I’ve left this blog in cobwebs for awhile, but it’d be remiss if I didn’t dedicate a post to the person who inspired me to explore the nuances of foods and cultures.
It’s obvious to those who know me how much Anthony Bourdain meant to my passion for food and travel. And I’m not alone. The outpouring of love and grief since his passing last week still reverberates. His genuine, witty, deadpan humor and the way he embraced people and their cultures can be seen and felt with every episode, no matter what network. He wasn’t afraid to speak his mind and that’s what made him endearing. He had a way with words on screen and on paper, penning some great books that I know have recently topped the bestseller list on Amazon again since his untimely passing.
It’s painful to think of what demons he had been trying to overcome, but I hope he has found peace and that his ashes get sprinkled in the country he so loved, Vietnam.
While these episodes are mostly from the earlier Bourdain days, here are the top five episodes that to me, embody who Anthony Bourdain was and how he experienced food and cultures:
Truthfully, I don’t remember what happened much in this episode. Tony goes on some crazy adventure to hunt seals with the local Inuits in Quebec (I’m sure PETA was up in arms about that one). But what stood out to me most in this episode was when he sat in the kitchen with the locals who had just caught a seal. They were dividing up the meat for the family meal — a feast! The elderly grandma smiled and offered Tony, as their honored guest, the most precious part of the seal, to them — the eyeball. And Tony graciously took it. He knew what it meant to those people to offer him their best, and he ate the eyeball without qualms.
KOREA (No Reservations: season 2, Episode 7)
I can’t remember how many times I’ve watched this episode, but I loved the juxtaposition of Tony’s stoic “just give me a beer” character with Nari, the Korean intern who coaxed Tony to experience her motherland with her. I love all things Korean, and it was hilarious to see Tony try to immerse himself into the Korean culture — making kimchi, going to the sauna, eating sannakji, and being dragged to a norebang (karaoke — Tony’s personal hell).
BEIRUT (No Reservations: Season 2, Episode 12)
Season 2 of No Reservations was a particularly fruitful season for the show (all my favorite NR episodes just so happened to be from this season). This episode actually didn’t explore much of Beirut, as the crew was trapped inside a hotel, shielding themselves from warfare. But this is where we ultimately see Tony cook again and turn to food and cooking in times where everyone needed comfort. I loved seeing that side of him and the behind the scenes as the crew basically fled back to the States.
LOS ANGELES (Parts Unknown: Season 1, Episode 2)
This episode literally hit home. How excited was I to see my hometown featured as the second episode on Tony’s latest show? While Tony’s since visited LA many times, I love this episode because he keeps it real and visits Koreatown — my neighborhood when I last lived there. He sits down with David Choe and talks about things that are very real for those of us growing up as children of immigrants in LA. He and Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ discuss the LA riots, which I also lived through.
THAILAND (Parts Unknown, Season 3, Episode 7)
“To be fortunate enough to be able to visit Thailand, to eat in Thailand, is a deep dive into a rich, many textured, very old culture containing flavors and colors that go far beyond the familiar spectrum. Given our limited time on this earth…you don’t want to miss ANY of it.”
While Tony has visited Thailand many times, I recall receiving so many messages from friends alerting me to this episode. Tony visits Northern Thailand, where I spent a brief period of my time in college studying Thai (the irony — I’m fluent in Thai), but really daydreaming of what to eat each day. This is the episode where I’m introduced to Andy Ricker, whose command of the Thai language as well as Northern Thai foods never ceases to amaze me (visit Pok Pok in Portland and you’d agree).
I loved that Tony resurrected memories of Chiang Mai for me and even introduced me to new places that I had the opportunity to try on my last visit to the city.
Thank you, Anthony Bourdain, for igniting that love of food and travel in so many of us. You’ve left an indelible mark on how I want to experience the world, as I’m sure you’ve done for many.
Perhaps it’s my biased love for the food, but when I first moved to San Francisco, I noticed the surplus of ice cream shops (to my delight). This city is known for fresh foods, made from locally sourced, organic ingredients and sweet treats are no different. The variety of ice cream shops that vary in flavor specialities to techniques is so vast that you’re sure to find something to please everyone. Last year, I sought out to complete this post by the end of summer. With the middle of “summer” (because it doesn’t get truly hot here til at least September) looming near, here’s a quick-and-dirty of my ice cream votes:
I credit my friends Jackie and Row for introducing me to this place before I even moved here. Known for their seasonal favorite flavors like Ricanelas and Balsamic Strawberries, along with popular signature flavors like Honey Lavender (my favorite), their first shop is located by Dolores Park in the Mission and can be spotted by the line wrapping around the block. The shop has since expanded to include soft serves of their most popular flavors, and another mini stand in their market on Divisadero in NoPa (a not-so-hidden gem!).
Best known for fun, interesting flavors with kitschy names (Jesus Juice, anyone?), most notably their Secret Breakfast: a combination of whiskey and corn flakes. The flavors are fun, but not too sweet and overpowering. Here, I had the Oolong tea, which reminded me of a good milk tea, frozen to ice cream consistency. The true taste of the tea stood out well. Their original location is in the Mission, but I love walking to the Ferry Building location and browsing the shops while I enjoy this cool treat.
A true San Francisco establishment, Mitchell’s has been around since 1953. You’ve probably unknowingly had some of their ice cream if you’ve had dessert a la mode at a restaurant here, as they sell their ice cream by the gallon as well. On the border of Bernal Heights and the Mission, this place is almost always packed. They operate with a queue system like the deli, where you take a number and patiently wait, drooling while staring at the cases and cases of ice cream. Their menu is HUGE so they really have a flavor for everyone’s taste, from classic flavors like grasshopper pie to Asian favorites like Filipino Ube and Halo Halo, two kind of coconut ice cream (macapuno and buko), and fruit sorbets that fly under the radar but are my favorite.
