Category: Travel

Touring San Francisco’s Ferry Building

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Put me in a shopping mall and I assure you, within half an hour, I’ll be bored. I can’t afford the glitz and glamor — that lifestyle just isn’t for me. Jewelry, clothes and handbags are all dead products to me. They’re useless weight. As if I need more clutter in my life.

Stuff me inside an artisanal food market and I will be occupied for hours. I love the permutations of jams, chocolates, and cheeses. I love the texture of mushrooms and taste of expensive olive oils, infused with citrus notes. I like reading the names of teas I can never pronounce and tasting the deep briny flavor of oysters — freshly shucked and paired with cocktail sauce.

 
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This is why I gravitate towards food. Unlike clothes, you never get a chance to get sick of it. It’s alive and ever-changing. It has an expiration date, which makes it worth all the while.

San Francisco’s Ferry Building reminded me of New York City’s Chelsea Market. The feel is similar, but fresh breeze of the Bay and the waters outside made all the difference.

 
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1 Sausalito – San Francisco Ferry Bldg, San Francisco, CA 94111

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Berkeley: Peking Duck Feast at Great China Restaurant

Would you rather a) travel to multiple places, but only get to stay at each place for a day or b) be able to go to a few places, but really get to know the cities?

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I would always pick the latter. I consider myself fortunate whenever I get to experience a city through the eyes of the locals. It’s one thing to explore a city a la tour books, but it’s another to be able to eat at someone’s favorite place and eat all of their tried and true dishes.

Great China Restaurant in Berkeley was one of the local gems I got to explore during my time up there. Marvelous decor and tasty selections.

“Our Chinese restaurants up here aren’t as good as Los Angeles’,” someone actually told me, almost apologetically.

I disagree. The Chinese food scene may not be as prolific as Los Angeles, but the Chinese food (that I’ve tried so far) in and of itself was quite delicious.

While Great China markets itself as a bougie eatery, it’s really just your run-of-the-mill family-style eatery. I noticed Beijing, Shandong and Cantonese influences in their menu. My favorites were the duck and the lapi — a mung bean noodle dish made with egg, carrots, garlic and cucumber. It’s drenched in a vinegar sauce and paired with Chinese hot mustard.

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2190 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, California 94704

A Berkeley Brunch: Elmwood Cafe

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A confession — my favorite type of food isn’t Chinese. On a personal basis, I gravitate toward Japanese or anything with eye-popping produce and organic, GMO-free offerings. As of fall of ’13 — perusing farmers markets has become my new favorite past time. I’d take a farm-fresh meal over a stuffy, white tablecloth establishment anytime, any day. Chalk it up to being overly attentive to where food comes from.

It’s odd. A little over year ago, I was obsessed with the trends in the food world. Maybe it was the New York City mentality and working for a blog where my job was to write about new talent, mind-blowing culinary feats, and anything remotely glitzy in the food world. Or maybe it was the fact that I was surrounded by youths like myself with a high amount of disposable income. But since moving back to good ol’ California, I’ve noticed a change of interest in what excites me. I like produce. I like farms. I like simple, fresh, and sustainable. How fitting. How Californian.

Elmwood Cafe in Berkeley really fits the bill. I’m a tourist to that part of the state and I almost feel silly blogging about such a established, neighborhood gem.

I’m sure the regulars would roll their eyes at me…but as a visitor to the area — I was absolutely fascinated by its cutesy charm. They’re all about organic ingredients and they source locally where they can.

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I’m normally not a fan of sandwiches, but this chicken sandwich blew my mind.

On the menu:

Spiced Chicken Sandwich
Mary’s Free Range Chicken Breast, Mixed Peppers,
Organic Greens & House-made Cilantro Aioli on Toasted Acme Baguette 9.5
ADD: Avocado (2) or Niman Ranch Bacon (3)

I wish I could list all the flavor profiles but let’s be honest — I was on vacation and the last thing I wanted to do was take notes. It honestly was the best sandwich I had in 2013. (Only one other sandwich comes to mind and that is grilled tofu hero from Sacred Chow in NYC)

While the meal was sufficiently hearty, it left a clean taste in my mouth. I left feeling good, healthy, light. Ten days up in the Bay Area and I want to say that this simple brunch was my favorite meal out of the entire trip.

