant. They don’t get nights off very often, and when they do, there is inevitably a place they want to check out, a favorite restaurant they want to return to, or a cuisine they’re craving.

So when I was able to have dinner with my friend Chef John Eisenhart of Portland's Pazzo Restaurant, and he asked me where I wanted to go, I told him it was completely in his hands! We ran into the problem of a lot of places being closed. It was the Sunday of the 4th of July long weekend and the Portland restaurant scene was dead. After a few unsuccessful phone calls (thank goodness we were at the bar and had drinks getting us through this tough time), he finally thought of a place, and we were in luck, it was open!

We ended up at a Spanish tapas place called Lolo in the Alberta Arts neighborhood. We had a great corner table (wish I had taken a photo now!) and could see the entire restaurant and bar, and even the street through the windows.

We ordered one to two small dishes at a time, and then keep going back for more and more…and all shareable! My favorite way to eat a meal.

Highlights included:

-A white bean gazpacho with grapes, nuts and an olive oil finish

-Fresh crudo with mango, local Oregon strawberries and rhubarb

-Octopus with celery and piquillo peppers (we had just spent a lot of time talking about squids and cuttlefish after all!)

-Almond ice cream with chocolate Madelines

-Poached pear with mascarpone ice cream

I especially loved the almond ice cream (still in the ice cream phase), so I think that’s going to be the next ice cream I make. Anyone have a good almond ice cream recipe? The owner, Giorgio, was actually working the night we were there. It was a reminder just how tough the restaurant business was. He owns two restaurants in Portland (Lolo and Giorgio’s), and because it was a slow night and the high cost of labor, he had decided to just work himself. Both he and our server were very nice, friendly and attentive. It was a great table, delicious meal and fantastic experience.

Stay tuned for a review of The Bad!! You'll be surprised to hear who it is...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Dinner at Jack Falstaff Restaurant

I had a chef friend, Josh, in town from Denver, and we have been on a Taste of SF—Italian style. We’ve eaten at SPQR and Bar Bambino, and A16, Incanto Restaurant, and Delfina are also on his list. He’s one of the chefs at Denver’s Panzano restaurant and so was doing a bit of inspirational dining (sounds so much better than just plain old research). Well, when trying to think of where else we should go (that wasn’t necessarily Italian), I thought of my friend Jonny’s restaurant, Jack Falstaff. Wise choice. Definitely didn’t regret that decision! Josh and I met up with my friends Jason and Eric and we had our fearless foursome, ready for some serious dining.

Chef Jonnatan Levia was a 2008 San Francisco Chronicle Rising Star Chef, and was even just featured again in the paper today! In any case, Jonny spoiled us. We started off with bubbly, Friend Oysters with Corn Fritters, Grass-fed Bison Tartare, and a Chorizo and Cantaloupe salad. The bison tartare was my favorite, surprisingly tender given how lean that meat is.

Before our main courses arrived, Jonny treated us to fresh oysters as well as his Heirloom Tomato Salad which was served with fava beans and corn with a cresenza cheese. Oh my god. The corn was so sweet (as Josh said, especially for so early in the season!) I could have eaten everyone’s portion and would be perfectly happy eating that salad every day for the rest of my life.

We moved on to our main courses. The table ordered the Pacific Halibut with a Dungeness Crab and Corn ‘Chowder’, the Local Black Cod with Roasted Tomatoes and Zucchini, the Kobe Style Beef Sirloin served with Roasted Bone Marrow, Spinach and Piquillo Stuffed with Morels, and the Heritage Duroc Pork served with ramen and a sunnyside up Partridge egg. Everything was delicious, the crab and corn ‘chowder’ was very good—with a spicy kick! The fish were both prepared perfectly, the beef sirloin was awesome—the spinach was good too.

HOWEVER. The most amazing and perfect dish of the night was the pork ramen. The server poured the ginger-soy broth tableside, and the egg was perfectly cooked. The pork was super tender, the ramen perfectly cooked, and all of the flavors blended very well. I’m disappointed to say, that was not the dish I ordered, and only had a taste. I regret not being able to eat the whole thing for myself. (Reason to go back!)