Mr. and Mrs. is the quintessential small batch shop. Located in the Dogpatch, the shop is open Wed. – Sun. for about a 6-hour window. The flavors are constantly changing, and if you’re going to make the trek, might as well check their Facebook page to make sure they’re open. When there, you can easily spot it by the line wrapped outside the shop. My most favorite flavor I’ve had there thus far was a seasonal mango that tasted like home.
What screams tech town more than ice cream frozen with liquid nitrogen? Smitten’s menu is small but mighty, with recommended sauce and topping pairings. I loved when they offered flights, so you can try the entire menu, but still good nonetheless. The liquid nitrogen makes the ice cream silky smooth, yet still rich. I love the original Hayes Valley location (literally like a shack), but they’re now on Fillmore and in the Peninsula in a Whole Foods as well. Here’s their version of balsamic strawberries with a handmade waffle cone.
MY FAVORITE ICE CREAM SPOTS
While some of those SF staples do rank as my favorites, these are also some underdog winners:
I think my parents may be Marco Polo’s biggest fans. Located in the Sunset, Marco Polo makes Italian gelato in both classic gelato flavors, but also hard-to-find Asian favorites like taro, durian (mom’s fave – hold your nose), lychee, and jackfruit. The texture is unreal — true gelato style that is thick, yet light and airy. The last time my parents visited, they asked us to take them back for another helping before leaving.
Perhaps my most frequented ice cream shop at the moment, thanks to my husband (that’s him staring down the flight) who is enamored by their sorbets. The newcomer in this list, SFHC just celebrated their one year anniversary — Happy Birthday! Started by two brothers, one who worked across the street and loved the location in the Inner Sunset, the two set out to do ice cream right. Everything is made from scratch on site in a Japanese-restaurant-turned-ice cream shop. Their menu is a good sized, but not overwhelming, and they also have seasonal flavors. When Prince passed, they created the Purple Rain (first one on the left in the flight) as a tribute — a blueberry cheesecake style ice cream. If you’re a chocolate fan, you have to try their chocolate sorbet, which is essentially how a frozen dark chocolate bar would taste. One of the best parts of SFHC — the handmade cones are free!
I had a soft serve phase, and this place was a novelty to me more than anything. It reminded me of King Kone in Los Angeles, and was fun to line up in Golden Gate Park to get ice cream. Apart from soft serve, they actually also serve Mitchell’s ice cream on the truck.But my favorite from this truck are their handmade lollies, which are basically fruit sorbets. They’re refreshing on a (rare) hot day, and have real chunks of fruit in them.
NON-ICE CREAM ICE CREAM TREATS
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include some of my favorite ice cream treats not found in an ice cream shop:
Blue Bottle Affogato
Sometimes, a classic can be done so right you wouldn’t dream of having it anywhere else. San Francisco’s famed Blue Bottle offers an affogato at select locations. It’s two shots of espresso, poured over brown butter gelato, presumably from Humphrey Slocombe. The bits of butter that still linger in the gelato make all the difference in the world to cut the bitterness of the espresso.
With its original location in Hayes Valley, Souvla is known for their Greek salads and wraps and this signature dessert: Greek yogurt made into soft serve. You can get it with a few different kinds of toppings: Greek honey, Greek cherry syrup, baklava crumbles or my favorite olive oil and sea salt (pictured here). The tanginess of Greek yogurt is unlike any frozen yogurt you’ve had and will make you opt for this over your Oikos, Chobani or Fage.
What do you do when you can’t find just the right sauce to complement your dish? You make it. That’s exactly how Huy Fong’s Sriracha was born. Fun fact: the lesser known, but eponymous Sriracha is actually a Thai sauce, sweeter than Huy Fong’s and originating from the town of Sri Racha in Thailand.
Last month, I toured the Huy Fong factory in Southern California during the last day of the chili grinding season. Huy Fong Foods actually makes three sauces in their shiny new, state-of-the-art factory: the famous Sriracha sauce: Sambal Olek, a more pasty chili vinegar sauce; and their chili garlic sauce. Conveniently, they’re all made from the same few ingredients, so harvesting and grinding the chili each season covers all three products.
Apart from owner David Tran’s humbleness, the other thing I admire most is his use of local ingredients to make this Asian staple truly American. The chilis are trucked in from Underwood Ranches, which has locations in Southern and Central California, and the garlic is from Gilroy, California, the self-proclaimed garlic capital.
The tour of the factory itself can actually be booked year round. What’s special was watching the trucks of chili roll in and get selected, crushed and packaged into the blue bins. Another surprising fact I discovered on this tour was even the Sriracha bottles were made in this factory, so the labels can be screen printed right onto the bottle. Having been inside much smaller foods factories, it was amazing to me how automated everything was here, from the chili selection, to the bottle making and packing of the bottles.
The tour ended with a sampling of various items made with the famous sauce. While Tran knows his famous sauce has peak popularity, he doesn’t hold back those who get creative with it. In fact, Huy Fong embraces it in their Rooster Room, with souvenirs and snack creations ready for purchase.
There is irony to one of the most sought after restaurants, requiring a month’s advanced booking, being called “Lazy Bear.” Lazy one cannot be to get a reservation here. As a result, my visit to Lazy Bear had been a long time coming. A girlfriend and I were intrigued to try it when we first heard about Lazy Bear while attending a foodie tech panel, where Chef David Barzelay (Get it? His name spells “Lazy Bear.”) was participating. If a restaurant has survived as an underground supper club for years before finally finding a brick and mortar home, I was intrigued. Communal tables and conversing with strangers also was intriguing to me — like Thanksgiving! But with strangers. I liked the idea of dining with others who appreciated good food enough to seek after a ticket to this restaurant AND foot the roughly $150 price tag (pre-booze) for it.
