Archive for the ‘USA’ Category
After 14 years of living in Bay Area and passing by Big Sur at least a dozen times, we finally decided to spend a weekend there. What can I say, better late than never? And thanks to airbnb, we found this wonderful cabin within a stone’s throw of Pffifer State Park. And what a cabin! Constructed from a winery barrel that once held Burgundy in the foot hills of the Sierras, it offered the view of forest canopy, blue skies, blue sea, stars at night, and most importantly a full kitchen, porcelain toilet and a hot bath. The weekend was unusually warm for May making the trip to the Andrew Molera State Park more than just picture perfect. From the parking spot, the beach is a short 2 miles away that takes you through the camp site along the Big Sur river to where the river meets the ocean.
Juhu Beach Club in Oakland is all about very Indian flavors served up in a modern setting. If I didn’t know I were in Oakland, I would have thought I was eating in London.
At first I was a little disappointed that they didn’t have their full menu for lunch. Only their pavs. My husband and I had driven all the way from south Bay to Oakland for the lunch. We ordered a “holy cow” each and shared a “vada” and a “pork vindalated ” pav. After the first bite, it didn’t matter that it was just pavs. They were fantastic. Describing pav as a slider is only a description of the form factor. Preeti Mistry has taken a super popular Bombay street food and just made them tastier – good quality meats, freshly roasted and ground spices, buttery buns and spice combinations that tickled different parts of the palate.
Chris Burden’s Metropolis II is an intense kinetic sculpture, modeled after a fast paced, frenetic modern city. Steel beams form an eclectic grid interwoven with an elaborate system of 18 roadways, including one 6 lane freeway, and HO scale train tracks. Miniature cars speed through the city at 240 scale miles per hour; every hour, the equivalent of approximately 100,000 cars circulate through the dense network of buildings. According to Burden, “The noise, the continuous flow of the trains, and the speeding toy cars, produces in the viewer the stress of living in a dynamic, active and bustling 21st Century city.” – lacma.org
For a movie version, click here.
We are bowled over by molecular gastronomy at Atelier Crenn. This time we settled on their five course menu. And yet again, each plate was an orchestra that brought together purity of flavors and textures to form an exquisite whole.
We had the same table as last and a Spanish chef for our neighbor that evening. Even with his highly broken english, it was clear from his explanation to Chef Dominique that he was on food tourism. He had settled for the ten course meal with wine pairings. With each course, his waiter had painstakingly explained the mile long list of ingredients in Spanish. This time I had decided I wasn’t going to write down the list.
First course was “trio of tomatoes”. Saying that the course was tomatoes says nothing. These were peeled, soft textured, cold grape tomatoes in essence of tomato broth with small bits of goat cheese – an umami bonanza. Next course was seafood medley that was infused with dashi. The third dish was soft cooked kohlrabi coated with coffee served on a bed of kohlrabi puree with kimchi sauce. The bitterness of kohlrabi was extended by coffee and kimchi offered an orthogonal spiciness dimension. Who would have thought that an earthy unpretentious root vegetable such a kohlrabi could be served for fine dining and with success. For palate cleanser, we were offered a shiso-ginger ice which if served with vodka would have made for a fantastic cocktail. The final savory item was guinea hen with huckleberries and chanterelle mushrooms. Desserts started with a not so sweet beet sorbet served to look like a beet. The tail bit was made of chocolate and the soil was composed of chocolate, yogurt and oatmeal. This was followed by eucalyptus popsicle served in a eucalyptus bouquet. Finally, some caramels and fruit jelly candy served on an artificial log but with a real acorn bud for decoration. Charming.
We obviously adore the food here but I wish I could see my food a little better. The main courses here were served on dark slate – the kind I scribbled on with chalk while I was a child. Very stylish and personally very evocative for me but I can’t quite see the sauces. The other courses were served on glass which again has a visibility issue for me – too much specular reflection or transparency. Nevertheless, I am waiting for my next excuse to celebrate.
