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48 Hours in San Francisco

12 Apr

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Traveling to San Francisco feels like revisiting a childhood home. I see my favorite nooks in the house and relive wonderful memories, but I also observe details that I  overlooked before. My parents brought me to San Francisco five years ago, and from the moment I set foot on Market Street, I felt the city’s dynamic and creative energy. I immediately fell in love with the charming architecture, eclectic shops and art galleries, and the incredible culinary scene.

This past weekend, my family and I returned to our usual spots while also exploring unfamiliar areas such as Pacific Heights and North Beach. All of our meals were outstanding; I have shared a glimpse into my foodie adventures here.

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We began Friday morning with breakfast at The Mill, a bustling cafe and bakery located in a quaint neighborhood. The Mill has gained national recognition for its “hipster toast,” thick slices of freshly-baked bread, toasted until golden and crusty, then slathered with a variety of house-made spreads. Every component of this toast is outstanding, elevating a staple item into something note-worthy. I particularly enjoyed the country bread topped with butter, honey, flecks of rosemary, and a sprinkling of sea salt. With high ceilings and airy table seating, The Mill provides a comfortable environment to work or to just chat with friends.

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For lunch, we headed to The Slanted Door, an upscale Vietnamese restaurant located inside the Ferry Building. Eating here has become a treasured family tradition that I look forward to every year.

I appreciate The Slanted Door’s modern approach to classic Vietnamese cuisine, crafting fresh, boldly-flavored dishes. Think raw California yellowtail garnished with crispy shallots, thai basil, and tangy lime juice. The caramelized claypot catfish, silky fish filets surrounded by sweet sliced onions, ginger, and cilantro, all encased in a luxurious sauce, may be one of the best things I have ever eaten.

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As much as we adore The Slanted Door, we have never eaten dessert there. The Ferry Building hosts an array of artisanal vendors, including small-batch chocolate makers, ice cream shops using local dairy, and a pristine French bakery named Miette.

Even if you do not have a sweet tooth, the bakery’s impeccable display of packaged candies, cookies, and confections will grab your attention. While you cannot go wrong with any of these products, I highly recommend sampling the acclaimed French macarons. Miette uses all-natural ingredients and refined flavors for its macarons; simple vanilla will always be my favorite.

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Spring blooms and San Francisco’s distinctive townhouses.

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Clockwise from left: chocolate kouign amann, blueberry-banana scone, raspberry-almond croissant, and original kouign amann.

On Saturday morning, we treated ourselves to coffee and pastries at the beautiful B. Patisserie in Pacific Heights. Belinda Leong, pastry chef and owner, contributed a kouign amann recipe to the April issue of Bon Appétit. After reading the story, I had to taste the flaky, buttery pastries in person. The rose-shaped creation contains more than one hundred layers of caramelized dough and a gooey, custard-like center. Other notable items include the raspberry-almond croissant and passion fruit brioche. I have always admired traditional French baking, but Leong’s innovative, expertly-executed take on the classics makes B. Patisserie a true standout.

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Vibrant spring flowers at Bi-Rite Market.

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After such an indulgent breakfast, we craved a light lunch. Greens Restaurant, a San Francisco institution, serves healthful vegetarian cuisine. While many meatless restaurants can be trendy and unsatisfying, Greens offers wholesome, approachable food. I loved my warm spinach and artichoke salad, topped with parmesan shavings, toasted pine nuts, and a perfectly poached egg. My sister’s cauliflower and feta cheese omelette was fluffy and moist, complemented by crispy roasted potatoes. Greens is an ideal venue for a laid-back meal with family.

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Sqirl

13 Dec

Sqirl, a tiny café located in the Virgil Village neighborhood of Los Angeles, has single-handedly fostered my passion for breakfast. Sqirl started as an artisanal jam company, using rare, local produce to create unique flavorings. Think Cranberry-Bourbon and Santa Rosa Plums with Flowering Thyme. Owner Jessica Koslow has applied this same vibrance and ingenuity to her breakfast and lunch café. I mean, just look at the spread. Every dish is colorful and interesting, combining flavors and textures in ways that speak to your pallet.

Brown rice bowl with sorrel pesto, poached egg, and crumbled feta.