If fancy dining with strangers is your forté, here’s how it works. Lazy Bear opens up reservations for the following month around the middle of the current month (ie. if you’re looking to book for June, wait til about May 15). Once you’re able to log on and find a suitable day, pick what time you want to dine: the first seating of 6pm or the second seating of 8:15pm (note: allot about 3 hours for your meal). Then, proceed to pay, in full, for your meal. Yep, before you dine. This isn’t a novel concept — Chicago’s Alinea has been doing this ticketing system for quite some time now, and The French Laundry will also be adopting this system once it reopens this fall. In fact, it was one of the primary topics of the foodie tech panel we attended.
I can see the reasoning behind this. On Lazy Bear’s website, they posit, “Think of it like buying a ticket to a concert, baseball game, or movie,” where you’d buy the tickets beforehand. There’s no knowing who will win a game when you buy a ticket — same as Lazy Bear. You won’t know what you’re eating until your auspicious day arrives. If you’re gluten free (by choice) or paleo, forget it. Lazy Bear was very generous to cater to food allergies, which my girlfriend had, but they won’t cater to preferences.
After you buy your ticket, mark every single calendar you have and remind yourself to fast for the meal.
We were expecting a dining experience, and that we certainly received. Since we set foot, the entire atmosphere was cozy, as if you were at home. The red and black plaid motif also helped. The Foie Prohibition had recently been lifted in California (hoorah!) so we were excited to see if any foie gras would be making its way onto the menu. Our dinner was the second seating, and we arrived a little early and were escorted upstairs to the “living room” for some refreshments and h’ordeuvres. The living room area reminded me of the Park City cabins we used to rent for my days at Sundance — cozy and woodsy motif. We had some complimentary punch, followed by delicious small bites on this house charcuterie plate, one of which included the anticipated foie. Not pictured below was also the broiled shigoku oyster, some of the best smoky oyster I’ve had (from someone who doesn’t usually eat oysters).
After about 45 minutes, we were asked to make our way downstairs. The dining room was comprised of two long, whole-piece wood tables, with the open kitchen in the background. I’m told this is Chez Panisse style (I have not been fortunate enough yet to dine there), but I loved how the chef would present each dish before the course, interchanging among all the chefs so that you could see it took a team to create the glorious meal presented to us. Each place setting also had a small notebook with the night’s menu, a golf pencil and space to write notes about each dish. We were encouraged to come up to the prep station to ask questions and check out the dishes being prepared. My girlfriend and I went up at one point during the night, to which I commented to Chef David that I recognized his aprons were from Hedley & Bennett (I recognized their ampersand!), and he mentioned they were custom made for the restaurant, with signature “family tartan.”
Some of my notes from dinner, mainly my fascination with the ingredients
Dish One: Grilled Seaweed Focaccia
It was hard to not like every dish that we had. The first dish was a grilled seaweed focaccia, made with a rye and buckwheat flour, kombudashi broth and cultured butter. Those who’ve read my posts on ramen know my fascination with kombudashi, so this bread was EVERYTHING. Light, fluffy and the creamy texture of the butter that made me want to lap up every bit of it.
Dish Two: Sweet Pea Custard
It was the start of spring when we dined at Lazy Bear, so pea season was in full swing. I have dreams about this sweet sweet sweet pea custard. I’m usually not a huge fan of peas, but these were so fresh and the taste so crisp, I have become a convert to pea snaps. The light, yet creamy texture of this custard made it hard not to appreciate and savor.
Dish Three: Broth of Toasted Grains
My egg dining experience will never be the same. This is the dish I went up to see the chefs preparing. It was served in a bowl, then the chefs came around and poured the broth into the bowls. It was sweet, creamy, yet warm and comforting.
Dish Four: Halibut
I’m not going to lie. By the time this dish came around, I was getting pretty stuffed. Perhaps the two alcoholic drinks, one of which hocontained a homemade jelly (like boba), were to blame. So like the 7×7 reviewer, it was starting to become a haze — a fluffy, delicious, hollaindaise-covered haze.
Dish Five: Rabbit
Meat course two, and I’m trying not to think of my friend’s pet bunnies. I’ve had rabbit before, but it isn’t exactly my meat of choice. This was not gamey, however, and the fava bean puree was delicious. The morels were from Mt. Shasta and were so fresh, perfectly paired with the puree.
Dish Six: Lamb
Meat course three and my girlfriend and I are starting to drift into food coma. I am fascinated to learn that the Romans also had fish sauce, called Garum (scribbled into my notebook)! I am having a hard time finishing this because I’m so full, but it’s tender and savory nonetheless.
Dish Seven: Strawberry Dessert
I really appreciated the Asian infusions to select dishes throughout the night. It wasn’t your typical soy sauce, haphazard “Asian fusion.” This was the real deal. Like this strawberry dessert, where the soymilk, frozen cold, was homemade and infused with genmaicha (toasted brown rice tea – my fave). I also loved hearing that the chefs were inspired to make this dish while eating at another restaurant – made me think of artists and painters.
Dish Eight: Cinnamon Dessert
Remember when i said I was full? I think there’s a separate stomach for dessert. This was delicate and lightly chewy (as pavlovas are) with the freshest blueberries I’ve ever had. And the fun fact: pavlovas are inspired by belly dancers!
The meal was topped off with a plate of treats (not pictured: devoured too quickly) which included a mint julep macaron and a s’mores ice cream with smoked salt – delicious!!
In all, we had a memorable experience that I’m glad I was able to have with one of my very good foodie friends who appreciated a good meal and was willing to try unconventional dining. After “testing the waters” of this restaurant, I’m excited to try it again for a special occasion and during another season to see what they have in store. While there are favorites from that meal that I would undoubtedly love to savor again (sweet pea custard!), it’s only a truly innovative restaurant that can come up with a meal from the resources they’re presented with each day, and that I can truly appreciate.
