this city

the city of san francisco has never left me disappointed. the road up from los angeles has always been one that brought a delicious sense of anticipation, because there were always friends or food – or better yet, both – waiting on that northern end of the highway.

every spring for several years in high school, a tour bus would take a gaggle of us students up, always stopping at kettleman city for dinner before continuing on through the twilight until we reached the city. i loved looking out the window at the open land, darkening. i loved knowing my friends and i would soon be setting down our bags in our very own hotel room and then setting out to find a sourdough bread bowl of clam chowder as soon as possible.
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recently, as i’ve gotten older (and really started to feel it), san francisco has been a place to reunite with old friends who have wandered away in search of this or that – a law degree, a job, a new life. when i visit, for those two or three or four days, i get all the best bits of the city that they present to me: that street with all those cute boutiques, the museum with the sprawling lawn and the great view, a brunch spot with an eggs benedict almost as ridiculously good as the wait is ridiculously long.
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a couple weekends ago, for the first time, i got a chance to come into the city on my own. between dropping off one travel companion and meeting with another, it was just me and my little car as it curved with the bends in the road, passing by the low mountains of south san francisco and ducking under the shadows of the bridge. the light was just right at the end of the day – the kind of hazy dusk that softens even the sharpest of corners. and as i finally entered the heart of the city, making a right here, a wrong turn there, i saw those streets differently. i wondered what it would be like to make this different city my home. i just wondered.
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there was no conclusion to it. before long, my friend was hopping into the passenger seat, and we were on our way to meet a few others – a mix of the oldest and newest of friends – for dinner at a warm, delicious place called firefly.

i’m in no place to make any decisions – not yet – so i left my thoughts to evaporate over a plate of short ribs (rich, tender) and potatoes (buttery, perfectly smashed).  i figured there would be another 400 miles or so of road on the way home for those thoughts to finish themselves. for the first night back in this city, what to order for dessert (plum sorbet on honey orange blossom mousse) was enough.

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a day at the office

another day of inspiration, thanks to design*sponge.

i’ve been thinking about a lot of things these days, but the topic that has been so rudely hogging about 97 % of my brain space is the subject of work. i’m one month into this new job and constantly counting over the ways it pushes the limits of my capacity for stress …and the ways i would be lost without a reason to work this hard.

but i was reading this post today…


a day at the office{photo by studio choo at design*sponge}

…chronicling a day in the life of a couple best friends who run a flower design company in san francisco.

it was just lovely getting a glimpse into this small business, the kind where you can keep two feet on the ground (you know, where the flowers grow) but let your head do the dreaming.

and while i love teaching – working with words and stories and sentences, and finding a way to distill everything down to kid-level – it made me realize that i miss doing the kind of work that requires only my hands and my greatest sense of beauty. i miss the craft.

i spent my undergrad years as an art major – trying all the time to paint my insides out – and then nearly every free moment apart from that thinking about food: how to make it, how to eat it. and whether it was something i was good at or not, the space for creativity satisfied a part of me that’s shriveling just a little bit these days. a part that i can feel reawaken ever so quietly every time i read about (or feast my eyes on or tune my ears to) some beautiful thing someone else is doing.

how to braid inspiration back into life… i guess that’s an art in itself.

fleur de lys

oh man, have i failed to upkeep. so much has happened just since the last time blogging – rang in the new year with a home-cooked meal and multiple bottles of champagne with friends; found out one of my dearest friends is preggos; and celebrated the end of cc’s bachelorette days with a wild weekend.

i guess i’ll back track to the time when i last updated this thing, starting with mf and i celebrating our anniversary at fleur de lys. it’s a restaurant i’ve always wanted to try, but was always lured away by the newer, trendier restaurants. this place is not trendy at all – it’s very traditional and classic french both in ambiance and cuisine.

