Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sweet Breams

I had lunch in San Mateo and took the opportunity to check out Sweet Breams, a 6 month old Japanese dessert shop that received some good coverage in the Merc recently. They sell taiyaki, a mini pastry fish (bream!) that's like a little shot of heaven when you bite into it. It tastes like a mini filled fish-shaped waffle, if you're trying to imagine what it's like. It definitely fits into the trend of cute Japanese stuff - if you like Hello Kitty, this place is for you! The overhead TV was playing Howl's Moving Castle in Japanese while I was there ;)

The classic taiyaki filling is adzuki (red bean), but I've never been a fan. So I ordered a school (a dozen) with 6 nutella, 4 chocolate and 3 vanilla (yes, that's 13 but you get one free per dozen). They are made fresh so I had a short 4 min wait - and was presented with a little box with the different flavors clearly labelled in layers and separate with wax paper. They even threw in a free gingerbread with vanilla filling one for me to try - it was the "catch of the week".

The fish are about 1.5 inches long, so are a perfect mini-snack. I liked the nutella the best. And the gingerbread the second best. I brought home a few and they didn't do that great reheated (but I freely admit that could have been user error). It's a great little morsel and beats out Beard Papa and Eggettes in my opinion.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Weekend in San Francisco

Every year in December, we spend one night in SF, at a hotel near Union Square and have a nice time wandering around looking at holiday windows and doing a little holiday shopping. I try to pick a different hotel every year, just to try them all out. This year, we stayed at the Grand Hyatt on Union Square. Unfortunately, that hotel is really not worthy of the Grand Hyatt moniker - and it's long overdue for a renovation. It was no contest - our favorite hotels remain the St. Regis and the Palace.

We had lunch at the Rotunda at Neiman Marcus - a holiday tradition for us and this year, I actually remembered to make a reservation (2 months out!) so we didn't have to brave the walk-in wait (running at 2 hours when we showed up for our reservation). And you're more likely to get a view table with a reservation. They have improved their french fries, which excited me to no end - thin, crispy and well-salted! And for dessert, I had a buche de noel. Now, I can't figure out if I actually really like this dessert or if it's just a seasonal nostalgia thing. Either way, the Rotunda's version was quite credible.

We wandered around the shopping area in the afternoon, including a stop at the SPCA windows at Macy's. If you haven't seen this in past years, it's truly adorable - with adoptable puppies and kittens frolicking (or more often, sleeping) in the decorated Macy's windows. This was enjoyable until my older daughter started a relentless campaign about acquiring yet another kitten ("it's blue-grey and it's a boy and it's named Tom or Bob, I can't tell which one, pleeze can we take him home, pleeze, pleeEEZZE!") Note we already have a cat whose litter box she only cleans under duress...

It's a true sign of recession when Gump's is discounting their holiday items by 25%!

We had dinner at Fish and Farm that night. The 20 min wait after we showed up on the dot of our reservation time did not auger well for the evening. My sister's quail and risotto appetizer was the standout, my apple cider steamed clams were pretty good as well. The entrees disappointed though - the Black Cod was a little salty and dry, the Lamb Shank was just ok. Neither daughter was particularly enamored of their dishes. None of the dessert appealed so we had the warm chocolate chip cookies - you'd have a hard time screwing that up. And an over long break between the appetizers and entrees. Overall, a disappointment for a $350 meal. We won't be back - there are too many other great restaurants in SF.

Friday, December 12, 2008

My Trip to Nowhere

I took my very first ever mileage run on United yesterday - as I told my kids, it was my trip to nowhere. As I've blogged in the past, I'm a UA 1K Mileage Plus member and for that, they treat me pretty well. It means that I fly 100,000 miles per year (don't worry, there's lots of bonuses - I don't really fly 100k miles!) One of the biggest benefits is the 6 systemwide upgrade coupons I get, plus the other US upgrade tools.

I've taken extra trips to make my status in past years - but usually there's been some business element to them and I've always stayed for a night at my destination. This year, I paid $220 for a day of travel - SFO-ORD-RDU-IAD-SFO. I landed back in SFO about 19 hours after I left. Happily I was upgraded to First Class for all my flights.

I managed to watch two movies (Sisterhood 2, Sex In The City), read lots of magazines, do a crossword puzzle and have Starbucks in 3 different states on the same day. I also managed to confuse many friends as I updated my Facebook status from a different city every few hours!

Now my mileage account has 5,412 more miles in it and I'm 1K through 2009 as well!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Of olive oil, sea salt and vanilla bean ice cream

I needed to be in SF in the afternoon yesterday and so thought I'd take a detour on my way to the city in the morning - the detour was to Berkeley, which as you all will know, really is quite out of the way. I was on a quest for a very specific present (can't say what I was looking for - the recipient reads this blog!), and the biggest selection in the Bay Area (according to the ever-reliable Chowhound) was at the Pasta Shop on 4th St. in Berkeley.

After successfully completing my mission (and doing a bit of other enjoyable shopping), I decided to have ice cream for lunch. Yes, I can do this (especially since I couldn't set a bad example for anyone with me, i.e. my kids!)

So I headed to Sketch, an artisan ice cream spot which makes an unusual selection of flavors and toppings. After deciding that Sesame and Pomegranate were not up my alley, I opted for the vanilla bean with olive oil and sea salt topping.

I had this combination once before at Pizzeria Picco in Larkspur - where they make their vanilla ice cream with Straus Family Creamery milk. The Sketch version was good but nowhere near as good as Picco's. Still, it was lovely treat. When you get to the bottom of the cup, you are left with a melted pool of vanilla ice cream, mixed with the leftover olive oil and a few stray granules of sea salt. Although it was vaguely disgusting (in a good way), I slurped it all up!

Later that afternoon, I met up with a friend at Emporio Rulli on Union Square where I had a lovely hot chocolate and watched all the ice skaters going around in circles.