The other day, a girlfriend pointed out that San Franciscans (I guess I’m one now) are made fun of because we like to wait in line for things. In fact, we watched this video while we also were waiting in a line.
Compared to my expansive hometown of Los Angeles, San Francisco occupies a tiny space of roughly 49 miles (hence the 7×7 reference), with an ever-growing (hungry) population, looking to sample the best/newest/hippest things. It’s no wonder there’s a line everywhere you turn. In fact, I skipped out on Outerlands today for this sheer reason — I was too hungry, impatient and unprepared to wait. However, to say that this waiting game is played only in SF is a little unfair. The fact is people will go to great lengths for goodfood, no matter where you live.
To that end, I made it a point to spend my 10-day staycation doing just that: experience the good food I’d normally have to wait for. Some of these places I’ve frequented, but others I’ve shied away from because of their lines.
Operation Line Hack: Los Angeles
For my roughly 6-day trip home to Los Angeles, I scheduled in quite a few meals to make the most of my trip, planning to beat the line at places that normally would have 30+ mins wait time.
Din Tai Fung is quite possibly one of the handful of restaurants my dad will wait for. I’ve been to a few locations, and like that this one is adjacent to a mall, so I can spend my time in Nordstrom while I wait my turn. I went with my parents on a Monday afternoon, and we were still met with a roughly 20 minute wait — the lunch crowd — but not as bad as the usual 45+ min wait on a weekend. And for those of you in the Bay Area, no fear! The soup dumpling chain is finally making its way to us, after much anticipation. Get ready to queue up this winter, while you browse the luxury collection in (former client) Westfield Valley Fair in San Jose :).
Left: The Fairfax, soft scrambled eggs with chives and cheese, with bacon added, on a brioche bun. Right: The Slut, a specialty coddled egg in a jar with whipped potatoes, with a salad instead of a baguette.
Downtown Los Angeles is certainly making a comeback, and nowhere have I seen this more than in the Grand Central Market – hipsters rejoice! I’ve been itching to try Eggslut for some time now, but the last time I was in LA for a three day weekend, the line was too long to wait for, and we ended up at the equally delicious Sticky Rice for Hainam Chicken Rice (my kryptonite). This time, we were determined. A girlfriend and I stopped by on a Tuesday around 11am. Forgetting about the lunch crowd, we encountered a line that seemed to move pretty fast as we caught up over G&B lattes. The best part of the weekday trip to Eggslut was how easy it was to get a seat at the counter. It really didn’t disappoint, but I think you can’t go wrong with eggs, if you like eggs and breakfast as much as I do. I got the Fairfax sandwich, and added in a slice of bacon — best decision ever.
The next day, I found myself in downtown again with another girlfriend visiting from NYC. We walked past Grand Central Market and saw the empty counter and line-less Eggslut. Thought we just had lunch 2 hours before, we couldn’t resist. This time, I tried the Slut, an interesting take on coddled eggs, mixed with whipped potatoes (and copious amounts of butter, I’d assume). It’s usually served with a baguette, but i got it with a salad instead, having devoured the brioche bun the day before. No wait and still tasty. I’m not sure if I’d wait in a 45 min line for Eggslut — Fred 62 has pretty unbelievable breakfast sandwiches and are open 24 hours — but it was worth the trip.
Larchmont Village has always been one of my favorite parts of town, and it’s changed so much since I’ve left, including the addition of this Portland-native ice cream shop. I stopped by on a Wednesday night with two friends after an indulgent meal of truffle pasta at Angelini Osteria. But, as everyone well knows, we women have a separate stomach for desserts 😜. The stantions outside of the ice cream shop indicated that long lines were inevitable, but seeing that we arrived 30 mins before closing, we lucked out on the lines. I’ve patiently stood in the Bi Rite Creamery line time and time again, so waiting for ice cream wouldn’t have been a problem for me. No wait was even better and it really did not disappoint. I got one of the shop’s best-selling flavors, the Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons, which was a perfect blend of salty sweet. I especially loved the partnerships the shop did with local schools to create ice cream flavors — very clever, though I was not adventurous enough that day to try.
I’ve been highly fascinated with Chef Andy Ricker for quite some time now. Mainly, because his grasp of the Thai language is pretty excellent, as is his understanding of Thai, particularly Northern Thai cuisine. I have yet to make a trip to his first restaurant in Portland, Pok Pok, so was so glad to see he opened this hawker style/street food Phat Thai place in Chinatown (a neighborhood also going the hipster route). I met up with a few friends on a late Thursday night, around 8pm, and we didn’t have to wait in a line. However, the tables outside were in a wind tunnel, so we did sit in the cold to eat (did not feel like Bangkok). I appreciated Ricker’s attempt for the Thai-style feel: the self-seasoning of dishes, throwback Thai-style decor, and drinks that took me back to Thailand. And perhaps it was my fault for not ordering the namesake Phat Thai (I’m usually not a big fan of Phat Thai) and getting my staple Pad See Eww instead, but I was sadly not enamored. Yes, I believe you should season dishes to your taste before you eat them, but they usually do come seasoned to a degree. It also might be that I’ve just returned from Bangkok, where I had my favorite Pad See Eww of all time at Ma Yord Phak. Good stir fried noodles need to have that wok-burnt charred taste, which this was lacking.
Promisingly, I’ve heard positive things about Pok Pok in Portland and look forward to trying that, which has a wider selection of dishes.
Verdict: Drive a little further into Thai Town. Don’t wait in line.