Plus, half of all the profits go to charity. I have no idea how that’s a sustainable model, but I love it.

The cafe embodies everything I love– affordability, sustainability, health, and freshness. I wish we had one in Los Angeles. Or rather, I wish I lived up there.

I suppose the grass is always greener on the other side.

Address: 2900 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

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Recipe: Dutch Crumble Apple Pie

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Although I was born and raised in Los Angeles, I grew up in a very Taiwanese household. Holidays aren’t my family’s forte. In fact, we haven’t properly celebrated one for decades. Family gathering are rare and if they occur at all, they’re usually business-centric.

But in a true turn of events, this year I was lucky enough to spend the festivities up in the Bay Area with a warm, wonderful bunch with all-American traditions: an old fashioned Christmas tree, a gift-exchange session, a formal dinner, extended family visits — the whole shebang. It was delightful to be able to partake in all the regular holiday traditions.

I was so excited, I decided to contribute with a homemade Dutch crumb apple pie for Christmas dinner. Start with the crust, then core and cut the apples. After that, it’s all really just putting the ingredients together. We prepped and assembled pre-party and popped it in the oven when all the guests had arrived. Nothing builds up an appetite more than the smell of an apple pie baking in the kitchen.

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Here’s the recipe:

Pie Dough [Adapted from Smitten Kitchen]
Makes enough dough for one single-crust pie.
1 ¼ cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons (½ tablespoons) sugar
½ teaspoon table salt
1 stick unsalted butter, very cold

Gather your ingredients: Fill a one cup liquid measuring cup with water, and drop in a few ice cubes; set it aside. In a large bowl — whisk together 1 ¼ cups flour, 1 ½ teaspoons of sugar and ½ teaspoon of salt. Dice one stick of very cold unsalted butter into 1/2-inch pieces. Get out your pastry blender.

Make your mix: Sprinkle the butter cubes over the flour and begin working them in with your fingers. When all of the butter pieces are the size of tiny peas — this won’t take long — stop. Yes, even if it looks uneven.

Glue it together: Start by drizzling ¼ cup of the ice-cold water (but not the cubes, if there are any left!) over the butter and flour mixture. Using a rubber or silicon spatula, gather the dough together. You’ll probably need an additional 1/8 cup (30 ml or 2 tbs) of cold water to bring it together, but add it a tablespoon as a time. Once you’re pulling large clumps with the spatula, take it out and get your hands in there (see how that big bowl comes in handy?). Gather the disparate damp clumps together into one mound, kneading them gently together.

Pack it up: Let the dough chill in the fridge for one hour, but preferably at least two, before rolling it out.

Dutch Crumb Topping:
1 – 9″ pastry pie crust
3 lbs apples (I use Granny Smith)
6 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 Tbsp flour
1 Tbsp corn starch
1 Tbsp water
1 tsp cinnamon
a pinch of nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla extract

Prepare a single pastry pie crust in a 9″ glass baking dish. (When rolling the flour out, add flour accordingly until the crust is easy to roll.)
Preheat your oven to 425*.
Peel, core and slice your apples and place in a large bowl filled with water. We like to cut our apples into small chunks. In a large pot, melt butter. Add in sugars and stir to combine. If the mixture is dry, add in 1 Tbsp water to make it a liquid. Add in remaining ingredients and mix well. Drain the apple slices and add to the butter and sugar mixture. Gently mix the apples with the sauce being sure not to break up the apple slices. Pour mixture into your prepared pie shell.

For the topping:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
6 Tbsp butter or margarine, melted

Combine the dry ingredients. Add in melted butter or margarine and mix until mixture is crumbly and thoroughly combine.
Evenly spread the mixture onto the pie, making sure it is all the way to the edges.
Place pie in oven and bake for 15 minutes and turn heat down to 350*. Put aluminum foil over the pie and bake for an additional 35-45 minutes. You’ll know it’s ready when you can smell the aromatics from a couple feet away.

