Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Good Eating in Santa Fe

I love coming to Santa Fe around the holidays - there is usually some snow on the ground and all the adobe buildings are decorated with the traditional luminaria they call farolitos. Of course, it seems to be extra cold this year, which means our outdoor activities are extremely limited. And snow is forecasted for today, which my kids are eagerly anticipating.

The heart of Santa Fe is the main Plaza - we visited the Palace of the Governors where we learned about Santa Fe history and the old trade routes of the Spanish Empire. And did some shopping with Native Americans artisans under the old Portal - where folks have been selling their wares for over a hundred years.

The dining is excellent here in Santa Fe - our first meal out was Sunday Brunch at Santacafe, a few blocks off the Plaza. After wandering around in the sub-freezing temps, hot chocolate never tasted so good! I had a really good spinach Nicoise salad - I don't know why all restaurants don't always do Nicoise with spinach, it's so much better than with regular greens. Amara's lamb chops were good but the gorgozola polenta they came with was remarkable. We did notice that Giada had visited here on one of her Food Network specials.

Dinner that night was at the historic La Fonda Hotel, the last stop on the old Santa Fe Trail. We had a New Mexican meal at La Pozuela, which couldn't be beat for ambiance. It's situated in the old courtyard in the middle of the hotel (which thankfully has been covered over), with the lights in the trees and the brightly painted window panes, was simply a lovely place for a casual meal. And I had sopapillas for dessert, smothered in honey - mmmm.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Eve at Alexander's Steakhouse

Our Christmas Eve was spent at the San Jose Tech Museum at the Star Trek Exhibit, where we got to sit in Captain Kirk's chair and use the Transporter to beam down to a nearby planet. It was nice having practically the whole exhibit to ourselves.

After that, we headed to Alexander's Steakhouse in Cupertino for our dinner. We love this restaurant because it combines a high end steakhouse with a number of Asian touches, including an impressive selection of Wagyu beef. Their appetizer of hamachi shots is phenomenal.
However, tonight, I ordered a special of foie gras soup, served with cranberry espuma (Spanish for foam). It was served in a tall glass, with a creamy warm foie gras soup on the bottom and a cold cranberry foam on the top. It was an excellent soup, although very rich - it tasted like pureed foie gras with a bunch of cream added. I drank it with a straw and hubby called it my foie gras milkshake.

Other appetizers we shared included popcorn crab (surprisingly good), truffled french fries (really good for thick cut fries - I'm typically only partial to skinny cut fries...), edamame and fried shishito peppers.

The between course palate cleanser was a lychee gelee with pomegranate pearls. Sounded (and looked) better than it tasted though.

My New York Strip entree was fine but hubby got the New York Trio - consisting of American Angus beef, Australian F1 (a Wagyu and Holstein crossbreed) and Japanese A5 Wagyu. They were presented on a slate slab labeled with the word "Guess". It really wasn't very hard to identify the three kinds of beef. The Wagyu was almost disgustingly fat, with a richness than practically ran down the back of your throat. The Angus was just a nice New York cut of fairly typical prime beef. And the Australian was in between.

For dessert we ordered a couple of chocolate specialties including a modern interpretation of a Buche de Noel - one of my favorite holiday treats.
And finally, the meal ended with a big bundle of cotton candy - watermelon flavor today. All kids in the know who've been there before usually ask to make their own in the kitchen. Mei could have taken or left the meal (she's not a big meat eater) but the make-your-own cotton candy makes it all worthwhile for her!
After a nice flowering pot of white jasmine tea, we stumbled home to await Santa's arrival. Happy Holidays to everyone!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Fun Things At Narita Airport

I have spent countless hours in transit at Narita over the past few years. Only this time did I find the Origami Museum. Above is a Japanese feudal scene, all made from origami. Below is a lovely Japanese garden in springtime, also all made from origami.

I found some Kit Kat - regular boring chocolate Kit Kat plus Strawberry Kit Kat, Cheesecake Kit Kat and the ever-popular Green Tea Kit Kat.
I also found the cutest face masks - Disney princesses, Winnie-the-Pooh and Hello Kitty - all sized for children. I have to admit, I was tempted...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

An orgy of truffles

So after my extremely long drive to dinner, I found out that it's the first day of a three week truffle festival at Biscotti. My dining companion practically lives at this hotel and knows both the Maitre D' and the Chef (a lovely young Italian from the Piedmont region).

We got the full treatment when a domed dish bearing multiple knobbly lumps of black and the coveted white truffle is grandly presented to us. When the glass dome was removed, we could smell the rich, earthy aroma. The truffles had just arrived 3 hours ago, fresh off the Thai Airways flight from Rome - they originated in Piedmont, very close to the farm where the Chef grew up. I have never seen this amount of fresh truffles close up.

