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.

October 17, 2009

Dining at Lala Rokh

When I lived in Boston I always enjoyed having dinner at Lala Rokh, a Persian restaurant in Beacon Hill. I would normally either take my sisters for dinner or just go by myself with a book. It is a good place to go for a special occasion or to relax. The atmosphere is calm and peaceful and the food is excellent. On this trip I took my husband here and realized it is also a perfect place for a romantic date!

Walking into Lala Rokh is relaxing. The restaurant is calm with soft music and warm décor. The hostess lead us to a corner table. A great start to our dinner date – Jonathan's favorite place to sit! We ordered and our waitress brought sesame bread and chickpea spread. A tasty start to the meal. This is a good restaurant for vegetarians. Even though the menu does not list many options, the kitchen is able to prepare several of the dishes without meat upon request.

Now, let's discuss the food. We started with a soup. It was a flavorful broth with vegetables and grains – perfect for a cold evening. Next I ordered the sib prepared vegetarian. It was wonderful – a stew of lentils and apples served with fluffy rice and grilled vegetables (instead of meat). Jonathan enjoyed his duck with pomegranate sauce. For dessert we shared baqlava and mint tea. It was amazing – a wonderful blend of honey, cardamon, and rose water.

I was happy to be able to return to Lala Rokh during our stay in Boston – it is a excellent place to enjoy a relaxing and delicious meal.

A Day in Cambridge Side

After the Freedom Trail and a couple afternoons of exploring and shopping in Boston, my husband and I got on the T and headed to Cambridge. Our first destination was Harvard Square to meet my step-sister for lunch. The weather was cloudy and unseasonably cold. We emerged from the subway tunnels to wind and light rain.

We walked to Algiers, a coffee house on Brattle Street. When I lived in Boston I often met my sisters or friends here for lunch. It is a great place to relax, talk, and eat a good lunch. On this occasion, my sister and I ordered cheese wrap sandwiches with brie and Jonathan ordered the mergeuze plate. With the blustery weather outside we all opted for mint tea with our food. Everything was just as I had remember – very good! The cheese, tomatoes, and lettuce were wrapped in pita and then grilled and the tea was excellent.

After a relaxing lunch and lots of catching up, Jonathan and I headed off to check out the shops and sights around Harvard Square. I was surprised at the number of changes – shops I remembered had closed or moved and new ones occupied the space. I was happy to find the Globe Corner Bookstore in its new location on
Mt. Auburn Street. This has been a favorite bookstore of mine for many years!

Our last stop in Harvard Square was L.A. Burdicks. This cafe is home to my favorite hot chocolate anywhere – and the perfect beverage for a cold day! We enjoyed our hot chocolates and the cozy warmth of the crowded cafe.

Before taking the T back to Boston, we walked down Massachusetts Avenue to Central Square, bustling along in the brisk air. And our short Cambridge tour drew to a close.

Fall Foliage

Lunenburg, Massachusetts

October 15, 2009

Peace and Calm

Annabessacook Lake, North Monmouth, Maine

A Walk in History

So, I lived in Boston for 6 years and I never walked the Freedom Trail. Yes, I walked by several of the historical sights almost every day and would point confused tourists in the right direction when asked, but I never took the time to follow the trail from the beginning.

This week I am back in Boston visiting family and sharing my history with my husband. My husband is from the Philippines and I wanted to show him the birthplace of our nation. On a sunny morning we decided to go out and trace the steps of the revolution in Boston. Starting on the Boston Common we walked to the State House with its gold dome towering over the green expanse below and then continued on to the Park Street Church and the Granary Burial Ground. The cemetery is a patchwork of Boston's first European residents – Patriots and Revolutionaries. We continued on to the Kings Chapel and Burial Ground and on towards the Old South Meeting House, the Boston Massacre Site, the Old State House, and the Fanueil Hall. After stopping for a brief snack we continued through the North End and on to Charlestown. While I was familiar with most of the sites on the route it was interesting to pass them in sequence and remember that this place was an important part of the birth of the United States of America.

After our amble through history we headed to Figs in Beacon Hill for dinner. This has always been one of my favorite pizza restaurants in Boston. We ordered some calamari, two pizzas (one Oliver's and with half Portobello and Red Sox), and wine. Jonathan and my father enjoyed the calamari and we all loved the pizza. Figs' pizza has very thin and crispy crust and high quality ingredients – perfect!

A day of great history! And great pizza!

October 13, 2009

Back in Boston

I was born in New England. Surrounded by history, rolling hills, brightly colored fall leaves, wild beaches with cold waters, and tradition, this is where I grew up. New England, and specifically the state of Massachusetts and the city of Boston, are special to me. In 2005, I moved across the country – from Boston to San Francisco. This was a new beginning for me. I went to graduate school, changed careers, and met and married Jonathan. And I became happy.

Saturday morning we got up way very early to go to the airport and fly to Boston. Our flight took off before the sun and flew east across the country, arriving in Boston Logan's Airport in the mid-afternoon. The weather for our arrival was sunny with a few clouds. We collected our luggage and went out to the curb to get our ride!

Our first destination in the city was Beacon Hill. We walked down the brick sidewalks on Charles Street and into the Public Garden. Past the small shops, the Make Way for Ducklings statues, and the pond in the garden. The sounds, smells, and sights surrounded me and reminded me of when this was my home. My old neighborhood, the public garden, the cafe on the corner. The Boston air is crisp and filled with the scents of fall.