Back home for a few days before I embarked on my next career adventure, and i found myself in the line I mentioned at the beginning of this post. A girlfriend thought it’d be a great idea for us to finally try the highly hyped cruffin at Mr. Holmes Bakehouse. We met at 8am, when the shop had just opened, and proceeded to devour croissants and coffee before getting in the cruffin line. Cruffins came out of the oven at 9am, and there is a 2 per person limit. That day’s cruffins were brownie, so the filling was chocolatey. We were about the third group of people in line, happily filled our pastry boxes, then trekked to Grace Cathedral for a good walk to burn off the previous baked good before devouring another.
Mr. Holmes should get credit for their other baked goods as well. The regular croissant I had was on par with the ones I’ve had in Paris. The California Croissant was an interesting take on smoked salmon sushi in a croissant, and the Ferrero Rocher Choux Bomb was pretty….well, bomb.
The cruffin was indeed tasty, and interesting. The flaky croissant layers enveloping a cream filling was more of a dessert than breakfast to me, with its sugar sprinkled exterior.
Verdict: Try it once, but come back for their other pastries.
That same day (yes, after eating all those pastries), my girlfriends and I walked down to 4505 Burgers & BBQ. I hadn’t heard of this place before, but have always joked that if I wasn’t Thai, I’d probably be either Korean or Southern — I love BBQ and Southern food! The four of us got a few different items to try and share. The ribs and brisket were tasty, but I must admit, the burger was surprisingly amazing — juicy and prepared at just the right temperature. The sides were also to die for — the baked beans had pieces of pork in it, the coleslaw was creamy and peppery, and (not pictured) there was a fried mac n’ cheese side dish with hot dog bits that was delicious with some Crystal hot sauce sprinkled a top.
I couldn’t let my last day of staycation go to waste. After running a few errands about town, I plotted where I wanted to go eat — it was a toss up between Orenchi Beyond, one of my favorite South Bay ramen spots that just opened in the Mission, or this gem, Brenda’s French Soul Food. I’d heard so many great things about this place – including the inevitable weekend line. On a Tuesday afternoon around 1:30pm, there was no line in sight, so after a (heartracing) walk through the Tenderloin, I plopped myself on the counter to try what all this hype was about. I must’ve looked like a lunatic because in addition to the watermelon sweet tea (delicious) that I ordered, I also got an order of crawfish beignets and the pork belly and grits — enough food for two. (No, I didn’t eat it all, but also doggie bagged it for hubby to try 😉
The crawfish beignets were surprisingly delightful — i’ve never had savory beignets, but the bread was still a slightly sweet cornmeal. You really can’t go wrong with grits and a poached egg, so the pork belly dish was amazing, though a bit heavy for me, given all the fatty pork belly. I need to go back and try the gumbo and shrimp and grits.
Verdict: I’d wait patiently for 30-45 mins for this!
I still have about a dozen hyped, line-lingering places to try in San Francisco, but in all, I’d say most of the places I’ve been to have been worth the wait. I’ve waited for food in a few different cities — all with folks who love to eat, so really, it’s not just San Franciscans that “love” waiting in lines. It comes down to how patient you are for the prize 😉
I received a message from one of my childhood best friends last night about a mutual friend who left us too soon. I hadn’t kept in touch with him for more than a decade, but she said something about days past that really struck a chord. I remember how sweet and kind he was, even though I just got to know him one summer.
To me, my Wonder Years was that one crazy, fateful summer when life finally really started to take shape: first loves, summer crushes and precious friendships, dancing in the driveway, taquitos snacks, becoming welcomed to a new family, and dancing to the Spice Girls. It was when life was so much simpler. We were getting ready for our freshman year of college and our biggest concerns were what classes to register for, and if we were living in the same dorms.
I don’t know how he passed away, but that doesn’t really matter. RIP, Ryan. I know you’re smiling down on all of us. Thanks for making some of the most awkward stages of my life a little more easier, a little bit brighter.
“When you’re a kid, you’re a bit of everything: Scientist, Philosopher, Artist. Sometimes it seems like growing up is giving these things up one at a time.” – The Wonder Years
This outfit embodies three staples that I think can dress up or dress down any outfit: a classic jacket, shoes and bag.
I’m flattered by my first #ohanabirthdayproject blog request from my dear friend Clare on fashion, style and how to dress for the corporate world without being so, well, corporate. It’s no joke that like Eva Chen, my idea of an investment comes with the terms jumbo, cambon and caviar. But expensive accessories ladened with double C’s or LV’s does not a style icon make. It’s really about how you wear it.
Part I: Whatever your style may be, here are some key tips:
Know what works best for you. The mom jeans are back (sorry), and my girlfriends are rocking them. I’ve been trying to get into them, too, but after having tried quite possibly every brand, have come to the realization that they don’t work for my body type. And that’s okay. Forcing yourself to wear something because it’s in won’t make you fit in or stand out.
“Keep it simple” can also be applied to wardrobes. I love the way Europeans dress because they transform simple outfits to the most chic things ever. This A Line style skirt works best for me — and I have a closet-full in various lengths to prove it!
Own it. Oscar de la Renta once said, “Walk like you have three men walking behind you.” Whatever outfit you choose, make sure it embodies you and you feel empowered in it. My friend Ken started a Facebook page of his colleagues to showcase their outfits, called Chic in the Office. It’s one of my favorite fashion inspirations, because it’s real people (many whom I know) in a real office — and PR office like me! One of my most recent faves is this outfit, from Opal, on her last day working there:
Denim on denim is a Glamour Don’t you say? Not for Opal, who wears it with confidence and can make a mumu look chic (also proven and on the Chic in the Office page).
Invest but don’t be afraid to Mix high and Low. In my first PR job in entertainment PR, I had a talent publicist assistant, who worked with stylists for JLo and the like ask me if my top was from Marchesa (it was from Target). One quality piece can make your entire outfit stand out.