As if all of that wasn’t enough…we splurged on dessert. As we were still salivating over the dessert menu, the kitchen sent out the Yellow Peach 'Muffin', which was literally like biting into a peach. It was a combination of a peach compote and peach sorbet. And then as I was chatting away with Jonny and not paying attention, the table also ordered the chocolate tasting dessert as well as the Frangelico Root Beer Float. All of it was so good. The chocolate was amazing…and the root beer float I could have finished by myself (and should have just grabbed it…it was a little challenging to share and everyone was being too polite!) I asked chef about the signature doughnut holes, and being the good man that he is, Jonny also had those sent out. Perfectly fried and dipped in cinnamon and sugar, the doughnut holes came with three dipping sauces, a berry one, caramel and crème anglaise. Amazing!! So good.

We literally had to be rolled out of the restaurant and couldn’t eat another bite. Thank you to Jonny and Jack Falstaff for such a memorable meal!

Photo of Jonny with his niece, borrowed from the San Francisco Chronicle

Saturday, July 12, 2008

My Love for Books

When my friends and I went to Portland, we had a lot of things we wanted to do. See the Rose Gardens, Japanese Tea Gardens, hike and rent bikes and explore Forest Park, go wine tasting in wine country, check out some local brewery’s (including the all organic beer distilled by Hopworks), spend time with friends, go window shopping (and actual shopping) in the Pearl District and NW 23rd Street corridor, get massage treatments, have brunch, eat cupcakes…oh and the list goes on and on. Although we only got through about half the list (ok, maybe 1/3), one thing we did do, was go to Powell’s Bookstore.

It claims to be the largest independent bookstore in the world, and it is an amazing place. My friends Tarlan, Siobhan and I decided we could get sucked in and spend all day there, so we almost purposely didn’t give ourselves a ton of time. We walked in, looked at the clock and decided to spread out, and meet back in an hour.

It was the fastest hour that has ever passed. I explored a few of the rooms…the Rose Room, the Orange Room, and on and on. (My favorite section was the Cooking/Food section…you knew I’d hit that up, right?)

My love for books started when I was young. I remember being a toddler and flipping through my mom’s collection of Chinese novels. I also remember taking trips to the public library with my mom and sister, and how we’d pour into the books and bring stacks and stacks of them home and have them all over the living room floor. Even one of the first places I learned to drive to was the public library. It was always something our entire family appreciated and had a love for. We’d all go to the library and immediately go to our own sections and areas of the library. I felt like I was a world away.

Even now. I can’t throw away books, or even give them away when I’m done. I am all for sharing and lending books to friends, but then I want them back. And I love and cherish my book collection. Thanks mom for giving me this appreciation for books and the written word.

Mom in her early 20's, organizing her books in her apartment

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

More Questions Answered - And A Diagram!

In addition to being a fun dinner cohort, my friend John was also helpful in helping me further answer the age old question: "What is the difference between squid and cuttlefish".

Many of you saw my earlier posting. Although there weren't official comments about this topic posted, I'm sure it's resulted in many sleepless nights for you all. Fear not. John is here to save the day and to provide us with some answers.

To start, John drew me a picture. Being ill-prepared, I grabbed the only paper in my purse, a tourist map of Portland from Powell's Books. John appropriately drew the squid and cuttlefish in the blue water part of the map (“Where they belong” as he put it). Look hard...they're in there! Cuttlefish is the top one above the bridge, and the squid is the one below the bridge.

Note: diagram not drawn to scale

John explained that the 'hood' of the cuttlefish is bigger, and the squid tentacles tend to be longer. There are eyes on squid, I’m not sure why we didn’t talk about the eyes or lack of eyes on cuttlefish, but there aren’t any on this diagram. However after some researching online, I learned cuttlefish have eyes too. He also confirmed what I knew already, cuttlefish is much more popular in Asia and squid is much more popular in the U.S. And as he described it, the cuttlefish is almost a hybrid of or the perfect thing 'in-between' a squid and an octopus.

