Monday, February 23, 2009

6 Days in Tahoe

We set out for our annual ski week trip on a day when the National Weather Service had a severe winter storm warning for the Sierras. Even so, with chain control for about 50 miles, we still made it up to Northstar in about 5.5 hours.

We've been coming up to Northstar for many years now, and have rented all sorts of properties from houses on the golf course, to rustic condos and now, the new large condos located directly in the Village. They are practically ski-in/ski-out, with nice and convenient large ski lockers to dump all our gear. We usually come in for lunch so we don't have to deal with all the lines and crowds. After all these years, we've finally perfected all the elements of the trip!

The snow was wonderful, the weather was great, the kids were thrilled and we had the same lovely ski instructor as last year - the incomparable Alina. Our condo overlooked the ice skating rink and we learned after we arrived that the Dew Tour was taking place that weekend. Don't worry, we had no idea what it was either!

We were a little apprehensive when we learned that about 20,000 people would be pouring into Northstar to watch stars like Shaun White compete in freestyle and half pipe events. And there was a concert. And music. Lots of music. Music that started at 7 am. Right. Out. Side. Our. Condo. The Friday night concert was like having Common rapping to us in our living room. A minor inconvenience.

The Village at Northstar has been upgraded over the past few years - other than a quick supermarket run, we never had to leave. We had dinner at Mikuni twice (loved the japanese fries), pizza at Rubicon and a fabulous but excrutiatingly slow meal at Baxter's Bistro (their fromage frites - fries with truffled cheese topping - was out of this world). As you can see, fries featured prominently in my diet for the week. We tried to dine at a new place called Chocolate Bar, which sounded fabulous, but the too loud, thumping techno beat chased us away. I definitely felt old...

Our drive back clocked at a remarkable 7 hours of drive time (for those who are unfamiliar with this area, a reasonable drive is around 4 hours). It took us 3 hours to get down the mountain alone while the storm surged around us. I comforted myself by the thought that California needs the water.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Humphry Slocombe - what kind of name is that for a gourmet ice cream shop?!

Ever on the alert for new places where I can gain weight, I've been waiting for a new ice cream place to open at 24th and Harrison in the Mission/Potrero area of San Francisco. It was really the unusual name that first caught my eye in a magazine article, and it finally opened a few weeks ago.

Not letting the freezing temperature and bone-chilling gusts of wind dissuade us, I persuaded a group to trek down to try out Humphry Slocombe last weekend. It was packed so I guess I'm not alone in my crazy-new-ice-cream-hunting fanaticism.
The staff were super nice and let me try 6 different flavors - I was being a little indecisive that day, primarily because their flavors were so unusual. I tried out:
  • Balsamic Caramel - the balsamic flavor was a little strong for me, I still prefer the salted caramel at Bi-Rite Creamery.
  • Blue Bottle Vietnamese Coffee - if I liked coffee ice cream, this one would be a winner. Alas, I don't.
  • Pistachio Bacon - it was kinda good in a weird way, but I didn't think I could stomach a whole scoop of it.
  • Valrhona Fudgisicle - this was a sorbet as opposed to an ice cream. It was a little icy for me.
  • Hibsicus Beet - this was a beautiful color but to be honest, I can't remember what it tasted like.
  • some swirly pink and white ice cream that had rose petals (not listed on the board) - odd.
I finally picked the Cream Cheese Chocolate Chip - the flavors were very clean but I wasn't wild about it after a few bites.

So my Bay Area gourmet ice cream favorites stand in order at:
  1. Ici in Berkeley with its special cones with chocolate on the bottom
  2. Bi-Rite for the best salted caramel
  3. Sketch for vanilla with olive oil swirled on top
  4. Humphry Slocombe for its fascinating selection of flavors.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

More cupcake mania...

I was disappointed to figure out a few months ago that Kara's Cupcakes doesn't do special decorations even if you special order a batch of mini-cupcakes - other than frost them in a particular color scheme. When I ordered 2 dozen minis for a Halloween party, they told me that their special Halloween sugar cutouts were only available for the full sized cupcakes and not the minis. Now, as much as I like the cupcakes, the full-sized ones are just too big with an inordinate amount of frosting. And I like my decorations...

So for my niece's 1st birthday party, I decided to forgo Kara's and go with a special order with Sibby's Cupcakery. I've ordered from Sibby's quite a few times in the past - for both business and personal events. For a past birthday at the Marine Science Institute, they did a tray of delightful marine themed mini cupcakes with little fish and whales everywhere on sky and sea blue frosting. I've been in love with their decorating ever since.

This time, they did a pink and brown carnival/candy theme for my niece, incorporating her name and the number 1. It was adorable. I ordered 12 chocolate tea cakes, 6 vanilla and 6 lemon drop. They were all gone extremely quickly. Order yours at Sibby's today!

Monday, February 9, 2009

At last, I get to try Pinkberry...

I love the new natural tart froyo that's become all the rage due to Pinkberry's enormous success in Southern California. I do find it kinda humorous that when I first started eating froyo in the 80s when in college, all the purveyors would try to get rid of that tart flavor and now, 20 years later, it's totally back in style.

My first experience with froyo V2.0 was down in L.A. about 4 years ago at some place in Little Tokyo (might have been IceBerry but I can't quite recall). It was really good. Then a few months later, Pinkberry (plus many others of that ilk) became the froyo sensation of SoCal, with stories of people risking parking tickets to hop out and get their yogurt fix. My sister (never one for moderation) used to get Pinkberry EVERY DAY when she worked down in Newport Beach.

Then two years ago, we finally got Fraiche in Palo Alto with the tart flavors made from organic local milk. And then Red Mango opened, by the Korean winner of Survivor, no less (the main purveyors of froyo V2.0 are all Korean enterprises). I've also had it at Cafe Delatti in Los Gatos, plus some obscure place in Chinatown in San Francisco (which was the cheapest of the whole lot).

And finally, the original trendsetter Pinkberry opened in Santana Row in San Jose last month and I tried it out today. They have three flavors - original, green tea and pomegranate. I had a small half original, half green tea with strawberries and mango. Next time I'll stick to original only - the green tea was initially good but got slightly gritty. The toppings were generous and oddly enough, I finished the froyo first, and had leftover toppings. This has never happened before.

So was Pinkberry worth the wait? Oh yes - count me as a newly minted fan. The shop was super cute, almost sparklingly white and the toppings bar was the most attractive that I've seen. The original flavor was nice and tart, but not wincingly so (pomegranate was too tart for me). The strawberries seemed to have been marinated - it was a great topping.

In the froyo2.0 wars, I'm going to have to rate Pinkberry tops for now. With Fraiche coming a close second (but that may be because it actually has shaved Callebaut chocolate as a topping - and it's 5 mins away from home). Red Mango was just not tart enough, even though I did meet the Survivor winner/owner at his new outlet in Valley Fair a few weeks ago.

I wonder how often I can make it down to Santana Row to visit Pinkberry...