Less is more. There’s a saying that when you get dressed in the morning, remove one item from your outfit before you head out. No need to have your outfit scream — your style should do all the talking. The words that constantly come to mind are classic and neutral. That doesn’t mean it has to be just black, white, and tan. But have it be something you know you’d wear over and over again without fail. One of my favorite staple pieces is a pair of orange flats.
Part II: Key Pieces for a Chic “big girl” wardrobe
This is almost pretty much my staple, mindless (สิ้นคิด) outfit: white t-shirt, jacket of some kind, dark jeans, a classic flat/boot/heel, bag. Do I know what brand all this is? Nope. And it doesn’t matter. (although I think the bag is Margiela, fwiw…)
Dark Jeans. A flattering, neutral (read non-distressed) cut and style works best to take you from your cube to going out.
Blazer/Jacket. Yes, tweed (read: classic Chanel jacket) with the most delicate, customized buttons would be lovely, wouldn’t it? But let’s face it, most of us aren’t there yet. The semblance of that, unless tactfully done, should be avoided. Choose a jacket or blazer that again, works with your style and personality and shape. My favorite go-to blazer is a black, lightly printed Armani Exchange jacket I got probably 5 years ago. It says “me” because it’s 3/4 sleeve (long sleeved blazers seems so corporate to me sometimes) and has zippers on the sleeves, instead of buttons.
White t-shirt. And I don’t mean Hanes. Again, find the cut and material that works best for you. I can’t do the sheer JCrew tissue tees, but I intently wait for the Club Monaco sales because their t-shirts scream quality. A white t-shirt, whichever length sleeve, can be both dressed up and dressed down. Throwing a blazer on top of a white tee that’s been paired with dark jeans instantly makes your outfit client-friendly. Wrapping a cardigan around you on one makes it comfy cozy. Putting a statement necklace on a simple sleeveless one that’s paired with a skirt can instantly make you ready for an after work event. (Note: White button downs can also have the same effect.)
Shoes/Bag. Yes, I still believe in this investment. And like Eva Chen says, it doesn’t have to be Chanel or Louis Vuitton. It can be a Coach bag that’s been passed down to you, or a classic-shaped Marc Jacobs. Either way, stay neutral. If you’re investing in a long term use bag, pick one that doesn’t scream who its maker is. One of my favorite bags that I keep in constant rotation is a Cuyana tote. Plus, their motto is “fewer, better things.” To me, there is something special about carrying a bag that you know has been made with quality that will withstand time and be passed on. There’s a reason why vintage is so popular: the designs stand the test of time. Same goes for shoes — invest in a good pair you know you’ll wear over and over again. Your feet will be happier, too.
I leave you with this photo of my dear cousin, Nat (also part of the Chic in the Office clan, and how I met these fab folks). She has always had impeccable style (with a past gig at Chanel as a stamp of approval), and here she is, owning this marvelous pleated top with distressed mom jeans.
Liked this post? Help me help the Ronald McDonald House Charities for my birthday, and I’ll answer any questions you may have. Yes, even why I even attempted mom jeans: http://RMHCGroupGive.kintera.org/global/tayav
My favorite meme kitty, Pusheen is happy celebrating the little things. H/T to @claresayas for this idea, and the gifs that keep us sane 🙂
In 10 days, I’m getting another year older. To be honest, I hadn’t put much thought to this year’s birthday, aside from thinking what restaurant I’d try to get a reservation at (but that was already decided 1.5 months ago….). So when my dear friend Clare started a project to celebrate turning 25, I thought, “What a great idea! I’m going to do that, too!”
So in lieu of presents and group meals this year, I’m raising funds to help the Ronald McDonald House Charities. If you’d like to help, donate HERE. In return, I’ll provide you with tips on restaurants, those random, “Hey Taya, where can I get a….” questions, or anything that’s on your mind.
And to explain why this org is important, here’s Pusheen, in 10 gifs or less:
Being sick sucks.
What sucks more is having to travel really far to get treatment.
Sometimes, families can’t afford to all stay with their sick kids…
….even though a big hug from their loved ones would make feeling sick so much better for the patient.
Ronald McDonald House helps families who are in a bind focus on what’s important: being together when your loved ones need it most.
To read more on why I chose this charity, visit my donation page.
To say I have been anticipating the opening of Chez Pim‘s Kin Khao is an understatement. I’d been following Khun Pim (In Thai, Khun, often abbreviated as K. in English, is a formal reference, like Ms.) for quite some time. Her book, The Foodie Handbook, has a permanent spot in my kitchen. I had longed to taste her (or her grandmother’s, as she frequently credits) chili jam, or namprik pao. It’s a traditional Thai chili paste, made with dried chilis — super potent, but delicious, with a hint of sweetness. My favorite way to eat this chili paste is with a squeeze of lime and with chiccarones, or just spread over some toast. But I digress…
I finally made it to Kin Khao (which literally means “eat rice” – a term Thais use to say “let’s eat”) two weekends ago. I really didn’t know what to expect. I was anticipating traditional Thai flavors that K. Pim frequently mentions, but also playful explorations on Thai dishes. After a truthfully lackluster meal at the highly hyped Night + Market in Los Angeles, I braced myself, but went in with an empty stomach and an open mind.
Kin Khao is adjacent to the Parc 55 in Union Square, a somewhat hidden location, but almost fitting to me in that it reminded me of restaurants adjacent to/ in hotels in Bangkok. The decor is modern, with hints of kitschy Thai memorabilia that delighted my husband and our friend. Each table had a tray with chopsticks in an old pepper tin (vintage, cute!), forks and spoons (the proper Thai way to eat – not with chopsticks as many tend to think), cloth napkins, and the original Sriracha, from the town of Sriracha itself. I’m not talking the rooster from California (although a favorite in my household, too). This is the original for which Huy Fong’s creation was based off of. And it’s extremely hard to find in the Bay Area. The serving trays are stainless steel/tin with floral designs, reminiscent of the ones used each morning when taking packaged foods out to the front of the house to give alms to monks coming by. I loved the little details of home at this place.