Since discovering Sqirl over the summer, I visit on a weekly basis, indulging in rice bowls topped with delicately poached eggs, small-batch baked goods, masterfully-crafted coffees, and brioche toasts. Located off the beaten path, the café offers an intimate and cozy vibe, with eclectic background music and casual bar seating. Despite the decidedly unpretentious setting, Sqirl’s staff is serious about food and crafts each dish with impeccable attention to detail.

Brown butter blondie with raspberry and Tahitian vanilla bean jam.

The brioche toasts anchor the menu and showcases Sqirl’s wonderful jam. Being a nut butter enthusiast, I love the gritty almond-hazelnut butter slathered on top of a thick slice of brioche, and sealed with a layer of glossy peach jam. You can swap out the nut butter for house-made ricotta or rich chocolate ganache sprinkled with fleur de sel. While you may be tempted to raise your eyebrows at the heaping amount of marmalade, fear not. Unlike the cloying, overly-sweetened varieties available at grocery stores, these jams render flavor and freshness, with pieces of whole fruit still intact.

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If that isn’t enough to convince you to visit, the coffee is excellent. Since developing a taste for lattes a few months ago, I crave them on a daily basis. Sqirl not only serves a delightfully creamy latte, but a killer cappuccino with house-made almond milk.

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Sqirl
720 North Virgil Ave.
Ste. 4
Los Angeles, CA 90029
(323) 284-8147
sqirlla.com
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Monday – Friday, 6:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Saturday – Sunday, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Semisweet Bakery

17 Jun
The 7 Up pound cake is moist and tender, dusted with a thin layer of powdered sugar.  


Food makes memories. Some of my best meals involve gathering around a table with friends and family, talking and laughing for hours, and sharing incredible dishes. I love to cook and bake because great food creates the most enjoyable experiences. 

Whenever I eat grilled fish, I remember my family’s trip to the Mediterranean, where our lunch was sourced fresh that very morning. Macarons and croissants transport me to the streets of Paris, strolling leisurely and peeking into the display window of every patisserie I passed by. The desserts at Semisweet Bakery in Downtown Los Angeles bring me back to my childhood, with classic American favorites like chocolate-banana bread, decadent layer cakes, and strawberry pocket tarts.

A generous slice of blueberry cornbread- 
the perfect balance between sweet and savory. 

Semisweet is a charming shop nestled into a bustling Los Angeles street. The decor pays tribute to the 60’s, with checkered tile tables, baby blue walls, and vintage accessories. Peering at the menu offerings made me nostalgic for the types of desserts I used to love as a kid- Oreos, Thrifty ice cream, and molten chocolate cake. 


After much deliberation, I ordered the 7 Up pound cake, blueberry cornbread, Samoa macaron, and the traditional and PB Crunch Ding a Lings. All were excellent, but the pound cake and the PB Crunch Ding a Ling definitely stole the show. A Ding a Ling is Semisweet’s rendition of the iconic Ding Dong- a chocolate snack cake filled with cream and dunked in chocolate glaze. You must try the peanut butter version, which satisfied my sweet-salty-crunchy-chocolately craving all at once.

Semisweet’s prices are also very reasonable given the top-notch quality and generous portions, a major advantage for someone who can never make up her mind on what to order. So visit this quaint bakery for delicious American treats that will make you smile. 


Semisweet Bakery 
105 East 6th St. 
Los Angeles, CA 90013
(213) 228 9975
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Tuesday-Thursday, Sunday 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Friday-Saturday, 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. 

Dominique Ansel Bakery in SoHo

31 May
Top: The Paris-NY is Dominique’s twist on a Paris-Brest, a traditional French pastry made with choux dough and filled with pastry cream. This variation pays tribute to an American candy bar with its peanut butter, caramel, and chocolate flavors. Below: Cloud-like lemon madeleine cookies that are baked-to-order.

Has a bakery ever blown you away? Have you ever tasted a dessert so masterfully executed, so perfectly delicious, that you intensely admire its creator? In my book, only an handful of pastry shops have achieved this level of excellence. Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York City was one of these rare experiences. 


I first heard about Dominique Ansel through a fabulous show on Cooking Channel called Unique Sweets. Unique Sweets profiles notable sweet spots throughout the country, featuring mouth-watering video footage and interviews with innovative pastry chefs. When my family and I traveled to NYC over spring break, visiting this bakery was at the top of my to-do list. 