We kind of went overboard when we ordered - probably due to massive hunger after the long traffic jams.
Crusted Mullet Eggs with White Truffle, Mashed Celeriac, Robiolino Cheese Fondue
Truffles and a slightly running poached egg in a savory crust. It was divine. As with all the later dishes, the Chef came out and shaved a very generous portion of truffles over my dish. He just kept on shaving. I think I benefited from my girlfriend's most favored client status.

Roasted Turbot with Black Truffle, Braised Endives, Jerusalem Artichokes and Tomino Cheese Fondue
I have to admit that I liked this dish the least. Which was a bummer since it was my main dish. I just didn't think the truffles went as well with the fish. And again, he shaved an incredible amount of black truffle all over the dish.
White Truffle Risotto with Boston Lobster and Sora Cheese Fondue
My companion's starter. Truffles and risotto - a match made in heaven.

Beef Tenderloin with Black TRuffle, Sauteed Porcini Mushrooms, Cornetti Beans and Pecorino Crutin Cheese Fondue
The main course I should have ordered! I had a bite and this was divine. Truffles and steak - who knew?

I concluded that I like white truffles better - of course, they command a higher price, I learned. I also learned that the Chef takes the truffles home with him every night. They were too valuable to leave in the hotel kitchen!

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Primer on Driving in Bangkok

For most of you reading this blog, my advice is to never, ever, ever even think about trying to drive in Bangkok.

One night, I jumped into the car and headed into town to meet a girlfriend for dinner at Biscotti, the Italian restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel, my favorite hotel in Bangkok. It took me an hour and 45 mins to cover a distance of just over 6 miles. No weather, no accidents - just random Bangkok traffic.

During that excruciating drive time, I listened to the all-traffic radio station (the intersection by the hotel is at a complete standstill?! Oh great.) and mentally composed this blog.

Now, I actually learned how to drive in Bangkok, many years ago. However, I am now used to driving in a more rules-based orderly system - as opposed to the free-for-all, completely opportunistic way people drive in Thailand. The usual Thai traits of kindness, politeness and consideration all fly right out the window once they get behind the wheel of a car.

So here are a few rules of the road:
  1. Any open space on a road must be filled up - if the space is too small for a car, it will be filled by a whole mess of motorcycles or some enterprising tuk-tuk with a fantastic turning radius.
  2. Lane markers have no reason for existence.
  3. When turning left or right from a three lane road, feel free to overtake all the losers waiting for their turn, and turn from the center lane.
  4. Never start up immediately when your light turns green. There will be at least 5 red light runners speeding through the intersection. Do not get in their way.
  5. When trying to make a lane change, no one will let you in unless you force your way in. Assume they will not hit you since your car is nicer than theirs.
  6. Do not apply Rule #5 in front of a bus. They will hit you and those bus drivers are all crazy anyway.
  7. A typical bus driver will pick up and drop off passengers at a stop, then veer out to the fast lane in heavy traffic. And veer back into the curbside lane to stop at their next stop. This whole exercise will have allowed them to pass 2-3 cars, but have them cutting off countless others with their veering back and forth.
  8. There are a million taxis in Bangkok, all cruising slowly in the curbside lane looking for fares. If they find one, they will stop. No matter where they are or how inconvenient for other drivers. The most popular taxi color is a bright, neon pink.
  9. Many of the main overpasses in town have lanes that can go either direction, depending on whether it's the inbound or outbound commute time. There are big lights above these lanes - red X or green arrow. Do not assume that those lights are correct. Do not head into an open lane on an overpass ever. Always follow someone else. That way, they will be the ones in the head-on collision, not you.
  10. Getting out of the way for an ambulance is optional.
And there you have it. Go to Bangkok and check it out if you don't believe me.

I was 45 mins late for dinner. Thankfully, my girlfriend was 35 mins late - so I was only net 10 mins late. By Thai standards, that's perfectly acceptable. It took me 20 mins to get home later that night.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

On my way to Bangkok

I'm blogging from the UA Lounge in Narita Airport after a pleasant 10.5 hour flight from San Francisco. Of course, I first went to the ANA Lounge because their food is better and had my big bowl of nice udon. But I came back to the UA Lounge for their free wi-fi and the proximity to my departure gate.

I had the oddest encounter on my first flight though.

So, I'm sitting comfortably reclined, 6-7 hours into the flight, reading the Kindle and listening to music with headphones on. The UA male flight attendant who covers our area came over and squatted down next to me in the aisle. I took my headphones off, thinking he was coming to take my lunch order.