How is he so smart you ask? Well, doesn't hurt that he's a chef. Being the talented executive chef of Pazzo Ristorante in Portland, John is a very busy man. I was lucky enough to be able to spend time with John on one of his precious nights off. He talked about many of his cooking adventures and experiences (including cleaning out hundreds and hundreds of cuttlefish during some time when he was cooking in Italy).

The meal we had was great. More on that soon!

In terms of my squid vs cuttlefish debate, I think I’ve found enough answers and have done plenty of my own additional research online. At this point, what's most important? I like eating both of them. Onto the next food world unanswered question.

Follow-up to "Packing For A Trip"

My friend Liz always chimes in on the foodie posts. It's great to have friends respond, post comments, or email me their thoughts, comments, corrections, updates, etc.

She's corrected me, my 'knife pouch' should be properly referred to as a 'knife roll'. Thanks Liz.

I'll be sure to get on that purchase...and in addition to my knives, stock it with a good spatula, tongs, slotted spoon, and chopsticks.

Anyone want to invite me over for a dinner party? Long weekend in an exotic location? Me and my KNIFE ROLL will be ready.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Another Complaint About Traveling

So. I travel a fair amount. I don't mind it, and have found my rhythm. I know SFO pretty well, know what items I can and can't bring on. I know that yes, you still have to remove your shoes, and that your laptop needs it's own bin when you go through security. I know that when I do have to check a bag, if I very nicely ask them to give me a priority sticker for being a premier member, they'll do it and I do tend to get my bags just a little quicker. I've learned to spot the people that don't travel often, and to NOT wait in line behind them.

Now, I do typically travel one airline...just for the miles and status. It was never really my choice, but SFO is one of United's hubs, so there are typically a decent amount of flight options. And I had flown with them many years ago and started collecting points and miles. I have friends who travel frequently and prefer some of the discount carriers such as Southwest or JetBlue. My friend Siobhan just flew Southwest to Portland and mentioned that the flight attendants were bragging that they didn't have checked bag fees. Yea, must be nice.

Well. Today as I was waiting to board, the attendant announced that they were doing pre-boarding. That was anyone that needed extra assistance. I saw a guy hobble up in crutches. Then a family with 3 little kids, probably all under 4, approached the gate. They had the stroller, diaper bags, luggage, just a lot of stuff and their arms were full.

The attendent turned them down. Pushed 'em away and proceeded with an announcement that families didn't count as "needing extra assistance".

I was a little surprised. I'm not saying traveling with kids means that you necessarily "need assistance". But I don't doubt that the family probably appreciated the extra time to settle in. And on top of that, this was the only family to approach the gate, and the plane wasn't even full.

A overheard a few people make some comments...saying that it wasn't such a big deal...why not let them on...and how other airlines would have let them pre-board.

I was disappointed by United's service. Not that they're known to be customer service oriented, or great with their service, but this was disappointing to witness.

I don't have kids. I'm even the first to say I'd prefer a plane trip without kids on it! BUT. This is reality. People have kids. People need to travel with them. It's not always pleasant. I hope to have kids some day. And if I'm traveling with them, I'd like and appreciate the courtesy of a few extra minutes if I needed it. Guess we know who I'll be flying then.

Meal of the Month: June

My friend Lisa was talking about her favorite 'meal of the month' earlier today, and I thought that would be a fun column for my blog! At the start of each month, I'll recap a favorite 'Meal of the Month' from the month before. The meal would be chosen mainly because of the delicious food, but also because of the overall experience. Was it something unique? A once in a lifetime opportunity? The people I was with? What made it something special and standout in my memory so many meals later? Simply put, it was a meal to remember for a lifetime. So here goes...


I was lucky, in June, I ate my way through Las Vegas, Aspen, Lake Tahoe, and of course, San Francisco. From restaurant parties, to extravagant meals in Vegas, to outdoor grill meals, to my favorite local hot spots in San Francisco with talented chef friends. Meals ranged from nibbling my way through a party, to home cooked meals, to meals outside in the perfect summer weather, to meals consisting mainly of cocktails. :) It was a hard task to choose just one meal. Well, folks, this is my blog, my rules. Here's the top two meals from June.