We started off with drinks, delicious with hints of Thai flavors and not too overpowering:
From left to right: Thai Herb Julep, Ladyboy Collins (mine – it changes colors from pink to purple. Get it? ;), and the Chow Suan Gin
Next, some small bites. Left is my friend’s favorite dish growing up, Yum Kai Dao, or Fried Egg Salad. It’s a simple dish, when done right, brings out flavors of home. I thought this was tasty, and especially appreciated the high quality eggs, but it wasn’t my favorite of this bunch. The Pretty Hot Wings, right, were also very tasty. They definitely had a kick and I loved the tamarind flavor in them. And, as crazy as it sounds, they were even tastier with more Sriracha to dip!
The next dish gets its own line because it’s my favorite thing here at Kin Khao (thanks to K. Pim for introducing it!). The Saeng-wah Salad is a modern take on a traditional Thai salad, the Saeng-wah (literally meaning “play-chastise”), which is basically shrimp crudo, made in a Thai style. It’s basically very ceviche-like (and probably why I love ceviche — these are my favorite types of dishes!), with a Thai kick – the red chili peppers are potent, so watch out! This is a traditional Thai dish that I’ve never tried, so I was pleasantly surprised. K. Pim kicks it up by pairing it with another Thai favorite, pla duk foo, or crispy catfish, also typically eaten with a salad of green mango that has the same tangy flavor. Served with raw shallots and red peppers, I could not get enough of this dish. I basically ate the entire thing myself the second time we visited, as hubby is allergic to shrimp. More for me! I loved that K. Pim brought us over extra chili peppers, which I did make use of with this salad (mouth watering as I type…)
Another thing I really appreciated about Kin Khao was that the rice, both red (Thai version of brown rice) and white were complimentary. It reminded me of how family style should be. On to some meatier dishes, we tried the chili jam clams (pictured below), Kua Kling Ribs and Rabbit Green Curry (not pictured – was too busy devouring 🙂
I was really looking forward to trying the chili jam clams, and they didn’t disappoint. They were sweeter than I imagined, but I am also accustomed to the bottled chili jams. What I appreciated most about these were the size of these babies that you would not get at any mom n pop Thai restaurant. These clams rivaled those I purchased for my Asari Shio Ramen I made in the fall. They were huge!
Chili Jam Clams with K. Pim’s signature Nam Prik Pao
The Khun Yai’s Green Curry with Rabbit was also an interesting take on your traditional green curry. The curry flavors didn’t stand out as much as I had hoped — definitely heavier on the coconut milk side, but the rabbit meatballs were so tasty, and the rabbit meat was not gamey at all. I imagine the second day for this curry as a leftover would have more intense flavors, as curries only get better the longer you keep.
I’m disappointed I don’t have a photo of the Kua Kling Ribs because they are my husband’s favorite, and the item he ordered again on our second time at Kin Khao. The flavors of the rib tasted like the curry was really homemade — like chopped and pounded with mortar and pestle with love to create this dish. I’ve had this traditional southern Thai dish in many places (including Night + Market and authentic Kua Kling in southern Thailand), and this was pretty close to what I remember eating in Thailand. It wasn’t too soggy, and like many curries. was even more intense as a second meal (as proven by my dinner the following day).
We ended that night trying the dessert on the menu, the Black Rice Pudding Dessert. The first thing I appreciated about this dessert was that she calls it what it is in Thai: Black Rice. It ain’t forbidden – it’s my favorite type of rice. The texture of black rice is a bit heartier, much like brown rice. It’s served paired with coconut milk (a must!) and caramelized palm sugar (yum – so rare), as well as crispy rice flakes. Last weekend when we visited again, my husband lamented that he really wanted to have this again, but we were sadly too full.
Black Rice Pudding Dessert, served on those aforementioned trays
Our second visit to Kin Khao was primarily to catch the Crab Sen Jan noodles before crab season was over. When we arrived, K. Pim sadly reported that they had already ran out of crab for the season (sad face) but not to fear, she had something else for us to try.
We ordered our favorites: the Saeng-wah Salad and Kua Kling Ribs, and also tried two new items: The Mushroom Hor Mok and Sai Ua + Nam Prik Noom.
The Mushroom Hor Mok is a vegetarian take on another traditional Thai dish, made by steaming a paste mixture of fish, coconut milk and curry. I’ve helped my mom make this dish growing up, and remember tasting it raw (and having her chastise me for sticking my finger in the batter). K. Pim’s version of this dish goes the vegetarian route, and combines another Thai favorite, khao tung. A traditional Thai snack/small bites dish, khao tung, the rice crackers seen here, are eaten with a savory mixture of coconut milk, peanuts, caramelized onions and ground pork. The hor mok is served in a pot de creme style, eaten with the khao tung (it’s normally eaten with regular rice).
This was definitely an interesting flavor for me, again, not as intense as a curry, but there was something addictive about the mushroom version. K. Pim explained that they used agar agar (ผงวุ้น in Thai) to thicken the hor mok, since it was vegetarian and the properties that fish provided to the paste could not be achieved. I thought that was so amazing, because I didn’t notice a difference in the texture very much at all. And, like the rest of the curries I tried, the flavors became even more intense on the 2nd-3rd day of this hor mok’s life — delicious!