Touristy? Oh yes …
After years of struggling with the idea of going to Hearst Castle, we finally took the plunge one weekend. It was really a gorgeous weekend last summer but it could very well have been this summer. Some things don’t change in a year and the spectacular journey along route 1 from San Francisco to San Simeon is one. Chances are, you will often get stuck behind cars going 15 miles below the speed limit behind nervous drivers who are perhaps more used to the straight roads of middle America. Use these temporary periods of slowdown to enjoy the blue ocean, rolling hills, and fog laden promontories even more. The journey is as much a part of the experience as the castle itself.
These photos were taken from the porch of a motel on highway 15 (Mojave Desert) our way to Grand Canyon in 2002. Finally these photos are explained. In a recent article on DailyMail UK titled, “There’s more to clouds than dull or grey and white and fluffy“, a very similar photo appeared with the following caption “Noctilucent clouds are crystals of ice hanging around 80km high in the atmosphere that catch the light of the sun long after it has set on the horizon. The cloud in this image was formed from the exhaust of a missile launched from a distant firing range.” We were indeed within range of a US army base. So the reason is likely to be identical in our photo.
Breakfast, pike place market, gay pride parade, view from the space needle, and dinner. For a slideshow, click here.
Gaultier’s exhibition at de Young ended last weekend. The dimly lit cavernous space of de Young felt appropriate for Gaultier’s over the top couture. Projected facial expressions on faces of the mannikins was a brilliant touch that animated the show and added to the sense of engagement.
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Torrey Pines Natural Reserve is a jewel in San Diego. Photos below are from an easy two hour hike starting from the visitor center lodge and going down the Razor point and Beach trails. For a slideshow, click on any one of the photos.
For the last few months, I have been living in the beautiful city of San Diego. Having spent 12 years in Bay Area, the air here feel fresher, the sky bluer and the sight of the beaches makes me crave a beach bum lifesytle. But it still a little cool to go beach bumming. So instead, I eat…
In fact, this one is about driving all the way to Los Angeles and back with the sole purpose of eating at Antojitos Carmen. And why? It is Jonathan Gold’s description of huarache de huitlacoche – ” … too hot to touch but too compelling not to … … with hell-hot habanero salsa Antojitos Carmen calls El Chamuco, the devil, for its ability to infiltrate your soul. The huarache will make you suffer, first through its physical heat, then through the heat of El Chamuco, then through the jet-black fungus that will paint your teeth the color of charcoal before it oozes down to stain your favorite shirt…”
Huitlacoche, or corn smut, is a corn disease, a fungus that usually replaces the normal kernels of the cobs with large, distorted tumors analogous to mushrooms. Etymology has something to do with “excrement”. But believe you me (and Gold), it is delicious. It is oozy, mushroom-y, and black. Who can say no to naturally black food? One more color to celebrate on the plate.
Not counting the occasional foam or sous vide, Atelier Crenn was our first molecular gastronomy meal. My husband and I are both scientists who have spent a significant part of our lives studying molecular interactions, so we were of course delighted when the word molecular started to be part of modern food cuisine. But before this meal, I had occasionally wondered if molecular gastronomy was just clever hype. But after this meal, I think a better way to describe this new cuisine is to consider the difference between abstract and realistic art. Just because art is in one category or other, doesn’t make it good or bad. The artist has to work equally hard to capture the imagination of his or her audience. Molecular gastronomy is abstract art and Dominique Crenn’s creations reminded me of Kandinsky’s composition series – many ingredients playing with each other to create something that was larger than sum of its parts.
We had seen chef Mangieri on Chow Obsessives. Location of Una Pizza Napoletana isn’t particularly exciting. Except for the oven, the restaurant interior looks like a bare canteen. From a choice of half dozen toppings, we ordered the Margherita. From any table, you can watch him prep the pizza with focus of a meditative monk. There is no aerial tossing, there is not much talking, there is no clinking of glasses, there is no busy moving to and fro from the kitchen… in fact there is no wasted movement, just obsessive placing of basil leaves and cheese on the dough. A baby, who was in the pram next to his station, presumably his, is growing up on the sweet smell of bread and basil.
Even though this one is situated in the heart of Chinatown, this is not your average Chinese restaurant. You definitely can’t go by the yelp averages. Think of it as anti-thesis Chinese takeout – there is nothing fast, cheap or expected about Jai Yun. So be prepared to love it or hate it.