A Guide To Carmel-By-The-Sea: A Bohemian Walking Paradise

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Arriving by way of the 101 to escape the heat waves of L.A., I was startled to end up in front of a pink, Bavarian-style cottage perched on the side of a narrow road surrounded by dark, twisted trees. It felt like I was in Europe again, as if somehow my car had crossed some invisible border from manure-stained middle-of-nowhere California into the quaint countryside of Germany.

Everything seemed smaller. And it is. The town is composed of cottages — a bulk of them pastel-colored and adorned with wooden plaques. No glaring billboards or abrasive signage in sight. They have rules against that.

The town, called Carmel-By-The-Sea, is a one-square mile block of Monterey County with all the characteristics of an idyllic vacation spot, minus big brand hotels, large parking lots, and even addresses.

It’s a pedestrian paradise. Everyone walks and the city is located on a hill overlooking the white sand beach. Wine and cheese are plentiful and, as one of the most dog-friendly towns in California, pooches are welcome to prance alongside their owners on the streets and the leash-free beach.

A bohemian Eden established in 1902 by a colony of artists, Carmel is the original hipster town, if you will. Today, its charm is preserved by a series of stringent ordinances. One of them has residents forced to walk to the post office to get their mail. Addresses, in Camel, are prohibited.

Here’s a quick guide to this tucked away town:

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Lodging
They’re not hotels: they’re inns. We recommend shacking up at one of the town’s locally run historic lodges. L’Auberge Carmel is a top pick for those who can afford it. Guest rooms go up to 450 square feet and the property has an in-house spa and restaurant. For a more affordable option, Bavarian-style Hofsas House is a decently priced lodge located in town with an ocean view, fireplace rooms, and kitchenettes. Dog lovers: Monte Verde Inn and Casa de Carmel have pet-friendly rooms for an extra $30 a night.

Eating
Hit up La Bicyclette for brunch. They make fantastic thin-crusted wood-fired pizzas. And for dinner, if you want to keep it casual, try Mundaka, a Spanish tapas restaurant with free-flowing sangria and authentic tapas. Dametra Cafe is a Mediterranean favorite with a consistent line outside its doors on weekends, essentially proof that it’s pretty good. But if you’re aiming for one of the most romantic nights of your life, stop by the dreamy Casanova, which houses a table that Vincent Van Gogh used in France.

There’s also a growing and vibrant wine scene in Carmel. Be sure to stop by The Cheese Shop if you need something to pair with your wine. Carmel food tours are available for those who want to sample the culinary fare of the town in the span of three hours.

Shopping
While you probably won’t be lugging back cheap souvenirs by the boatload at Carmel, there’s definitely a lot of window shopping to be done. The boutique shops are tasteful and sell everything from vintage guitars from the ’50s to high-end jewelry. You can make your own perfume at the Soiled Doves Bath House or buy goodies for your pup at Diggidy Dog, a pet boutique. True to its art colony roots, Carmel boasts a number of galleries. (Art is everywhere at Carmel, but if you want to focus, try walking down Dolores.) While most of the stores are closed by 7 p.m., the window lights are almost always on and the scenery makes for a nice evening stroll.

Sightseeing
The Carmel Beach City Park is one of the few leash-free beaches in California. If you like driving, the famous 17-Mile Drive skirts the town, and Carmel is just a few minutes away from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Hikers, strap on your boots and try the Point Lobos State Reserve. Sights are abundant, but honestly, the one-square mile charm of Carmel-By-Sea is enough to entertain yourself with for at least a day and a half.

Originally posted on KCET. Click here for more + the addresses.

How To Avoid The Crowds

Crowds suck. Photo taken at Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Crowds suck. Photo taken at Monterey Bay Aquarium.

I love Los Angeles.

