December 31, 2009

Cork and Snowflakes

The air was cold and still – the calm before the storm – as we walked to the restaurant. It was the night before the big snowstorm that brought this city to a halt. Jonathan and I were venturing out to have dinner at Cork Restaurant & Wine Bar on 14th Street.

We arrived at our destination and escaped the cold. The atmosphere of Cork is cozy and rustic with a dark wood and brick interior. We were promptly seated and began reviewing the menu. (Call 30 minutes prior to your arrival to place your name on the wait list.)

The wine list contains a many different options from all over the globe, but focuses on European wines. We ordered wine flights off the chalkboard by the bar. While I enjoyed the selections I received, Jonathan was less excited. However, he was happy with the wine he ordered by the glass after that. Coming from California we are used to seeing more wines from that region, the Pacific Northwest, Australia, or New Zealand on the menu. I found the increased choices from European vintners a welcome change for me.

Now, for food, we ordered several different tapas to share. By far our favorite food item was the sauteed mushrooms. They were wonderful – wild mushrooms perfectly prepared with marjoram and madeira. After finishing our first order, we asked our server to bring more! In addition we enjoyed the oil-cured tomatoes on grilled bread. This dish was also intensely flavorful and good to share. Other tapas we tried were the cheese plate, the charcuterie selection, and the duck. While everything was good, the mushrooms and oil-cured tomatoes were most memorable and what I look forward to going back to eat again soon!

And then we ordered dessert. Even though there was an good sounding chocolate dessert on the menu I selected the goat cheese cake. It turned out to be an excellent decision! The cheesecake was creamy and delicious with a subtle goat cheese flavor.

By the time we left Cork, we walked out into a winter wonderland. While we were dining the snowflakes had begun to fall and the city was blanketed in a sparkling layer of white!

December 30, 2009

December 29, 2009

Teatime in Georgetown

ching ching CHA, the small Chinese teahouse on Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown, is named after its founder – ching ching – and the Chinese word for tea – CHA. Offering over 70 different teas and simple food items this is a wonderful place to go for lunch or an afternoon cup of tea.

In contrast to the bustling streets outside, ching ching CHA is an oasis of calm. I first went here with my step-sister several years ago. And more recently, I stopped here with my husband after an afternoon of Christmas shopping. We sat down and ordered tea and almond cookies. ching ching CHA serve and sell a wide variety of – green, black, and white teas, oolong and pu-erh teas, tisanes, and ginseng. I seleted the Hibiscus tisane and Jonathan got the Harmony tisane. Both infusions were wonderful – rich and aromatic. We thoroughly enjoyed our tea and relaxing in the tranquil atmosphere!

ching ching CHA is a perfect respite from the crowds and energy of Georgetown.

December 22, 2009

Chocolate in the Nation's Capital

As it may be apparent from previous postings, I love chocolate. During my flying career I was always searching for new and delicious chocolates all over the world. Now that I am no longer flying I have to search for my favorite chocolates at local shops.

Shortly after arriving in Washington my aunt brought me to Biagio Fine Chocolate, a small chocolate shop on 18th Street near Dupont Circle. I immediately loved this shop! They have an excellent selection of high quality chocolates from all over the globe. I was excited to see that they carry some of my favorite brands including Domori, Blanxart, Michel Cluizel,Vosges Haut Chocolat, and Weiss. In addition, I discovered some brands that were new to me – such as Pacari and Rogue Chocolatier – on their shelves.

This is the place I intend to go when I want to buy chocolate for gifts – or just to eat – now that I live in Washington!

18th Street in Adams Morgan

Adams Morgan, Washington, District of Columbia

December 15, 2009

Regal Bridge

Taft Bridge, Washington, District of Columbia

Dinner at Siroc

I am settling into my new home city – Washington, DC. While I have been becoming accustomed to cooler weather, learning to find my way around, and the many other aspects of acquainting myself to a new place, I have been remiss about blogging. It is not that I have had nothing to write about – quite the contrary – but I have been short on time. That said, I will try to be more diligent going forward.

So, on to my first post about Washington DC. I have decided to write about Siroc Restaurant on McPherson Square. At my aunt's suggestion we met here for dinner to celebrate our successful move to and arrival in the nation's capital.

Jonathan and I arrived at Siroc first and were led to our table. The restaurant is small and modern with a welcoming atmosphere. The cuisine is modern Italian.