1. Dessert Tasting Menu, Payard Patisserie, Las Vegas
A five course dessert tasting menu with bubbly and port pairings? A good friend enjoying it with me? Perfect.

Coffee Eclair, Milk Chocolate Mouse and Flaky Sable

2. Head to Tail Dinner, Incanto Restaurant, San Francisco
Amazing meal. Very different meal than anything I've tasted before. A great group of friends. What could be better?

Boccalone sanguinaccio, duck egg and warm oysters

Let's hope July brings just as many good meals! Tune in!

Bit by Bit

Many of you know about my love for (even obsession with) the city of Portland. Yes, it's true. I do love it there.

The green trees, the arts and music scene, the coffee shops, the free spirit, the great proximity to farms (which means good food is never too far away), the many vineyards...the coast (unlike anything I have ever seen before in California.) And all so affordable!

It's a pretty neat place. Something like more brew pubs per capita than any other city. There's something like 12 bridges within city limits, and it was once referred to as Stumptown, because of the lodging industry--all of the trees were stumps. But that has since changed and Portland is a 'green', eco-friendly, and liberal place. The home of the creator of "The Simpson's", there's a quirkiness to Portland that I enjoy.

Why else do I love it so much? It was an escape for me after my mom passed away.

The city was a getaway for me. A place where I had the opportunity to grieve, to get away from life, and to spend some time with people that really took care of me. I know this sounds cheesy, but they helped me begin my healing process.

Mom passed away in March last year. And I think I was literally a blob all of April (ok, probably longer than just April...) I would sleep, cry, drink. Repeat. Oh, and some semblance of myself made it into work everyday.

I took a trip up to Portland in May. It was just a chance to get away, and to spend some time with some friends up there. It was perfect timing and just what I needed. I was lucky enough to spend time away from my daily life, my daily surroundings, even my daily friends. I was carefree, meeting new people, getting excited about things, and just taking time to let my heart, and body feel emotions other than sadness.

I have since returned a number of times to Portland...each time falling a little bit more in love with the city. I was just up there this last week and again left feeling refreshed and having had the chance to connect with friends, old and new.

I had dinner with my friend John one night I as up there. As we got to talking, I learned that he had lost his mom a few years ago. He told me, "The hole in your heart will go away a little bit...bit by bit..." His words spoke really true to me. There truly is a hole in your heart after the death of a loved one. I appreciated that he knew where I was coming from and that he didn't say the pain would go away. It never will. And although I don't necessarily believe him right now, I can only hope that it does go away a little bit...bit by bit.

A sign from one of the rose bushes at the Portland Rose Garden

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Cephalopods...What's the Difference?

So. I see the term 'squid' and 'calamari' on menus a lot. And I see the term 'cuttlefish' in Asian markets. Dried Cuttlefish. I've always thought of it as just 'dried squid', and kind of wondered what the difference between squid and cuttlefish and calamari was.

Well, tonight, I was looking over a tasting menu with some friends from work. We saw cuttlefish on the menu, and it made me think of my unanswered question! Tonight I was motivated enough to look it up in my trusty Food Lover's Companion food dictionary. (Is it embarrassing to tell you that I have that book next to my bed??) Here's what my bible told me.

Squid: As a ten-armed member of the cephalopod class in the mollusk family, squid is related to both the octopus and cuttlefish. Squid meat has a firm, chewy texture and mild, somewhat sweet flavor. Also called calamari, squid can range in size from 1 inch to the seldom seen 80-foot behemoth...

Cuttlefish: Sometimes referred to as the 'chameleon of the sea' because it can quickly change its skin color and pattern, the cuttlefish, which resembles a rather large squid, has 10 appendages and can reach up to 16 inches in length. It can be prepared like its less tender relatives, the squid and octopus, but must still be tenderized before cooking in order not to be exceedingly chewy. Cuttlefish are most popular in Japan, India and many Mediterranean countries...