For us, the occasion was my 40th Birthday. What better day to treat oneself to something out of the ordinary. We walked in early that evening to a familiar restaurant. No, it was our first at Jai Yun but their current location is where another unusually good restaurant used to be – The Flying Pan. We ate our way through an upwards of 20 dishes, all distinctly different in textures and flavors. Our server described each dish in detail without which it would have been very difficult to tell what we were eating. Pacing was superb. If I had to pick a single star item, it would be pig ear scented with five spice mix but all the dishes could be described somewhere between competent to superb. Even though each dish was quite light in itself, after the 15th or 16th dish we did get a bit tired of eating.
All in all, definitely something worth doing once – like celebrating a 40th.
Event – one lunch this winter at the popular thai restaurant Pok-Pok in Portland, Oregon accompanied by close friends.
While the desserts were last in the menu, let’s start with them first. With a little more salt than you expect and a little less sugar than you want, the dessert at Pok-pok is what I imagine Thai desserts are like – wildly tropical flavors, and rich with coconut milk. One was a brioche bread stuffed with coconut sticky rice, topped with jackfruit ice cream and garnished with crunchy salted peanuts. The other was a durian custard served on top of sticky rice and drizzled with salted coconut cream. While I haven’t eaten durian outside of a restaurant yet, jackfruit has always been a seasonal favorite growing up in India. And these dollops of jackfruit ice cream on a winter afternoon in Portland reminded me of hot a summer day in Kolkata.
Ferry Building at San Francisco is perhaps my favorite spot in the city when I am feeling lazy or when the weather is not at its best. They have everything to cheer you up – good coffee (Blue Bottle), good food (Slanted Door), good chocolates (Recchiuti), good bread (Acme), good cheese (Cowgirl creamery), the Farmer’s market and excellent views. This time, I found another reason, Miette Cakes. We picked up a chocolate ganache cake and it was delicious. The chocolate was intense (Scharffen Berger). The size was big enough to share with significant other and small enough to disallow fat/sugar overdose.
Four Barrel on Valencia is a well reviewed coffee mecca in Mission District of San Francisco. The queues are long but is a good opportunity to watch city fashions. The space has a modern warehouse look with a coffee bar at the entrance, the main coffee station in the middle and stock at the back. Seating is somewhat minimal but if you hang out long enough, you are bound to find a table. The coffee bar is akin to a wine bar where you pay to sample their brews. My husband was very excited about the coffee after having sampled 4 varietals! The music is played in an old fashioned way where a real person selects a record out of the collection and plays it on a record player. Unless you want a caffeine kick that makes you want to dance a jitterbug, I recommend picking their brew of the day, grabbing a seat and watching the extensive and non-hurried ritual the baristas follow.
Cochon Butcher at New Orleans, is a two part restaurant near the well trodden conference center. Butcher is the sandwich counter and Cochon is the restaurant. Both are hip and popular and both serve excellent meats. On our last trip to New Orleans, finding a good eatery near the conference center became imperative. We decided to go to Butcher on day one and we kept going there for lunch until well after the conference had ended. Normally, we would have sampled several of their sandwiches but we decided to do for the Cuban sandwich on day one and that became a repeat order. The pig in this case is a suckling one (cochon du lait). Between their high quality breads, fresh pickles and excellent meat, it is hard to find faults even for a nitpicky eater like myself. Their boudin and salads are equally excellent. What was hard was eating all that and then paying attention to the conference content. Still harder would have been to not eat such excellent sandwiches to the last crumb.
Dinner was a more elaborate story. The highlight was popcorn fried alligator with a sauce worth licking the plate clean. Since the trip, the chef owner Stephen Stryjewski has won James Beard Award. Here are some assorted photos from the two …
If you come to Cafe Du Monde in the morning, the place is like a zoo. You have to watch seated customers to catch for signs of a table about to be vacated – people taking their last beignet bite, wiping their mouths of the traces of the powdery white sugar. Then you rush to the still warm chairs and wait for your turn for the table to be cleared. The mostly Vietamese staff won’t pay any attention to your energetic gestures. Their coming and going will make little sense. Your turn will come when they are ready for you.