After all members of our dinner party were seated the waiter brought over a small dish of tiny raviolis in a wonderful green cream sauce for each person. It was great start to the meal! All the food was very good, but the pasta was amazing. The appetizer I tried – the potato, thyme, and onion torte – was very good and my dinner companions also liked the beef rolls. I ordered the spinach fettuccine with tomatoes and artichokes. (On the menu this dish has shrimp and pancetta in it, but the staff happily served those ingredients on the side for my non-vegetarian friends!) The fettuccine was just perfect – it was wonderful! That said, Jonathan ordered a non-pasta dish (veal) and thoroughly enjoyed it too.

Moving onto dessert... We ordered the warm chocolate tart and the hazelnut chocolate mousse. The tart was a rich, dark chocolate and the chocolate mousse was a creamy milk chocolate. Both were fantastic!

The overall meal was wonderful – it was a perfect celebration! The food was amazing and the staff was friendly and knowledgeable. I thoroughly enjoyed my first visit to Siroc!

December 1, 2009

The Next Adventure

I am writing this blog entry on the airplane. My husband and I are flying from San Francisco International Airport to Washington Dulles Airport. After living in San Francisco for four years I am now moving. Sitting here on the airplane next to Jonathan I am reminded of all the good changes that have come into my life since moving to California. The last few years have been a wonderful whirlwind of experiences – and living in the bay area has been great. But, now it is time for a change.

Washington DC is an amazing city. I have had the opportunity to spend quite a bit of time there in the past and I look forward to now calling this city my home! For me this is an exciting time to be moving to our nation's capital – just over a year ago Barack Obama was elected to be the 44th President of the United States becoming the first minority to hold this office. The event of his election gave me a great deal of hope.

So, today Jonathan and I officially start calling Washington DC home! I am looking forward to exploring the city, rediscovering the museums, and sharing a new home city with my husband. While I have lived on the east coast before – in Boston and several other areas of New England – this will be Jonathan's first time calling an east coast city home. I look forward to shopping in Georgetown, having tea in Dupont Circle, walking along the National Mall, and having dinner in Adams Morgan. And I am excited to be sharing this experience with Jonathan!

November 30, 2009

My Napa and a Perfect Dinner in Berkeley

I woke up to a clear but windy morning in Napa. The wind was wild – blowing branches around and scattering leaves outside the window. The windows rattled and the electricity wavered.

So, my day began a bit uncertain – but this is my Napa. The tourist books and “insider” books talk about wineries up and down the valley, quaint cottages and cafes in St Helena and Calistoga, and recommendations for food and wine parings. But over the years we have learned to ignore all that and find the other Napa behind the hype and mostly away from the crowds.

My favorite place to eat in Napa is Oxbow Public Market. Yes, tourists eat here too – but not in the great droves seen along Highway 29. My favorite thing here is the arepas at Pica Pica Maize Kitchen – they are amazing! (As you might have guessed since this is there second appearance in my blog.) In addition, the market is home to Ritual Coffee Roasters, an outpost of Kara's Cupcakes, and several other merchants.

Within a block or so of the market there are several small wine tasting rooms that feature small production wines. One of these is Taste at Oxbow on the corner of First and McKinely Streets. This small shop features wines from several small vintners – Waterstone Wines, Mahoney Vineyards, and others. The wines are excellent, they have a broad range of varietals, and the prices are very reasonable. In addition, the staff is friendly, knowledgeable, and enjoys sharing their passion about Napa Valley and wine. Next door is GustavoThrace (of the Bottle Shock movie fame). This is also a great place to go wine tasting. Gustavo's wines are wonderful and the prices are also reasonable.

You can also travel across the bridge on First Street and explore the rest of downtown Napa. This is a great part of Napa Valley that is often overlooked by the majority of tourists and bay area day-trippers who flock up Highway 29. Over Thanksgiving weekend my husband and I decided to visit Napa for a day. We skipped the elegant estate wineries and headed straight to Oxbow Public Market and visited Pica Pica, Taste at Oxbow, and GustavoThrace!