It is good to be back. It is great to be here with Jonathan and I am looking forward to showing him around New England.

After our afternoon walk through the Public Garden and my old neighborhood we headed to the South End for dinner. We had decided to try Estragon, a Spanish tapas bar on Harrison Street. When we were arrived we welcomed by the staff and promptly seated. The restaurant is elegant and cheerful and our waiter was wonderful – friendly and accommodating. We ordered the tortilla, two orders of coles de bruselas (one with and one without chorizo), queso a la plancha, patatas bravas, gambas, jamon iberico, panceta, and wine. Everything was absolutely fabulous! The brussels sprouts were perfect – crispy with excellent flavors. For dessert we got a flan and a chocolate mousse (which was flavored with orange). Again both were excellent. The meal was amazing – great food and a great restaurant. I would love to eat here again sometime!

Now, I'm looking forward to the rest of our week in New England and then heading to New York City next week!

October 9, 2009

San Francisco Favorites – Part Five

More new and old favorites around the city...

Weekend brunch is one of my favorite meals of the week and in San Francisco Zazie is a great place for all things breakfast-like. Whenever we go here we always get a gingerbread pancake to share. A pancake is not my normal choice on the menu for breakfast or brunch, but these are perfect. The gingerbread one is light with lots of ginger and served with poached pears and lemon curd. The egg scrambles and benedict dishes are also excellent and come with tasty home-fries (or salad) and toast. Zazie also has good coffee and hot chocolate. This is a place where you have to come, put your name on a list, and wait your turn for a table. So, come on a nice day, be patient, and you will be rewarded!

Now, I want to talk about a couple new favorite restaurants of mine. First, Charanga, a small and cozy cafe in the Mission featuring the cuisines of Costa Rica, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. Walking into the restaurant you become immersed in Latin American culture with lively music, bright colored walls, and great paintings and photographs adorning the walls. The staff is excellent and friendly. But, the best part is the food. I have traveled to the Caribbean and Latin America many and have always loved the flavors of that region. I ordered tostones (green plantains), a bread and tomato salad, and the mushrooms. Everything was fabulous! The tostones, which is what I was most excited about, were crispy and served with black beans and majo verde. My husband had lechon asado (Cuban-style roast pork) and loved it. For wine, we ordered the La Posta Bondarda which was excellent. Charanga earned an instant spot on my list of favorite restaurants!
Gitane is a recent addition to Claude Lane in downtown San Francisco. The interior is hip, elegant, and sexy – very east coast cool. When we arrived the hostess led us past the narrow bar area and upstairs to the dining room. The atmosphere and design throughout the restaurant is very chic and consistent. We sat at a corner table which was great. The staff was very friendly and attentive.
And the food was spectacular! For an appetizer I ordered espinaca salad and my husband had the chipirones calamari. My salad was great with baby spinach, caramelized almonds, and manchego cheese with a very tasty vinaigrette. Then for the main entree I got the vegetable tagine which was amazing – sweet and savory and served with fluffy couscous! Jonathan ate the solomillo (grilled natural pork tenderloin and braised pork belly) which he thoroughly enjoyed. For wine, we brought our own bottle and our waiter was very accommodating. Now, let's talk about dessert. We ordered the fondant au chocolate, which I would have described as more of a flour-less chocolate cake. It was excellent, but not exactly what we had expected. Once we got over my initial disappointment, we enjoyed completely enjoyed the dish. Overall it was a wonderful meal. Gitane is a perfect place for a date and I look forward to returning soon!

This is the fifth blog post I have dedicated to my favorite places (mostly food-related) in San Francisco. Here are the links to my past favorites posts:

October 6, 2009

San Francisco Favorites – Part Four

New and old favorites around the city...

It has been over four years since I moved from Boston to San Francisco. During my time here I have enjoyed this amazing city – especially the wonderful food. I have come to add some places to my favorites list – Amelie, Iluna Basque, Boogaloos, and Delfina Pizzeria, to name a few. We are always discovering new places to add to the list; so, here are some new (and a few old) favorites.

Potrero Hill is my favorite neighborhood in San Francisco. It is quiet and friendly, and home to two of the favorite places I am writing about today – Sunflower Vietnamese Restaurant and Aperto.

First, Sunflower. A new addition to the neighborhood, this is a comfortable, casual, and reasonably priced restaurant. The food is excellent and made with fresh ingredients – perfect Vietnamese noodles, soups, and other dishes. This is a great place for a simple, relaxing, and healthy dinner. Some of my favorite dishes are the vegetarian imperial rolls (an unhealthy indulgence), the pan fried noodles, the noodle soups, and the spicy green beans.

Now, on to another Potrero Hill restaurant, Aperto. This is a warm and cozy Italian eatery with outstanding food. On our most recent visit I ordered beet and ricotta gnocchi and my husband ordered the rack of lamb. The gnocchi was amazing – fresh and delicious! Jonathan enjoyed his lamb and we both shared some roasted garlic cauliflower and then a chocolate souffle. Alone every dish was wonderful and together it was a fantastic meal.

Just down from Potrero Hill in SOMA is another place I enjoy eating at – South Food + Wine Bar. A one thousand square foot restaurant, this is a great place for dinner, a drink, or some snacks. The staff is friendly and accommodating, the atmosphere is warm and fun, and (importantly) the food is excellent!

I will write about some of my other favorites soon!