(For those of you that are curious, under 'calamari', it says "See Squid")

SO. Does that help? I mean, clears things up a little bit, they're similar, and in the same family...ok. But...what else is different? It just wasn't enough for me! I didn't feel satisfied with the answer. So I went online. Seems like the blog world has also tackled this topic before...check it out on Chowhound. Anyone else care to chime in about the difference?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Dinner During My Detox

I'm suppose to be on know, no drinking and only eating healthy and working out. The last few weeks have just been INSANE. Party after party. Excessive drinking and eating. Horrible work-out habits. And totally not enough sleep. (But boy oh boy, it sure was a fun week!)
In any case. I wanted to have a week of detox, but between SF Gay Pride (umm, saving those adventures--and photos-- for a different post!) and then July 4th long weekend (and a trip to one of my all time favorite cities), I was lucky to get 3 days of detox squeezed in there.

Well. How about 2 days and we call it all good? :)

The middle day of my detox was ruined by a sudden urge for a bourbon cocktail. Well. There is just no where else to go, but Alembic. They've got some of the best cocktails in San Francisco, and not to mention one of the best bourbon/whiskey lists in town.

Oh. And did I mention a good friend, just happens to be the very talented chef of the place? So I should have known that my urge for that one cocktail would turn into two (and I didn't even end up drinking my favorite, but going out on a limb to try a delicious new cocktail--Southern Exposure.) And that two cocktails would turn into some yummy items from the kitchen!

My friends Chris and Terry and I had our standard salumi and cheese plate and the lamb sliders...all classics. Beyond that? Everything was at the chef's whim. And we knew Jordan would take good care of us. We had bacon cracker jacks (complete with prize!!) They were so good!!! (Those of you that know me, know my love and obsession for all things pork...also save that for a future post!) The crispy pork belly was amazing (I didn't want to share...after all, another pork dish!) It was especially fun to taste this plate since I've heard my friend Jordan talking about the way they prepare it (he started with telling me that the way he learned to prepare it...something about sous vide...but then he kinda lost me on the rest. All I could concentrate on was the soft, tenderness of the meat, and the yummy crispness of the skin! I just kept on nodding as he was talking...)

In any case. The last two things were the most amazing (to my palate at least). He brought out a dish of these little peppers. Shisito peppers (often referred to as Japanese peppers) to be exact. They were blistered quickly in a fryer, then tossed with a house smoked maldon salt. I didn't think I'd like them (not the biggest pepper fan), but they were AMAZING. Not too hot at all (until that very last one I ate...tears were in my eyes because of the heat!) But overall, a perfect dish to satisfy that desire for something salty.

The last dish was the perfect end. A miso black cod. There was some sweetness to it and the fish practically melted in your mouth. They had marinated the piece in a shiro miso, and then broiled to order until caramelized. There was a bit of chili oil and a few sesame seeds on the top. So good!!

Yea. So. Not quite the detox I had intended. But I was home early. And I had fish. And there was celery juice in my cocktail (which is why I had two). There's always next week for detoxing...

Packing for a Trip

This is cute. There was a story in the LA Times on what chefs bring when they’re on vacation. It made me think…especially as I’m (suppose to be) packing for my upcoming trip, what are the essentials we all pack? What do you bring on vacation? Obviously it depends on where you’re going. And weather. And if it’s a trip for business or pleasure. But for me, some of the things that are always a ‘must have’. Here’s my top 5:

- Airborne

- A good book

- Sunglasses

- iPod

- My flip flops (I know I’m in the hotel industry and believe all of our hotels are clean, but still don’t love being barefooted in hotels)

My overall packing list is pretty long for each trip (you can never be too prepared!). In terms of kitchen/food stuff, I never really bring much. Maybe a granola bar or two. However, if I had the luxury of traveling to a rental house or vacation home, or something glamorous in Lake Tahoe, or Russian River, or Provence, or Tuscany or something…what would I bring then?

I think I’d keep it fairly simple. My knives! Well, right now I don’t have knives. But I've always wanted a knife pouch (I don't know the real name) and some day, I'd love to have my own set of nice knives to put in the pouch. And that’s what I’d bring. Not fancy ingredients or even some of the staples some of the chefs list in this story, but I’d find local ingredients and produce and cook to highlight those ingredients. But I’d have my trusty knives with me.