On our way back to San Francisco we stopped in Berkeley for dinner at Great China Restaurant. This small, hectic restaurant on Kitteridge Street serves outstanding Chinese cuisine. One of the house specialties is duck, but the menu is very extensive and includes several vegetarian options. In addition, they have an extensive wine list and one of the waiters is very knowledgeable about wine and pairing it with his restaurant's menu items. On this occasion, we brought a bottle of wine we purchased in Napa and asked the reverse question and he gave us some excellent suggestions for food that would match nicely with our wine. We got some vegetarian soup with mushrooms, then Jonathan ordered the duck and I got tofu sauteed with green vegetable. We both thoroughly enjoyed everything! Great China is one of the bay area restaurants I will miss living in DC!

November 28, 2009

San Francisco - a Last Few Favorites

In Spring 2005 I moved from Boston to San Francisco. During the past few years I have experienced a great deal of change – I attended graduate school, changed careers, met and married Jonathan, and became happy. Now my time in San Francisco is drawing to an end. In a few days Jonathan and I will be moving to Washington DC. While I am excited about living in a new city, here are a few of the places I will miss in San Francisco.

One of my favorite places to relax in San Francisco is Samovar Tea Lounge. With three welcoming locations in the city – Castro, Yerba Buena Gardens, and Hayes Valley – Samovar is a wonderful place to go for a snack, a healthy meal, to meet friends, or just enjoy a cup of tea. All locations offer an excellent menu, good service, and a calming atmosphere.

My last career – flying – brought me to Germany many times. During my visits I gained a great affection for German chocolate and food. San Francisco has some good German restaurants, but I think Walzwerk is particularly charming. This small and cozy cafe on South Van Ness in the Mission has good service and serves some great food. For me, the fare is comfort food – warm and hearty East German cuisine. My favorite thing to order is the Käsespätzle mit Gemischtem Salat (chesse spätzle with salad). One day we were there they had a black forest cake on the specials menu and it was fantastic.

Lastly, looking back through my past blog posts I realized I have never shared one of my all time favorite restaurants – Alegrias – with my readers. Located Lombard Street, this small family owned and operated Spanish restaurant is wonderful. The owners and staff at Alegrias are very welcoming and the service is exceptional. But, most importantly, the food is wonderful. They serve a very flavorful olive oil with the bread and all the tapas dishes are delicious. My favorite tapas are Cazuela de Queso de Cabra (oven cooked goat cheese with red sauce), Espinacas a la Catalana (sauteed spinach with garlic, raisins, apple, and pine nuts), and Setas al Ajillo (mushrooms sauteed with garlic and white wine). This is the perfect restaurant to go for special occasion or celebration!

November 25, 2009

Celebrity Chefs, Restaurant Hype, and Pizza

Given a choice, I prefer small, local restaurants. In general, I am a bit wary of restaurants have too much hype. In today's world of Food Networking cooking shows and star the ultimately hyped restaurant is one with a so-called celebrity chef. So, I had tampered expectations and was slightly suspicious of two of the dining spots on our New York itinerary – Otto Enoteca Pizzeria and Mesa Grill.

Our fourth day in New York was a crazy day for me – waking up at 5:00 am, flying to Washington DC for a meeting, and returning to New York City by late afternoon. After a short nap at the hotel I headed out for a dinner date with my husband, Jonathan. We took the subway downtown to the Bleeker Street stop.

Owned by chef Mario Batali, the Otto Enoteca Pizzeria is a few blocks from Washington Square at the intersection of 5th Avenue and 8th Street. The restaurant has a warm vibe and is abuzz with activity. After we were seated at our table we started studying the menu and massive wine list. All the choices menu sounded wonderful – but we decided on antipasti (cauliflower, spicy rabe, lentils, and calamari), an escarole salad, a margharita pizza, and a bottle of Italian wine. The salad and antipasti was a very good and paired well with the wine. The pizza was perfect – good cheese, good tomatos, and crispy crust! Pizza is one of my favorite foods and this was very tasty. For dessert we ordered the sweet brioche with nutella, which was just as wonderful as the main part of the meal.Yes, Dinner at Otto was superb! I had been cautiously optimistic about the restaurant and it far exceeded my expectations. Most importantly food was delicious; in addition, the atmosphere was warm and lively and service was excellent! I will definitely return on a future trip to New York!

After dinner we strolled around Greenwich Village and listened to music at Groove, a small music venue at MacDougal and West 3rd Streets.

The following evening we met some friends at Mesa Grill. This dining experience also exceeded my tempered expectations! We had a fun evening with friends and the food was very good! I ordered the squash blossom appetizer and the chili rellano. Everything was artfully prepared and presented. The atmosphere here is perfect for an evening of conversation and enjoyment. The whole experience was very good, but of the two restaurants I preferred Otto.