We started off with a mini corn bread and shooter of split pea puree, butternut squash puree, and creme fraiche. the flavors of the shooter was an interesting mix, perfect for whetting our appetite!

next, we had a small dish of roasted endive with duck, mustard seed (which mf immediately recognized because of his strong aversion), chives, and a jalapeno brioche. i thought it was okay overall, but the mustard seed and endive left a funny sour aftertaste in my mouth.

for our appetizers, i had fois gras again! It came with ragout and corn and truffle popcorn! i always love me some fois gras, but i can only take it in small doses. this portion was definitely more palatable than the portion at gary danko! it also came with a cute little bucket of extra truffle popcorn! adored it!

mf always seems to gravitate towards lobster dishes, and this time was no exception. the roasted main lobster was amazing, served with lemongrass and pomegranite. the lobster was so buttery and the pomegranite seeds were like little surprise bursts of sweet/citrust in my mouth!


on to the main course. wagyu beef cheeks, picked onions, butternut squash. i liked the melt-in-your-mouth texture of the beef, but both of us felt like it tasted like some sort of asian beef stew our moms made at some point. overall it was kind of disappointing…

…which is why i kept taking bites of mf’s filet mignon with lobster claw, and mac ‘n cheese stuffed brioche. the mac ‘n cheese was delicious, but then again, it would be hard to screw up mac ‘n cheese.

the best part of dinner this time was the dessert! chocolate souffle that looks very similar to gary danko’s, but imho was no where near as good.

my dessert on the other hand, was the highlight of the meal. i knew about their fleurburger and knew i wanted it without even looking at their dessert menu! there was a mini chocolate banana “milkshake” that was sooo yummy i chugged it down in 2 seconds. okay, i left some for mf to try and he really liked it as well. the “burger” part consisted of a small beignets as buns and chocolate ganache as the “patty”. i don’t recall what the “cheese” was, but the “tomatoes” and “kiwi” were thin slices of strawberry and kiwi, respectively. and the “pommes frites”! oh my lordy – little strips of frozen fennel ice cream…. the whole thing was so divine i inhaled it even though i was STUFFED.

after dessert i felt like i had absolutely no room in my stomach, but somehow made space for a few bites of our chocolate mousse “happy anniversary” cake and tray of petits fours!

the highlight of the night? making friends with a couple sitting next to us, celebrating their thirty or forty something wedding anniversary. they were so bubbly and chatty, and even asked us which anniversary we were celebrating. i felt kind of silly when i told them, but the lady was like “puh! most people don’t even make it that long!” despite being complete strangers, they were so happy for us and gave us such encouraging words! they said they had been together since 18 and had lived together for a long time (i forgot exactly, but something like 15 years) before they got married. to see the passion so alive still was really inspiring!

i really aspire for my love to be like theirs. we are lucky in life to find great loves, but to achieve and maintain that kind of long-lasting, strong bond takes more than luck – it takes a lot of hard work over time.

muchas gracias to mf for a fab dinner, and being my great love too. :)

sweet little thing

a single picture can pull a tightly wound bundle of memories and shake them out, let them breathe again. i look at this photograph, and all sorts of pleasant details come tumbling down to me.

it was a spring afternoon in san francisco, and we had stopped in a tiny shoebox of a shop. inside, the papered walls were covered with flowers in rose and cream and the palest of greens. sunshine flooded through the windows. there were cellophane bags of cookies lined up in rows, ribbons round each one, and large glass jars filled with sweetly colored candies. like a child with precious allowance money in hand, i walked up to the counter and carefully made my selection. the pistachio macaron came nestled on a single sheet of wax paper, perfectly pink. we walked outside and paused beneath some trees, so i could savor all four bites of the cookie. they were delicious.

just a few minutes later, and we were on our way again – to peek into this store or that, a meal in this neighborhood, a stroll through that one. sights and steps stacking on top of each other like pages, until the book was closed, our trip ended. and now i am here, so many miles and so many months away from that little afternoon. but i take out this photograph and the memory of it blooms out before me, and i can smell the sweet scent of buttercream.

gary danko

this is my first official time writing here, and what better way to kick off the blog than to share my recent memorable dining experience! it was a couple weeks ago at gary danko, a restaurant i’ve been wanting to try for a long time. well, an occasion finally arose for me to go and let me say… i’m already excited to go back!