But…I hate crowds. I hate looking for parking. I hate sitting in a bar and not being able to hear the person next to me. I hate hyped-up places (I know, ironic). I hate waiting in a line to get into a restaurant. Blech.

As of lately, I finally figured out some nifty tricks to navigate around the mainstream. Here are my secrets:

1) Find a hole-in-the-wall restaurant: The hole-in-the-walls are the places no one has written about. You can find these by typing in “hole in the wall” in the Yelp search bar [I’m serious] or by typing in specific dish names in very specific areas. For example, I’ve found great results from “naengmyeon” in Koreatown and “sashimi” in Manhattan Beach. I don’t like to reveal these places all that much, but here’s two: Hana Teriyaki in Paso Robles. Bibimbap to die for. And Nabeeya in the Fashion District (DTLA). Best value chirashi in the area.

2) Go during an off-time: Unfortunately, some favorites are crowded for a reason so I like to go during an off-time. Fishing With Dynamite is a personal favorite, so I make reservations for right when they open for dinner service. Clark and I like to hit up Lock and Key, a nice “speakeasy” in Koreatown during weekday nights, and Sushi Gen always has a seat ready at 9PM, half an hour before they close.

3) Park on yellow curbs: Did you know that you can park on these yellow curbs during certain times? These curbs become regular parking spots during non-restricted times! Including Sunday. (Restricted times are 7AM to 6PM, Monday through Saturday) [Source]

4) Food hop: Go on a walking tour of the Valley Blvd., the Arts District or Little Tokyo. Pick places where you can grab a pastry or order at a counter. Heck, or just spend a day at the Grand Central Market. Get a little bit to eat at each place and move on to the next destination. You’ll be entertained for hours and won’t have to deal with slow service. Sample itineraries: LIttle Tokyo Food Crawl and a SGV Food Tour

5) Drive-In Movie Theater: God, I can’t even begin to talk about how much I hate those outdoor movie screenings with food trucks. It’s so uncomfortable. Watch a movie in the comfort of your own car. Yes, these still exist. Forgo the hipster ones and check out the one in the City of Industry. (or see my piece on Drive-In Movie Theaters in SoCal)

6) Put down the smartphone and wander around: Wandering around during the weekend and stumbling across some free event is pretty easy in L.A. (and N.Y). You’ll find plenty to do in concentrated areas (parts of DTLA, Little Tokyo, Arts District, beach towns). No need for any research or pre-Googling on this one. Make a promise to stay away from the places with long lines and let things happen organically.

7) Retreat to nature: Take a night hike. Go to Echo Mountain in Altadena (or see my piece on Best Night Hikes in L.A.) and hike up to the summit on midnight. Bring a glass of wine and most definitely a jacket. Don’t forget your headlamp.

Stone Hot Pot In The Bitter Cold Of Lijiang

Mention the words hot pot or shabu shabu and I assure you, I’ll be down.

The concept in itself brings warmth to my heart. Perhaps it was the countless holidays my family spent gathered around the ceramic hot pot. It was the only time my parents let me “cook.” I’d go straight for the vegetables while my brother was partial to the beef (what teenage boy isn’t?). And while everyone else opted for rice as their side, I would stick in a large helping of cellophane noodles until they became fat and juicy with broth.

It was also the first Chinese food bonding experience I had with my college floor mates in freshman year.

“It’s like fondue..but in water.”

They stared in horror at the red, glistening mala broth.

“Is that really spicy?”

“It’s bearable.”

By the end of the night, they all were beet red. Sichuan hot pot is a killer.

Yunnan hot pot?

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Mushrooms and chicken are at the heart of the experience. Seafood, wild vegetables and fish balls are the icing on top. The meal is cooked in an embedded stone pot. The mushrooms are put in first. Add the straw hat to keep in the heat and wait ten minutes. Then you add all the raw ingredients.

Fish and beef tripe

Fish and beef tripe

Restaurant: 石锅渔
Address: 长水路四方庙会内 Changshui Rd, Gucheng, Lijiang, Yunnan, China
Phone NUmber: +86 888 511 4369