Perhaps my preference for Otto over Mesa is due to my obsession with perfect pizzas. To me, pizza is one of the most simple and perfect foods – and the pizza at Otto was wonderful!

November 10, 2009

Along the High Line and the Streets Below

A little further north on Manhattan Island are two other neighborhoods I enjoy exploring – the Meatpacking District and Chelsea.

First the Meatpacking District...

Since my last visit to New York, there has been a dramatic change to this area – the opening of the much anticipated High Line. Formally an old elevated railway, the High Line is now a beautiful meandering garden that extends south along 10th Avenue from 20th Street to Gansevoort Street. The park is beautiful – lush beds of grasses and wildflowers weaving along with the path above the city streets and between the buildings. It is a wonderful way to walk through the city, a great place to relax elevated above the clamor of streets.

On the days I walked the High Line my husband we stopped by the Chelsea Market Public Art for lunch. We purchased our food from the tbsp rickshaw cart parked at this point along the path and enjoyed our meal at a table nearby. I had a sharp cheddar sandwich – a delicious handheld meal of great cheese on multigrain bread with tomatoes and watercress. Jonathan enjoyed some warm homemade soup. Perfect picnic lunch on a crisp fall day!

After lunch we continued walking south along the High Line – past more flowers and under the impressive Standard Hotel, then descending to street level at the end of the tracks. The Meatpacking District is different than the other neighborhoods of Manhattan with large low wear-houses and broad streets. Walking through the streets we snaked back and forth exploring the neighborhood and shopping.

Eventually we reached 9th Avenue and 15th Street – home to Chelsea Market. This is a food mecca – filled with shops, cafes, bakeries, and tempting smells. A recent addition to the market is Jacques Torres Chocolates. This shop's spicy wicked hot chocolate is often listed as one of the best hot chocolates in New York City (New York Magazine, Food Network). My husband and I each ordered a small wicked hot chocolate and sat down to enjoy it. The hot chocolate is one of the richest concoctions I have ever enjoyed. It is delicious – creamy and chocolaty with a hint of spice. It is also one of the most luxurious hot chocolates I have ever had – thick and rich like molten chocolate.

After our wonderful snack we continued into the Chelsea neighborhood and spent the remainder of the afternoon browsing shops along 9th Avenue.

November 4, 2009

SoHo and Greenwich Village

During a good portion of our time in New York we crisscrossed the city shopping in several different neighborhoods, visiting different sights, eating some great food, and then often doubling back to return to a place we had already visited. The majority of the time we spent in SoHo, Greenwich Village, the Meatpacking District, and Chelsea.

In this post I want to talk about my adventures in SoHo and Greenwich Village.

These are a uniquely New York neighborhoods – with tree-lined streets and beautiful old buildings. And it's a great part of the city to walk around in – and a great place to shop.

On this trip we went back to some of my favorite shops and found some new ones too! My favorite new shops are Rosebud and Makié in SoHo. The first, Rosebud, sells women's clothing and accessories imported from Israel. This shop has very pretty things at reasonable prices. A few doors down, Makié sell adorable clothing and accessories for children and whimsical accessories and clothing items for women. All items are designed and made at the shop.

Walking along Bleaker Street in Greenwich Village I came to a door that led down into a small shop. On a simple wooden sign had two simple words – Pure Dark. A new chocolate shop! Pure Dark sells simple and delicious handcrafted chocolate slabs and confections. The slabs are delicious!

SoHo and Greenwich village have an eclectic mix of shops, cafes, and people. It is a place that is fun to explore! It remains one of my favorite shopping – and eating – areas of New York City!

October 30, 2009

Five Cents

Boston, Massachusetts

The Intersection of Old and New

Boston, Massachusetts

A Day in New York City – Shopping at Century 21 and Lunch at Zoë

Century 21 Department Store is a dizzying array of floors filled with fashion and chaos. Shopping here can be curious and exciting, but requires patience. There are racks and racks of clothing jammed tightly together. Shopping here can be tiring!

The second day we were in New York City we headed to Century 21 in the morning. Searching through the racks we found sweaters and jackets and dresses. My husband found dress clothes, hats, and jackets. (One note about shopping at Century 21 – it is important to check clothing items for damage, especially in the women's store.)

