(Please Don’t) Melt My Icy Heart

(Please Don’t) Melt My Icy Heart

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:

WHEN IN SF: MY TOP 5 MUST-TRY PLACES

Bi-Rite Creamery

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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!).

Humphrey Slocombe

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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.

Mitchell’s

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. Miscellaneous

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.

Smitten

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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:

Marco Polo 

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.

San Francisco’s Hometown Creamery

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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!

Twirl and Dip

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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

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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.

Souvla Greek Frozen Yogurt

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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.

Happy National Ice Cream Day!

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Oso Perezoso

Oso Perezoso

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.

The Process

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.

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).

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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.”

Meal details

File May 28, 10 59 39 PMSome 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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

Photo Apr 23, 11 35 47 PMI 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

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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.

Lazy Bear

3416 19th Street (in the Mission)

Pre-paid dining seats: One month in advance, usually the 12-15 of each month (check Twitter).

Worth…Queueing?

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Line for cruffins outside of Mr. Holmes Bakehouse on a Monday morning.

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 good food, 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 at the Americana

Dessert Xiao Long Bao: red bean and taro filled dumplings
Dessert Xiao Long Bao: red bean and taro filled dumplings

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 :).

Verdict: Duh.

Eggslut

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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.

Verdict: Would wait no more than 30 mins.

Salt and Straw

Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons
Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons

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.

Verdict: Would wait for ice cream.

Pok Pok Phat Thai

Pad See Eww with Pork
Pad See Eww with Pork

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.

Operation Line Hack: San Francisco

Mr. Holmes Bakehouse

Cronut? Cruffin? Come again?
Cronut? Cruffin? Come again?

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.

4505 Burgers & BBQ

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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.

Verdict: How long is this wait, exactly?

Brenda’s French Soul Food

Crawfish Beignets
Crawfish Beignets
Pork Belly and Grits
Pork Belly and Grits (Not pictured: Tums for indigestion post-meal)

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 😉

Parts Unknown

Parts Unknown

Recently, my husband and I have been on a Middle Eastern food kick. I have always loved Persian food, but have recently discovered Afghan and Pakistani food and noticed many subtle resemblances. I realized that there was much more I wanted to, and really, felt obligated to learn about the culture, history of this region to really understand and appreciate this glorious feast.

I know a lot about Asian foods — the nuances of Southeast Asian cuisine, influences by East Asian foods and how they are related. But I have so much more to learn about the Middle Eastern culture, traditions and food.  I’m really excited about this journey, which I know will be a lengthy process, but i’m also excited about the  hands-on “research” I’ll be doing. This is  what I really was interested in doing when I started this blog — to encourage myself to stay curious (and yes, stay hungry) and to explore these parts that are unknown to me.

So, rather than a traditional restaurant review, I leave you with some of the dishes that piqued my curiosity from a little gem we discovered in the South Bay of Northern California 🙂

20140106-214349.jpgChicken Biryana. Fluffy, flavorful basmatic rice topped with well-seasoned chicken breast pieces. The ultimate test of a chicken dish is how well you can season and bring flavor to white meat, and this dish wins it.

20140106-214438.jpgBeef Kebab Fatoush Salad. One of my favorite Middle Eastern dishes is a Persian grilled meat, koobideh, which is very similar to this. It’s a ground, well-seasoned meat that’s skewered and served atop rice or salad.

Eat: Gulzaar Halaal, 1880 W. San Carlos St. in San Jose

Tips: They’re closed Sundays. Also, if you’re going for dinner, best to call first and make sure they’re still open as they close once they run out of food.

ink.

ink.

Each year, one of my college friends and I have a holiday tradition: I make/bring treats or alcohol, we pick up  our favorite indulgent fast foods (usually involving her fave KFC, McDonald’s and the like) and we exchange gifts amidst watching The Holiday. The film takes place primarily in LA, which makes us not feel too bad that our Christmas really isn’t that white. The tradition has morphed a bit since I’ve moved up to the Bay Area and our stomachs are less capable to handle copious amounts of fast food. This year, we continued the tradition at Top Chef Michael Voltaggio’s restaurant, ink.