"So do you think they'll let me take a banana in?" he says.

I hesitate, somewhat confused. Is this a joke? Should I wait for a punchline? Did I mishear him? But no, he seems to be waiting for an answer. I presume he means taking the banana into Japan.

"No, I don't think that would be a good idea," I finally reply.

"What about a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?" he continues.

"No, I don't think that will work either," I say.

He looks a little crestfallen.

"You'd better eat them now." I finally said.

And he nods, straightens up and walks back towards the galley.

Now you've gotta agree, that was weird!

Friday, October 30, 2009

The best porchetta sandwich

Well the posts have been few and far between, primarily because I've been working rather a lot, and when I get home after a long day of work and commuting, all my brain is capable of processing is reality TV. Maybe that explains the ratings for all those strange shows out there.

Anyway, my new commute is rather long - the main upside is that I'm working next to the Ferry Building in San Francisco. And every once in a while, I deviate from my usual spinach salad lunch and walk across the street to enjoy the views and dining.

On Thursdays, the lunchtime Ferry Plaza market features a lot of different prepared foods. One of my favorite options is the porchetta sandwich from the Roli Roti stand (they also sell at the Saturday market). This week, I actually waited 20 mins in line for this sandwich - it is that good.

First they split an Acme roll, rub it on the big cutting board to gather some of the juices on the bread, then load it up with slices of porchetta (a seasoned Italian pork roast off their giant rotisserie). Then they place a few bits of crackling fatty skin on the top, followed by caramelized onions and a pile of arugula and watercress. They finish it off with a sprinkle of a special blend of salt, pepper, rosemary and god knows what else. Sliced in half, the sandwich is presented to you on a paper plate. I can't think of a better use of $8.50!

I usually take my sandwich over to the one of the communal tables in front of the book store with a view of the ferry traffic. I actually like eating this alone - it's a bit of a messy exercise. I start out by telling myself that it's such a big sandwich, I'll only eat half. Have I told you how much I love this sandwich?! Some bites are truly exquisite, with the perfect combo of porchetta, cracking skin and seasonings.

I'll really have to try and restrain myself from eating the sandwich right away next time so I can take a picture for posterity.

After I finish the first half, I sit there and look at the second half. Then I start eating it - reasoning that I don't really have a good place to put the leftovers in the office or that I'll just take another bite or two.

A few minutes later, I come to the realization that once again, I have devoured an enormous 6 inch long, 4 inch high, fat-laden sandwich in under 10 minutes. And to complete my happiness, I traipse on down to Rechiutti and pick up a Burnt Caramel chocolate.

Fully sated, I wander back into the zoo of my office.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival Year 2

After last year's parking debacle, I was a little reluctant to park at Ghirardelli Square for this year's chocolate festival - but since we had a baby in tow, we went for it. The garage was better organized by an order of magnitude this year - entry and exit were smooth. Yes, it was a little pricey, but hey - super convenient.

Alas, the weather was not as cooperative as last year - it was a strange weather weekend in SF - muggy, not quite cold and it started raining part way through the afternoon. The format for the Chocolate Festival this year was the same as last year - we bought $20 tickets that had 15 tastings each.

The tastings were good - we had Ciao Bella gelato (Chocolate Hazelnut, Alphonso Mango and my younger daughter's favorite, Blood Orange Sorbet - the latter two clearly having nothing to do with chocolate!), more gelato from Gelateria Naia (Straciatella and Chocolate Hazelnut), various toffees and best of all, handfilled mini cream puffs from Pacific Puffs. These were lovely - and one of the longest lines we stood in - a mini version of Beard Papa. Alas, by the time we made it to the Kara's Cupcakes stand, they had run out :(

The most fun was the special Chocolate Tea at Crown & Crumpet. I've blogged about this tea room in the past - it's a wonderful experience especially if you like have afternoon tea like I do! The Chocolate Tea was a plate of chocolate goodies and a selection of tea tastings. On the plate were chocolate banana sandwiches, tea-infused truffles, chocolate hazelnut tarts and a chocolate chip scone served with jam and clotted cream. The tea tastings were for chocolate tea, chocolate mint tea, chocolate banana tea (not as disgusting as you might think!) and chocolate orange tea. I like the last one the best but frankly, don't think that chocolate should be paired in teas as a rule!

We were a little "sweeted" out by then - and the craving for something savory kicked in. So we ordered some plain scones, some sausage rolls, a baked potato and some crumpets as well. Sitting on the terrace with a grey and overcast view of Alcatraz and the Bay, it was pleasurable way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Back home... kinda

O.K. it's been a busy month. We returned home from Thailand, stayed for 36 hours, then left on a roadtrip to southern Oregon for a wedding.