In the meantime, you can watch other customers. A mom taking a break from her hectic day with a plate of beignets, reading a magazine with one eye and watching her child sleep in the pram with other. A group of old friends or perhaps sisters, getting together for a chat, with what seems like several servings of beignet for each. And hoards of tourists.
I am watching David Simon’s Tremé now, so I am planning my next trip to New Orleans around Tremé. However, during my last trip, like other first time tourists in New Orleans, I was bound to Bourbon Street. Fritzel’s, the European Style Jazz Bar on Bourbon street, proved to be a nightly attractor. It was packed almost every night, jam packed on the weekends.
You can end the night with a trip to Cafe du Monde. And if you ate all your beignets, an amateur side walk astronomer with his telescope will show you the moon spots or rings of Saturn.
Kathi or kati roll – kababs wrapped in paratha, flat fried bread, and served with a variety of condiments such as chopped onions, spicy green chillies, yogurt, chutneys and salsas. Admittedly, these rolls originated as street food in Calcutta. Close variations on the concept exists in other cuisines – replace the paratha with a naan and you can be standing at Khan market in New Delhi. Put the kabab and condiments it a pita pocket and you end up with the popular gyros.
But when you set up a hip taqueria on the gentle rolling hills of beautiful Pacific Heights in San Francisco, and serve home style Kathi rolls, you have done something brand new. For one, the milieu is orthogonal to the neon lit battered stall on the crowded Calcutta street that serves a hungry crowd of pedestrians on hot summer evenings.
And secondly, can there even be a concept of homestyle Kathi rolls? Did Kathi roll not originate to satisfy the hunger for spicy, juicy meat held together by flaky, chewy fried bread? Are these rolls not to be had in the anonymity of street crowd - away from the watchful eyes of the dear spouse, away from the responsibility of being the ideal parent? Why would the average Calcutta babu seek out nutritiously balanced and healthy food on the street.
For food purists, Kasa will never reach the divine heights of unwholesome Calcutta street food. However, for the rest of us, there is something to be said about enjoying a glass of mango lassi with a turkey kathi and not having to worry about the number of sick days one has left.
Like Lonely Planet says, Pacific Heights is a wander and look operation. Most notable sights in this neighborhood are old Victorian style homes. Some gorgeous, most in 1-3 million dollar range. There are parks tucked away for you to catch a snooze or get beautiful shots of the painted ladies. From top of the hills, the bay beckons with its little sailboats. You can spot landmarks such as the Palace of Fine Arts and Golden Gate bridge.
If you go with the city guides, you will get a very detailed understanding of the architecture and evolution of these Victorian homes. The guides will also tell you exciting tales, for instance being mooned by Danielle Steel’s children. Wandering and look operations are hard to describe, who knows where you will choose to wander. I am going to provide a sample of what we found on our wanderings. A link to more photos and map is provided at the bottom of the post.
I have been meaning to do a circuit trip of missions around Bay Area. There are quite a few of these missions, so one can’t hope to cover all of them in a day. I have had eyes on a few – Carmel, Jolon and Soledad with possibility of San Miguel thrown in. Opportunity presented itself this memorial day weekend – so I packed some sandwiches, a few slices of the wonderfully moist and orange flavored cake ala Clotilde and, a thermos full of Chai. We left early on this Sunday summer morning – a perfect California day that held promises of a warm clear blue skied summer afternoon.
Salem is a lovely tourist town – walk friendly – with quaint little pubs, restaurants and antique shops scattered about the main tourist hub. I had stepped into Massachusetts after about dozen or so years and it felt as if nothing had changed. The state highway 107, leading me from Logan airport to Salem Waterfront Hotel, meandered about like a local road with its numerous stop signs and pedestrians let loose. I didn’t mind – I could leisurely take in the sight of New England flora once more. I only had a sliver of that day left for leisure – between evening and nightfall – next morning will get the gears churning again – office, meetings, blackberry, ….
LA is the land that generated hard-boiled genre where dangerous liaisons occurred on streets named Mullholand Drive. Now, the maze of highways crisscrossing the city makes one wonder how Marlowe would go about saving the damsel in distress – aided by a GPS navigator?