We ordered a variety of items to sample, including pistachio, hazelnut, and chocolate macarons, chocolate chunk and chocolate-pecan cookies, a Paris-NY, 10 mini madeleines, and a cannelé. You cannot go wrong with any of these options, but my personal favorites were the Paris-NY, the chocolate chunk cookie, and the mini madeleines. 

The fact that each batch of madeleines bakes within minutes of arriving to your table shows incredible attention-to-detail and thoughtfulness. These petite French cakes, though seemingly simple, can be made several different ways with subtle textural and flavor nuances. Dominique’s are light as air, practically melting on your tongue. The chef’s chocolate chunk cookie, another ubiquitous classic, is crunchy on the outside and soft and melty on the inside, with notes of caramel from the brown sugar. 

ABC News – Cronut from ABC News Now on Vimeo.

A few weeks ago, Dominique made waves with his newest invention, a croissant-doughnut hybrid called the cronut. Layers of flaky croissant dough are deep fried, filled with Tahitian vanilla cream, rolled in rose sugar, and finished with a pale pink rose glaze. Dominique tried 10 different recipes before he found the one, and now people line up at 5 a.m. to get their hands on this unique pastry. 

Ansel inspires me with his ability to transform familiar baked goods into amazing works of art. His creativeness with flavor combinations and presentation are unmatched. Though Dominique has received much recognition for his work and is a James Beard Award Finalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef, he continues to push the boundaries. When I visited, I was surprised to see him working humbly behind the counter with the other employees. This dedication and passion for his craft makes Dominique Ansel a stand-out in the pastry world.  

Dominique Ansel Bakery 
189 Spring Street
New York, New York 
10012
(212) 219 2773
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Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Sunday, 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. 

Visiting Balthazar Bakery in Englewood, NJ

31 Mar


Some people get excited about shopping for vintage records and antique furniture at flea markets. Others love waking up at 6 a.m. for an early morning spin class. What gets me giddy is walking into a great bakery on a cool spring morning, inhaling the smell of freshly baked bread, and going home with a bag of pastries that are still barely warm from the oven.

I traveled to New York City last week to spend time with family, visit museums, and eat at amazing restaurants. Balthazar is one of my favorite bakeries in New York, offering carefully crafted, high-quality baked goods with a rustic Parisian influence. Balthazar’s little store in SoHo is always packed with people looking for a good cup of coffee and a quick pastry. While there is something undoubtedly charming about waiting in line at a cramped French bakery in one of NYC’s hippest neighborhoods, I visited Balthazar’s factory in Englewood, New Jersey (just half an hour outside Manhattan) to escape the hustle-bustle for a bit and observe bakers at work. 

From top: Charlotte aux Fruits with raspberry mouse and homemade ladyfingers, 
Chocolate-Almond Torte, and Lemon-Ricotta Torte. 
The Chocolate-Almond Torte was subtly sweet with a tender, nutty crumb. 


Balthazar is a wonderland for all things sweet. You walk in and you are immediately taken aback by the pastry case packed with beautiful products. Rustic loaves of handmade bread line the back wall, some speckled with oats, seeds, and nuts, some dusted with flour or cornmeal, each a distinct shape. Workers scurry about in the massive kitchen; it is fascinating to see them so engulfed in their different tasks, be it shaping dough or glazing danishes.


My family and I ordered more pastries than we could possibly consume in a single sitting. We laid everything out on our dining room table and sampled small pieces of almost every treat. Good dessert makes people smile, temporarily satisfying their sweet tooth. But only excellent dessert halts conversation as people savor and analyze each bite. That is exactly what happened to me. With every item I tried, I declared it my favorite and urged everyone at the table to experience it with me.

From top: Seasonal Vegetable Quiche and Mango-Passionfruit Tart. 


It is virtually impossible to go wrong with anything on Balthazar’s menu, but I have a few favorites that you must try. The Rhubarb and Sour Plum Crisp is filled with sweet, seasonal rhubarb preserves and plums and sprinkled with buttery crumble topping. The Chocolate-Almond Torte is light with a tender, nutty crumb. The Chocolate Chip-Walnut Cookie is crisp on the outside and slightly soft on the inside. I have tried chocolate chip cookies from around the world in pursuit of “the one,” and Balthazar’s version ranks in the top of my list. You can always judge a bakery’s character from its take on this classic baked good. 

Balthazar Bakery 
214 South Dean St. 
Englewood, NJ 07631
(201) 503 9717
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Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Saturday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Sunday, 8 a.m. – 2 p.m.