It was my second time at ink, my first being in the small private room towards the back of the restaurant. I always feel a special sense of authenticity when seeing the celebrity owner-chef I admired a

To me, it feels like there’s a level of authenticity when seeing renowned owner-chefs in action in their restaurants’ kitchens. It’s as of they not only made that restaurant famous, but still put their dedication into it. I love seeing Nancy Silverton make her famous Nancy’s Chopped Salad at Pizzeria Mozza, Chris Cosentino in his signature black and white striped apron at Incanto, and that night we saw Michael Voltaggio at work in his kitchen at ink.

Like many new restaurants in Los Angeles, ink bears the concept of small tapas-style share plates. What I love most is the interesting pairing of food combinations in each dish, and the curious, fun plating. There were three of us, so we ordered seven dishes and got a good sampling of the menu.

IMG_7700Main course menu at ink. Plates are listed from light to heavy dishes

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My drink for the night, the chef’s favorite Islay Scotch

We began with drinks, mine this Islay Scotch, a smoky flavored drink containing my favorite citrus flavor: yuzu. ink was about unexpected pairings, and this traditional Japanese flavor with such an American style drink was definitely unique. Unlike most scotch drinks that came with many ice cubes, this had one giant ice cube that gradually melted as you sipped your drink, ensuring the perfect consistently (and temperature) for your drink all the way through. This concept was very reminiscent of the drinks I had a few months back at the famous Aviary in Chicago (more on Chicago another time).

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Little Gems (photo credit to my friend Sara): Creamy burrata with lettuce and anchovy crackers. I have never had a burrata this texture before: creamy, but also less stringy than usual. Served very cold, it was delicious. I also couldn’t get enough of these anchovy crackers which reminded me very much of Thai/Chinese breakfast foods.

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Hamachi: Fresh fish with fresh wasabi and the tartness of the green apples that cut through the milkiness of the fish perfectly. Very reminiscent of a ceviche with a clean, fresh taste.

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La Querica Berkshire Ham: When this dish arrived, I truly forgot what we ordered and thought, “I don’t recall dumplings on the menu.” It finally clicked and I can’t get enough of this plating: sheets of beets cloaking a yogurt sauce, paired with this delicious ham.

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Egg Yolk Gnocci: Favorite dish #1 of the night. I kept trying to figure out how in the world Voltaggio managed to get egg yolk into these pillowy gnocchi. I’m a sucker for egg yolk, so this dish, with the pairing of tasty sauce and mushroom, really hit the spot.

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Cereal: Favorite dish #2 consisted of more egg, this time fried, atop fried chicken skin and what was basically grits to create a glorified breakfast dish (get it, cereal?). My friend Qi and I couldn’t get enough of this dish and scraped every bit of it.

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Octopus: I love tako, so this dish was all parts welcoming to me. Served piping hot, the octopus was perfectly smoky and deliciously chewy paired with the fennel to cut through the creamy texture.

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Potato Charcoal: For me, this is the dish that drove me back to ink. The clever plating of the pot, presented with a charcoal grill that’s removed to reveal these curious little lumps next to silky delicious sour cream. To go along with the unexpected pairings, this dish is served with a spritzer of Chinese-style black vinegar, which seems to enhance the smokiness of the potatoes. I can’t help but smile every time i see this dish.

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Apple: For dessert, I ordered this deconstructed apple pie. Equal parts buttery (graham cracker pieces) tarty (the green apple balls) and creamy (that semi freddo shell atop), this was the perfect ending to the meal.

I much preferred ink to Animal, which is also growing in popularity for its small plates and “unusual” foods (pig ears, which are a childhood favorite of mine, are much raved there). Service was swift and the drink menu boasts twice as many pages as the food menu.

Looking forward to a year of good eating and hopefully lots of travels, and wishing you all a very happy, healthy New Year!