to put in context, it was the man’s birthday and i had had to call exactly two months ahead of time to secure a reservation at a decent time! i didn’t mention making birthday plans to him, as i wanted it to be a surprise. a few hours prior to dinner on his birthday, we went out to happy hour with some friends. i thought he was just going to sip on some margaritas but to my HORROR , he started finishing about 3 too many drinks and also ordered a HUGE plate of nachos! finally, when i could stand to watch no longer, i put my foot down and told him firmly, “NO MORE NACHOS!” this confused him, since i am not one to ever control his food intake.

when we finally arrived at the restaurant, he was totally surprised, which made the inconvenience of being secretive worth it. in terms of ambience, it was a lot more crowded and louder than i thought it would be – but i actually prefer that to most quiet, stuffy restaurants so i didn’t mind at all. being the gluttons that we are, we both ordered the summer tasting menu with wine pairing and substituted some of the courses. one thing i loved about gary danko is they let you “mix and match” the courses. theoretically, you could have 5 appetizers in a row and they’ll adjust the portions accordingly.

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before the first course came out, our server (very friendly all through the night, btw) came with an amuse bouche, a cool asparagus soup of some sort. it was very refreshing and perfect for whetting our appetites.

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for the first course, i ordered the seared sonoma foie gras with caramelized red onion and nectarines. we were both taken aback by the huge portion of foie gras, but it was delicious – so tender it melted in my mouth. ahh, like butter. the sweet wine that the sommelier paired with the foie gras went together more harmoniously than any other wine with other courses, and i’m slightly sad i don’t remember the name of the wine!
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he stuck with the traditional first course meal, which was a soup with glazed oysters and osetra caviar, zucchini pearls and lettuce cream. i personally love caviar, but mike felt it slightly salty.

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then came the second course. i had seared sea scallops. again, both of us tried this and loved it. it had hearts of palm, fava beans, frisee and prosciutto, and anyone who knows me i love almost anything with prosciutto!!!

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one of the favorites of the night, however, was his second course – the lobster risotto with laughing bird shrimp, parmigiano-reggiano, basil oil, and the corn. we both loved the corn. i think i could have done without the shrimp, but he seemed to like it. we both agreed we’d definitely order this again the next time (yeah, we were already talking about what we would/wouldn’t order next time we were there)

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the meat course was next and he had a lemon pepper duck breast with duck hash, bacon braised belgian endive and huckleberry sauce. he loved this dish and i thought it was pretty good, but not orgasmic.

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i had a filet of beef with potato-leek napolean, cassis glazed shallots and basil butter. the meat was very tender and had so much flavor that even though i was full already, i managed to almost finish the entire thing. the cab that the sommelier paired with this was just icing on the cake. it wasn’t until mike said “you know, you don’t have to finish that whole thing if you’re too full” that i finally put down my fork in defeat.

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by this point, we were stuffed, but bravely accepted the next course – the cheese plate! gary danko is known for their cheese course, and i being a total cheese freak i was looking forward to this all night long. we each picked four cheeses and managed to at least taste each of them.

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for dessert, we both got the chocolate souffle, also another signature dish at gary danko. our server came to us with the souffles and poked a hole in each. he drizzled two sauces – a creme anglais and a dark chocolate sauce – in each. this, along with the sweet mas amiel – mmm!!!

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as if that wasn’t enough, the server finally came out with an assortment of small birthday biscuits and cookies and a candle! mike took one bite of one cookie and gave up. i didn’t even bother. by this time i was half buzzed and half suffering from food coma. all i could think about was how much i wish i had my stretchy pants with me. so the server offered to pack up our cookies. then he came back with ANOTHER package for me – it was a blueberry muffin for the morning! apparently they only do this for female members of the party, no matter whose birthday it is ;)

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the experience at GD is going to be remembered fondly for a very long time – not just because the food, wine pairing, service was perfect, but because i was in good company and it was a great celebration. seeing mike surprised and having a good time makes me happy. if only i wouldn’t be burning a serious, serious hole in my wallet and ensuring a heart attack by 30, i would be back there every month. i know he doesn’t particularly like celebrating birthdays and has told me before he’d be happy ordering roundtable pizza and calling it a night. so he was particularly pleased and thanked me multiple times – but little does he know… i probably enjoyed his birthday much more than he did! in fact, i should be the one thanking him for being born and giving me an excuse to visit restaurants! :D THANKS MIKE!!!