On the way up north, we toured the Ave of the Giants, drove through a giant Redwood and stayed in Eureka at the lovely Carter House Inn. Our room was in the attic which was charming and atmospheric, but a drag (literally!) with the luggage.

We spent a few days on the Oregon coast in Bandon, attending a family wedding. Where the advertised internet access in the beachside house rental was non-existent. I was reduced to sitting on the sidewalk in front of a nearby motel...

On the way home, we stopped in Mendocino after a harrowing drive on Highway 1.

Note to self: Mendocino is really far away from everything. DO NOT make it a stop on your way home unless you have a lot of spare time.

We stayed at the McCallum House Inn where we had a lovely dinner and an even lovelier breakfast in their dining room. Our attic room here was exceptional - I'd stay here again in a heartbeat.

I hadn't been to Mendocino is over 15 years and had forgotten how charming it was. Still, must remember previous note to self about the drive...

Then we finally got back home with 5 days to spare before the start of school. Phew - can't you see why I haven't been blogging?!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

One last fit of gluttony

Sunday brunch here in Bangkok has become quite an institution in terms of the lavish hotel buffets. There is truly no comparison with anything in the U.S. - even the $75 Ritz Carlton Mother's Day buffet is paltry by Thai standards.

We do like to indulge while we're here. Last Sunday, we went to the buffet at the Shangri-la Hotel by the river. That's a very family-oriented buffet with entertainment for the kids, but also with foie gras for the parents.

Today we went to the distinctly more adult buffet at the Four Seasons, supposedly the most expensive brunch in Bangkok. This is due to the fact that there's an unlimited flow of alcohol throughout the brunch - from mimosas and bellinis, to beer and bloody marys.

It was a lovely way to spend 3 hours - and the foie gras here was better than last week. There was a full grill with steaks, lamb chops, lobster, large prawns & lots of other foods cooked to order. Sushi and sashimi were cut to order and I had some amazing unagi. The custom California Roll I ordered for older daughter was wonderful. Plus other stations for Thai grilled meats, pasta, omelets, waffles, schwarma carved to order.... the list goes on and on.

A beautiful Thai station.

A unique caviar and roe station located in their carp pond, with the server standing knee-deep in water during the whole buffet. The kids loved this one!

Great Indian food - where a nice man demonstrated making naan in the tandoor.

Thai desserts - alas, they look better than they taste in my book.

Three kinds of honey, with a dripping honeycomb display.

And a fully laded dessert table with lots of other desserts. My favorite was some crepes suzette served with fresh mango. But I had tastes of god-knows how many other things. My last order of a banana souffle did not arrive, which was probably a good thing considering how full I was!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Mother's Day in Thailand

I've always been lucky enough to have two mother's days each year - one in May in the U.S. and one in Thailand during our annual trip. Mother's Day in Thailand is the day of the Queen's Birthday - August 12. Alas, this year, we are heading home on August 11, so poor me - only one Mother's Day celebration this year!

It's fun to be here in the week leading up to Mother's Day though - all the major shopping centers have special decorations and exhibits, and most buildings are decorated with pale blue, the Queen's color.

Emporium, the shopping center in our building, has a beautiful floral display this year - of Siam Tulips. When I first saw the promotional posters, I was surprised, thinking they had imported tulips for the floral displays. Instead, they've actually just renamed a local Thai flower to be called the Siam Tulip! It's a pretty flower that often grows wild in rural Thailand and is now exported thoughout Asia.

It's a little strange to see the main concourse of the shopping center transformed into a lush garden, but pleasant nonetheless!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Love the beach!

We're spending a few days in Hua Hin, a sleepy beach town about 2.5 hours away from Bangkok. It's our usual routine - we eat at the same places and stay in the same hotel, the Hyatt. I actually usually try to get the same rooms every time but with mixed success. This time we were generously upgraded to a rather large suite. Well, since I've stayed here every year since it opened, maybe I'm just due ;)

It's been a good trip - the weather has been mostly overcast, which means it's not as stiflingly hot as usual. We've had lots of beach and pool time and the kids are not too sunburned for the most part - I consider that a success!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Nokia Ultra Screen Theatre

Two years ago, we discovered these ultra luxury theatres here in Bangkok. This year, we decided to revisit them to watch Harry Potter #6. This time, I remembered to bring my own camera to document the experience!