Eat: ink: 8360 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA

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Last weekend, I went home. Until  recently, I still felt very much a part of Los Angeles. I was beginning to adjust to this Bay Area life, only to be rocked by all the goodness that reminded me of the city I’ve known as home for 95 percent of my life.

Going back to my childhood house not only evokes nostalgia, it’s also very comforting (and frustrating – ha!).  That aside, each time I am back in LA, I have a checklist of things I want to do, see, eat — no meal goes wasted is my motto.

The Los Angeles food scene is as ever-evolving as the Bay Area’s. One thing I’ve learned to appreciate in my expansive city is the reliability in the unreliable. Such is the case for traffic (unlike what’s said in Clueless, it does not take 15 mins to get anywhere) and lines at restaurants. Timing is everything. I still have a hard time getting used to the incredibly packed lines at spots in the Bay Area.

Last weekend was very eat-ventful 😉 :

Friday:

One of the biggest phenomenons in Los Angeles are the food trucks. They started becoming popular about 4 years ago, when I worked in the Miracle Mile area and Roy Choi was just starting the now-infamous Kogi Trucks.  I worked out of my company’s Los Angeles office, located across from my favorite museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). It’s always a sight to see the line of food trucks feed the hungry office workers for breakfast/lunch, and I happily become one with them each time I’m in the LA office. Today, it was a similar Korean-fusion dish: pork belly on a bun, with Asian-style slaw. Delicious (but sadly unpictured).

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Day or night, one of the most magical places to visit in Los Angeles: the permanent Lights exhibit in front of LACMA. Photo credit: Love Me Sailor

Friday night: I needed to catch up on the the newest restaurants in the area, and had been reading about a couple, so I met up with some former co-workers in downtown at Bar Ama. I’d been to sister restaurant Baco Mercat for brunch before, but not here. The restaurant had the same vibe, and the great company made all the difference. We caught up over queso, spicy mole (delicious – not chocolately at all), and this gorgeous creation: the Frito Pie.

IMG_7592Frito Pie at Bar Ama, Los Angeles

I’ll admit that when I read the description on the menu, it didn’t click to me they meant actual Fritos corn chips. I told the server it sounded dangerous and I was going to Pilates to ease the guilt. When the dish arrived, my Texas-native friend was so excited and told us the origin of the dish – a less fancy version, served in actual Fritos bags with said ingredients (cheese and chili, basically), and often eaten at sporting events/games.

It tasted like childhood. I often wondered how my favorite flavor of Fritos – chili cheese – originated, and there you have it: the Frito Pie.

After dinner and since I was in DTLA, I made an obligatory stop to Big Man Bakes. The cupcake trend is certainly hot in LA, too, but I am not a fan of Sprinkles (sorry). This local favorite wins my heart in Los Angeles. They aren’t kidding when they call it “Big Man.” The owner is 6’5″ and buff, but with a heart (and spatula) of gold. I love the different specials they have daily, my favorite being caramel apple. I picked up some minis in my husband’s favorite, the lemon.

IMG_7594Cupcakes at Big Man Bakes

Saturday:

We stumbled upon Wakasan, on the Westside, for lunch. I wasn’t quite sure how long it has been in existence, but I don’t recall seeing it from my days as a Bruin.  This was definitely an unexpected Japanese meal. With the last minute, ravenous decision by hubby, I didn’t have high expectations and had to say i was pleasantly surprised. The restaurant is decorated in traditional Japanese decor, and the food is also served in a traditional Japanese style. My husband ordered his favorite katsudon (fried pork with egg over rice), which was served in a most special way, with the pork/egg combo soupy and runny and perfectly delicious.

I had the shabu shabu set, which was unlike anything I’ve ever had. It was well presented, the tastes were delicate, yet flavorful. We both happily cleaned our plates, and I made a mental note to come back here for dinner.