After a few hours of shopping we narrowed down our purchases and headed back out onto the street. Taking a cab to SoHo we headed to Zoë for lunch. Described as a contemporary American restaurant, Zoë is a comfy cafe on Prince Street. Much of the food on the menu is cooked in the restaurant's wood-fired grill and oven. I ordered a mushroom pizza. It was excellent – a crispy crust topped with roasted portabello, cremini, and shiitake mushrooms, herbed ricotta, mozzarella, and arugula. My husband and aunt both enjoyed the meat and seafood dishes they ordered. It was the perfect meal after a morning of shopping and walking around Manhattan!

October 28, 2009

Madison Avenue, lots of Chocolate, and a Red Tomato

I love New York – there is excitement and energy in the sights, the sounds, and the rush of the street. We spent our first afternoon on Madison Avenue, walking from 87th Street (where the Franklin Hotel is located) south to 60th Street (the location of our dinner destination). We walked, checked out the shops, looked at the architecture, and felt the energy of being in New York.

One of the stops we made along Madison Avenue was at the Upper East Side's Vosges Boutique. I have always loved the exotic flavors of Vosges chocolates and wanted a hot chocolate. The boutique is great with whimsical white and purple décor. I got a vanilla hot chocolate (La Parisienne Couture Cocoa) and Jonathan got a spicy hot chocolate (Aztec Elixir Couture Cocoa). Both were excellent! The intense bittersweet chocolate flavor was complemented by either Madagascar vanilla (for my cocoa) or chillies and cinnamon (for the spicy cocoa). This is a very cool place to visit for a cup of excellent hot chocolate!

Our next stop was la Maison du Chocolat. This is a great store – selling delicious chocolate confections and pastries. Of course, in addition to chocolate shops we perused clothing and shoe shops, pharmacies, and many other places along the street.

Now on to dinner! We met friends at Rouge Tomate at 5th Avenue and 60th Street. This restaurant is an impressive space – large upstairs and downstairs dining rooms, dark wood floors, and clean décor. And the food is equally magnificent. The menu is not very long – but the descriptions of each food item sound fantastic and it's hard to decide what to eat.

After sitting down and ordering we were served some very nice bread and a small taste of a creamy harvest soup – a perfect start to a meal on a chilly fall evening. Next we shared the brussels sprout and pear salad. It was very good – the brussels sprouts had been blanched and chilled and paired perfectly with the pears, nuts, and balsamic vinegar. I chose the winter squash farrotto entree. The flavors of apple, parmesan, and sage blended superbly with the hearty farro. It was outstanding! The wine was great and paired well with the food. Others at my table ordered the duck and said it was also very good. It was an amazing meal! I want to go back and try more of the items on the menu!

Rouge Tomate was recently awarded a Michelin Star – definitely well deserved! Congrats!

History on Stones

Park Street Church and Granary Burial Ground
Boston, Massachusetts

October 27, 2009

Arriving in New York City

About halfway through our northeast travels we arrived in New York City. I have always loved visiting New York. It is a fun and vibrant city with great diversity unmatched in anywhere else. It is also an intense place – hectic and full of life 24 hours a day.

For this trip we picked the Franklin Hotel on the Upper East Side. When we arrived the staff held our bags while we headed out to Madison Avenue for an afternoon of shopping, returning later in the evening to check into our room.

The Franklin Hotel property was perfect for us – it is located in a beautiful old building in a quiet Upper East Side neighborhood. The rooms are charming, the building has a great old elevator, and hotel provides excellent amenities. Throughout our stay we were thrilled with this hotel. Every morning the hotel provides continental breakfast – croissants, brioche, cheese, and prosciutto with espresso, tea, and juice. And in the early evenings the hotel serves wine, cheese, crackers, and nuts – a perfect way for guests to relax at the end of a great day in city. The hotel staff is very friendly and worked hard to assure we had a wonderful stay. Next time I go to New York City I will definitely stay at the Franklin Hotel again!

October 23, 2009

Exploring Around New England

In addition to exploring history and food in Boston and Cambridge, we visited other areas around New England: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. It has been several years since I was back in the northeast for autumn. It is beautiful – with the leaves ablaze with color before they fall to the ground. This was my husband's first visit to New England and I enjoyed sharing this historic and scenic place with him.

After a week in Boston and the surrounding area we headed to New York City.