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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.

Best of the Bay, Part II: A Day in Berkeley

8 Jan
Café Fanny’s perfect almond croissant.

          In 1971, Alice Waters first made her mark on the culinary map with her acclaimed French bistro, Chez Panisse. She advocates the idea “that cooking should be based on the finest and freshest seasonal ingredients that are produced sustainably and locally.” Alice’s hole-in-the-wall café, affectionately named after her daughter Fanny, Café Fanny is no exception to her trademark philosophy. 
          Alice allows the food to shine, showcasing the ingredients’ natural goodness with simple dishes such as poached farm eggs with vinegar and oregano on thinly-sliced toast. Other favorites include the light buckwheat crepes with homemade preserves and fresh, vibrant pink salmon with crusty rye bread, cream cheese, and pickled onions. The café’s ambience is quintessentially Berkeley: small, rustic, the fragrant aroma of coffee permeating the space. Both for its casual atmosphere and superb food, Café Fanny cannot be missed.

Ici’s cherry vanilla rum and chocolate cocoa nib ice cream served atop their organic, hand-rolled  cone.

          Ici Ice Cream shop makes me want to move to Berkeley. Their delicious, seasonal flavors and homemade cones with chocolate-filled tips are the finest I have ever tasted. Like several other Bay area institutions, Ici bases their products on the highest quality, sustainably raised ingredients. From the perfectly round scoops to the elegantly adorn ice cream bombes, every offering on the menu is crafted with extreme attention to detail. The store’s chic decor makes me reminisce of summer afternoons in Paris spent strolling by the Seine with a refreshing ice cream cone in hand. With the clean marble counter, shiny trash cans with gold piping, and the dainty, individually-packaged candies and cookies, Ici brings French sophistication and style to Berkeley. If you have never visited Berkeley, Café Fanny and Ici Ice Cream are two wonderful reasons to plan a trip.

Best of the Bay, Part I: The Slanted Door

20 Dec
Wild California uni (sea urchin) with black tobiko, avocado, and strings of cucumber.
Moist daikon rice cakes with shitake mushrooms and scallions.
Cellophane noodles tossed with soft dungeness crab meat, scallions, and cilantro.

          I have visited San Francisco an handful of times and cannot begin to explain what makes this place so special. What I can say, however, is that one experience three years ago marked the start of my love affair with the vibrant city. That was the moment I sat down for lunch at The Slanted Door

          Since my first trip, I have returned on a number of occasions. With each new visit, I come to The Slanted Door to remember where it all began. Serving modern Vietnamese cuisine, this Michelin recommended restaurant blows me away every time. You cannot go wrong with any option on the menu as every dish contains bold flavors that come to life in your mouth. Some of my favorite items include the daikon rice cakes, the shaking beef, and the clay pot catfish. Juicy, tossed with fragrant cilantro, ginger, and Thai chilies, and caramelized to perfection, the catfish is a must. In addition, the polished wood tables, floor length windows looking out into the bay, and clean, minimalistic decor create a comfortable ambience. If you are an adventurous traveler with a passion for food, The Slanted Door is just the place to start your memorable journey in San Francisco. 

Best Chinese: Wing Lei, Las Vegas

13 Nov
Alaskan king crab, soft, juicy mango, avocado, aromatic cilantro, chili flakes, and miso-yusu dressing. 

Pan-seared pot stickers with minced pork and sweet Napa cabbage. 

Tender sauteed prawns and crunchy caramelized walnuts in a thick honey cream sauce and garnished with strawberries.
Imperial peking duck, airy steamed buns, crisp cucumber, scallions, and sweet Hoisin plum sauce.

          Rarely do I use the adjective “best” to describe anything, especially when it comes to food. Why? Because I cannot declare something of the highest quality or standard without exposing myself to all that is available. I want to sample every possible option before deciding which one rises above the rest. 
          I live in Los Angeles, the city with the second-largest Chinese population in the country and host to countless Chinese restaurants. I have dined in some of the most acclaimed Chinese restaurants in the world, including London’s Michelen one-star-rated, HakassanThat being said, Wing Lei, located in Las Vegas’s Wynn Hotel, is by far the best Chinese restaurant I have ever been to, for a variety of reasons. 
          Wing Lei offers a refined mix of Cantonese, Shanghai, and Szechwan cooking styles. Each dish wowed me beyond belief, combining several distinct tastes into an incredible final product. My family and I barely conversed throughout the meal and when we did our comments pertained to the food. We savored every bite, “oeeing” and “ahhing”and ultimately arguing over which dish reigned supreme. To cap off the evening: refreshing homemade fruit sorbets and smooth green tea and red bean ice creams accompanied by slightly chewy, petite almond cookies.
          Inspired by early, French-influenced Shanghai, the regal red and gold decor created a warm, inviting ambiance. The waiters remained professional and attentive throughout the meal, though not invasive. In short, I have no criticism of Wing Lei other than I wish the restaurant relocated to Los Angeles.