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Shabu Shabu Set at Wakasan

After lunch, we headed to one of our favorite places to visit when in LA: The Annenberg Space for Photography. Aside from showing support for my other alumni (the one across town), I love photography and photo exhibits. It’s also located in the magnificent new(er) CAA building. I am still awestruck by this space after all these years, and Annenberg Space for Photography never ceases to impress. It’s always well curated, and the layout of the space changes with the exhibit. Right now, it’s a National Geographic spread, with cool animal photos and fascinating life depictions from around the world. Photos aren’t allowed, unfortunately.

Dinner was the meal we were prepping for the most, as it required a 45 min drive through Los Angeles traffic from my parents’ home over to San Gabriel Valley. Newport Tan Cang, or Newport Seafood (believe it’s another location), as we call it is always packed to the brim with hungry seafood lovers.  It’s a Vietnamese-style seafood restaurant in the bustling heart of the new Chinatown in Los Angeles. I braced my parent for the one-hour wait, but somehow managed to bypass it by calling and putting our name on the queue before we got there. We only had to wait 5 minutes, and my parents were over the moon. Newport Seafood is known for their crab and lobster, with a variety of preparation styles, from their house style to the traditional ginger and green onion, or a dry fried salt and spice. The house one, which is a recommendation on their menu, is my favorite.

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Wish there was a way to show the scale of these guys. Giant Alaskan King Crab adorn the cases by the lobby, where patrons waited for a table. How many people would it take to finish one of these crab?

Sunday

It was almost time to come back to my new home, but there were still a couple obligatory stops. The first being the newest location of the best xiao long bao (soup dumplings) I’ve had yet: Din Tai FungWhile my parents loved this place, they have lost their patience with the usual 90  mins. wait. However, I was so excited to hear they opened a location in The Americana mall. An odd location for this place, but I embraced it for its proximity. We were meeting two other couples and their kids for brunch, and managed to get a table fairly quickly since we arrived so early.

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I feel like the franchise is finally beginning to figure out what appeals to American consumers. This new location has a bar in the lobby area — perfect for waiting during lunch/dinner time. You can also go shopping at Nordstrom while you wait and have them text you (hoorah!). Also new to the menu here is the truffle dumplings which were so divine. A mix of ground pork with truffle, in a soup dumpling. Heavenly.

Xiao Long Bao (also commonly abbreviated as XLB) originated in Shanghai. Taiwanese chain Din Tai Fung perfected it as a franchise, creating the perfect soup dumpling with not too thick of a skin or bite. They also have a dessert take to the XLB, with a red bean paste and a taro paste, both of which are delicious.

Since we were in the Glendale area, I felt it blasphemy to not stop at Porto’s. This ever-popular local Cuban bakery restaurant has the most unbelievable cheese rolls. Enjoyed in a few bites, they are equal parts flaky, lightly sweet and slightly savory — all parts delicious. I picked up a dozen (or two) for my colleagues and family. The potato balls, which are a savory fried potato ball stuffed with Cuban-style beef stew, are also a delicious option.

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Clockwise from top: Giant Alaskan King Crab at Newport Tan Cang, Lobster in the house sauce at Newport; workers at Din Tai Fung making XLB dumplings; the newest dumpling on the block: the truffle dumpling

All in all, it turned out to be a very productive visit home. I’ve yet to explore some of the new favorites like Bestia or Son of a Gun, so look forward to those tasty places.

EAT:

  1. Bar Ama – 118 W. 4th St, Downtown
  2. Big Man Bakes –  Downtown (2 locations – visit site for details)
  3. Wakasan – 1929 Westwood Blvd., Westwood (near UCLA)
  4. Newport Tan Cang – 518 W. Las Tunas, San Gabriel Valley
  5. Din Tai Fung – The Americana, Glendale (visit site for other locations in San Gabriel Valley)
  6. Porto’s Bakery – Glendale and Burbank (visit site for various locations)

EXPLORE:

  1. Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) – Wilshire Blvd., Miracle Mile
  2. Annenberg Space for Photography – 2000 Avenue of the Stars (CAA Building), West Los Angeles