Here's a shot of the display seats in the lobby to entice theatre-goers in. As a reminder, these tickets are about $18 compared to $4 for a seat in the regular movie theatre (which is already nicer than the Century theaters we go to in California).
We went into the fancy lounge area to wait for the start of the movie. It's very plush with lots of chandeliers. We had drinks and snacks while we waited. Here are the girls using the ubiquitous hand-sanitizing gel (yes, there's a bit of a swine flu paranoia here in Thailand).
And finally, here's Mei relaxing in her leather recliner, just waiting for the movie to start.I was surprised that the theatre was almost full (capacity was 32 seats, 29 were occupied) given the relatively high price.

More food innovations

Last year, we found pizza in a cone here in Bangkok. This year, I found potato chips on a stick.

A small potato was sliced so it all came out in one long spiral. It was placed on a stick and then fried in a special machine. You could get them in all sorts of flavors. The most popular were cheese and BBQ. I opted for the plain and boring original flavor. Which was really just salt. There were also chocolate and tom yam flavors. We'll have to save those for next time! The original flavor was quite good.

And we found a great little local frozen yogurt place like Red Mango and Pinkberry, called Buddhi Belly. The logo was so cute, I wanted to get a t-shirt that said "I have a buddhi belly" - but alas, although the product was excellent, they hadn't quite figured out how to exploit all the merchandising as yet. Maybe I can talk them into selling me an employee t-shirt...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Back in Thailand

Goodness, I'm not quite sure where the summer went. We're in Thailand right now - it seems like a whirlwind since we came home from Spain and sent kids off to summer camp etc. There was a bit of a swine flu scare but since it's been resolved, I'll just leave it alone for now.

We were back in California for about a month and then left for Thailand. This is a pretty short trip for us - just 3 weeks, since we need to be in Oregon for a wedding in mid-August.

And Thailand is as wonderful as ever - we're on the 37th floor of our usual apartment building. Check out the sunset over the city skyline.

I dread to weigh myself when I get home, I've been eating everything in sight...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Robatayaki in Midtown

I've been in New York for a couple of days and have had a few great meals. The first night, we had a large group at Koi - a Nobu-esque place within the Bryant Park Hotel. The miso-glazed cod was almost as good as Nobu and the Hamachi tataki was phenomenal.

I've also had some great fast food (all local purveyors) in the basement dining concourse of Grand Central Station - paninis with organic ingredients for breakfast, huge slices of white pizza with sopressata and some good chicken schwarma and falafel. Hale and Hearty Soups and a cheesecake from Junior's will have to be saved for the next time I'm there.

Finally last night, I found a little robatayaki place in Midtown, just a few blocks from my hotel, called Aburiya Kinnosuke. I sat at the bar and watched with fascination the choreographed movements in the kitchen area in front of me. Although I didn't order sashimi, I loved watching the master at work - how he precisely sliced the fish, and arranged all the servings on large platters adorned with shiso leaves, radish, wasabi and pomegranate seeds, among other things. After every dish, he cleaned his work and arranged his knives and supplies just so, before starting work on another order.

The big grill with scorpion fish and tsukune (minced chicken loaf) being cooked on wooden paddles was also fun to watch. The grill master worked without gloves and turned the various skewers in a pattern that was only discernible to him, but that ensured everything was evenly cooked in the right order.

Roasted Eringi Mushrooms w/ red miso and scallion - grilled on a large houba leaf placed upon a small charcoal grill placed right in front of me.
Grilled anago (sea eel)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

DIning in London

We had a couple of other good meals in London - it's become quite the dining destination.
We went to a Thai restaurant called Busaba Eathai one night - it's the Thai equivalent of Wagamama (if you're familiar with the Japanese chain). Communal tables, modern decor and a good, if not authentic, menu. I would not have given this a try but my sister assured me it was good. We had a whole bunch of dishes including chicken satay, grilled beef, pad thai, gaang kiew waan kai, gaang karee kai, pad see eew, pomelo salad plus 3 kinds of rice (jasmine, coconut and sticky). No dessert though. All in all, given the genre, fast service and reasonable price, I'd give it a solid three stars.

Another night we tried Maze, a Gordon Ramsey eatery. Quite good but alas, a little slow on the service, especially in light of the multi-small course approach. My favorite detail was the utensil holder with slots for the fork, spoon and knife. A nice variant on the fancy chopstick and spoon holder you find in high-end Chinese restaurants.One of their signature dishes is the "assiette" of sandwiches - with a deconstructed BLT and a croque monsieur. The croque monsieur was a little strip of grilled cheese but the BLT was served in a cocktail glass with tomato gelee on the bottom, a white layer of cheesy sauce, and sprinkled with large bits of bacon and circlets of fried onions. Deconstructed indeed! It was interesting but not sure I need to ever have this again.