Mushroom Hor Mok
Moving on to the northern region of Thailand, another dish I was keen on trying was the Sai Ua + Nam Prik Noom. Sai Ua is the sausage, pictured below, made with similar flavors as the Kua Kling (although North and South, we realized the flavors were very similar). The intensity of the herbs comes from the kaffir lime leaves. It’s served paired with another northern favorite, Nam Prik Noom. Traditionally, this is a bright green chili paste made from green peppers finely minced. K. Pim creates a more salsa-like version here with roasted peppers, which give it a unique, albeit still intense flavor. It’s also served paired with homemade chiccarones (need I say more?) and quality, fresh vegetables. I’ve never had butter lettuce with nam prik noom, so I couldn’t stop munching on that!
Sai Ua + Nam Prik Noom
The last item was truly my Ratatouille moment — the dish K. Pim said was a surprise. I have not seen it on the menu yet, so I feel very blessed and fortunate she made it for us! It was a dry version of a chili paste, dry fried with deep fried kaffir lime leaves. Pla Duk Foo Prik King — basically taking the crispy catfish and frying it with the traditional prik king paste. Most chili pastes are eaten paired with salted eggs, so K. Pim brought some of that over, too. We could tell they were homemade — the consistently and level of saltiness reminded me of my mother’s precision in timing how long she wanted to salt eggs. Store bought salted eggs are often too salty and lose the right consistency in the egg yolks. These were perfect. And it all tasted like home. Moreso because I had a similar bottle of this prik king at home from my mother. K. Pim’s version was meatier and sweeter and I nearly shed tears of joy when I ate this all paired together over rice (I really was that happy).
Pla Duk Foo Prik King with Homemade Salted Eggs
Thanks to K. Pim for delectable experiences at Kin Khao, complete with the Thai hospitality. I can’t wait to come back!
My husband describes it best when he says Kin Khao isn’t your average Thai place in the States, which seeks to mimic the down-home-comfort flavors at a simple, family-style restaurant (and not to say I don’t love those!). As a Bangkokian (?), Kin Khao is that place you’d go on a Friday night with friends — the hip new place that’s reimagined the flavors you grew up with into something magical.
Kin Khao: At the Parc 55 hotel in Union Square, San Francisco
Trying to get back into a regular cadence of posting. Being on vacation more than a month ago and the curveballs of life have thrown me off from daily routines (including proper diet, sleep and exercise)….
Eating pig parts has never seemed “exotic” or weird to me, as it’s something I grew up with. My mom often says that the Chinese (and those cultures with Chinese-based population, including Thailand) don’t let food go to waste — every part gets used. So when pig ears became popular at new restaurants, I had to chuckle a little bit. They’ve always been a favorite of mine growing up. Something else I grew up eating lots of was pork blood. Eaten in many different forms by many Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand, I grew up with it in soups and some curry dishes. One of my favorite comfort foods, often served at breakfast, is a soup with ground pork, pork blood, vegetables and pig parts, usually kidney, stomach, intestine — you name it. It wasn’t until much later that I realized a popular Northern style noodle dish (not khao soi) used pork blood as well.
kanom jeen nam ngiew: a Northern style curry noodle dish, with a tomato-based curry containing pork, pork blood and eaten with pickled cabbage and bean sprouts. Here, a homemade version from Mama V 🙂
You’ll be surprised what other Thai favorite dishes contain blood. I mean, how do you think boat noodle soup is that color? Granted, the versions in the US aren’t really heavy on the blood.
As I began exploring other culture’s foods, I was pleasantly surprised to see other countries didn’t waste their food either. Morcilla, or blood sausage, is also a favorite of mine. Somehow, having the blood mixed in with the sausage provides depth and texture to the meat. The Taiwanese have also perfected the culinary art of transforming pork blood into tasty forms by mixing it with rice cakes. I first was introduced to this form by some Taiwanese friends while we were at Taiwanese hot pot (which should never be confused with Japanese hot pot, but is equally delicious). The pork blood is mixed with glutinous rice cake, masking the iron-y taste of the blood but producing a unique flavor that is delicious in hot pot, but equally as tasty in a street food version.
Tawainese style pork blood cakes, here in a street food version. It’s sprinkled with peanuts and eaten with a thick peanut sauce.
Perhaps my favorite pork blood product is in (surprise) Korean food. I’d first heard of soon dae from Korean dramas, then had to look it up to see what the big deal was about. Made with pork blood, rice and Korean vermicelli noodles, when done correctly, soon dae should be flavorful and not have an overpowering iron-y taste. It’s often served as its own dish, with other porky friends — heart, lungs, intestines, kidney, liver — a soup, or as a spicy noodle dish (soon dae bokkum). It’s eaten dipped in a Korean sea salt/pepper mixture, with Korean spicy sauce, and sometimes a Korean shrimp paste.
A typical soon dae plate. Counter clockwise from right: Soondae, lungs, heart, stomach
Left: A Korean fermented shrimp paste, eaten with the meats. Right: Korean Salt and Pepper to also eat with the soondae
I’m used to fermented shrimp paste, as Southeast Asians consume a version called kapi. This version was much more pungent and equally as tasty. If it weren’t for it’s saltiness, I’d tried to consume it plain.
One of my Korean friends, Sun, took me to the best soon dae place I’ve ever been to, of course in Los Angeles. Eighth Street Soondae is a mom n’ pop run shop in an unbeknownst area, off the normal beaten path of Koreatown. And because I can’t always go for soondae while I’m in LA, I’ve finally found a place in the Bay Area to satisfy my cravings (suggestions always welcome for new soon dae places to try!). Obok is located in the small Korean community area of the South Bay. I’ve realized that soon dae restaurants don’t get many reviews on yelp, so I gave this place with only 5 reviews a shot. Gladly, it did not disappoint. Now, I just have to curb my visits here (to get back into the aforementioned diet/exercise routine) for when I really want some comfort food. 🙂