Beyond 5 Boroughs Travel

Journey to the West

I recently attended a free talk at the McNally Jackson bookstore lead by Lucky Peach magazine on the topic food + travel writing, which is something I am interested in learning in crafting and potentially getting a few gigs (fingers crossed!)  eat, travel, write, repeat, that’s my dream job.  The subject on “authencity” was repeated multiple times but is that all there is to it?  What resonate with me from the talk was in reference to Columbus and how he discovered such and such food.  Which reminds me traveling is more than for leisure, it’s a continuing education.  It’s about discovering something you never had or experienced before or revisiting a place and rediscovering it.  One of my favorite cities is San Francisco, California.  My first time visiting San Francisco was in 2004 when I was 18 years old and I returned in 2007; six years later I am curious in how the food scene has changed in comparison to the East Coast.  I invited my sister as my eating companion on this nine day journey (2/23 – 3/3) starting in San Francisco, CA to Seattle, WA and concluding with Vancouver, BC Canada.

sf_seattle_van_20132photos taken with instagram by iLuvpotato © 2013

2.23.2013 San Francisco, CA (Day 1):  I have been hearing a lot about the SF Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and luckily we arrived on the day there was an active farmers market which operates only on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. With a little bit less than an hour, closed by 2pm, we caught the last robust 45 minutes.  It’s a nice time of the year to visit SF farmer’s market as it is citrus season and it’s unusual to see an abundant variety of citrus at a farmer’s market because it is not locally grown on the East Coast.  More amazingly was walking through the market and absorbing the citrus fragrance and tasting the samples.  You would not believe the difference in how oranges taste in comparison to a seasonally and locally grown orange until eating a Californian grown orange in California, sounds crazy but now I know how oranges should taste like!  I wish I was able to stock up on cheeses, kale, mushrooms, romanescos, Meyer lemons and more but maybe another time.  Instead, we noshed on a few things: salmon lox, raclette, and mac ‘n cheese.  SF Ferry Plaza recently celebrated their 10th Anniversary restoration in the rebirth of a landmark, read more here.  The SF Ferry Plaza is a central and active port also with an interior retail space with shops including Blue Bottle Coffee and Cowgirl Creamery. In addition the farmers market is a formula to the success of the revitalization of Embarcadero neighborhood which creates a bustling marketplace for local and tourist who enjoys food to visit.  This is a dream in the making for New York City Fulton Fish Market site, a project I am proud to be currently involved with, visit here.

Later that afternoon, we encounter a couple of Chinese New Year floats parked not very far from the market and learned that there was going to be a Year of the Snake parade.  San Francisco has a long history of Chinese immigrants in the city and has one of the oldest Chinatown in North America and one of the largest Chinese community outside of China.  Even the current SF mayor is Chinese.  We stayed to watch the parade and was mesmerized by the quality in how well the parade is organized and the sense of community and respect in celebrating in more than a holiday but an heritage.  The lions, dragons, and firecrackers reminded me of my childhood before firecrackers were banned in New York City.  The SF Chinese community, not only do they know how to put on a party but reminded me in what it means to be Chinese and how these traditions needs to continue in the generations to come. 

2.24.2013 San Francisco, CA (Day 2): Since it is my third time visiting San Francisco, I wanted my experience to act as a local, so what better way than to jog the city.  My sister and I woke up early that morning and ran through Chinatown, Financial District, and Little Italy. We didn’t have a route planned and ran aimlessly with the goal of reaching the Golden Gate Bridge Park but how to get there, one tip is look out for other runners and so we did and reached Fort Mason and ran towards the Golden Gate Bridge.  It was a whole new perspective on the city and a good one.  At the end of our jog, we ran a total of about 6-9 miles and even discovered Fort Mason Sunday farmer’s market and was rewarded with a heavenly fresh squeezed orange juice and had brunch at La Boulange Bakery which I saw on our our path earlier.

Being an instagram user, I have seen a lot of photos of Ocean Beach.  With only a bus ride away, the Pacific Ocean is right before your eyes and feet!  Without timing it, my sister and I were able to catch the sunset which was spectacular.  It happened to be a full moon that day and we observed while the sun was setting, the moon exactly the opposite was rising.  I’m not an astrological geek but you don’t have to be one to appreciate it.

Because it was the 15th day of the lunar calendar month which my sister observes, meaning she has to be on a vegetarian diet for that particular day.  To acknowledge that I also went on vegetarian diet for the day.  For dinner we went to a Chinatown vegetarian restaurant, Enjoy.  My sister and I decked out and ordered a banquet for ourselves, my favorite was as simple as it sound was the pine nut and spinach fried rice.  It was chopped really fine and stir- fried in what we called in a good Chinese prepared dish pronounced in Cantonese – “wok hay” and that dish embody that taste.  All the dishes had a great combination of fresh vegetables, flavors and had a great visual presentation with vibrant colors from the assortment of vegetables.  It was not drenched in oil as we are familiar with here in New York City Chinese cuisine and the SF Chinese food proves how Chinese food can be a healthy alternative diet.  This would probably be one of my staples if I were to live in SF and for a omnivore, this is a huge compliment.  Without doubt, I enjoyed Enjoy very much.

2.25.2013 San Francisco, CA – Berkley, CA (Day 3) Being that San Francisco is one of my favorite cities that I have now visited multiple times, I have a favorite restaurant spot located in Chinatown, Yee’s Restaurant.   It’s one of those old timey neighborhood spot where every waiter knows their customers and vice versa for their morning, afternoon tea and low key family meals.  I go back each time for their big bowl of congee and my favorite is the complimentary side dish stir-fried noodles and all for under $4 per person.  You know it’s good if it still exist since 2004 and what I love about it, is the restaurant hasn’t change and the food taste the same.  After breakfast, we made our way to the SFMoMA which will be closed by June 2013 and will go under renovation until 2016.

We then made our way on foot to primarily the reason in why I wanted to revisit San Francisco, Tartine Bakery in the Mission District.  The Mission is what Brooklyn is to New York City in terms of the young entrepreneur food scene.  Most businesses are coined with Mission “blank.”  You name it: cheese, bicycle, even Chinese food – Danny Bowien Mission Chinese.  The neighborhood is located adjacent to a heavily Mexican populated neighborhood and on my way to Tartine Bakery, there were so many Mexican restaurants I would have love to try, the more reason to go back next time.  I couldn’t resist at Tartine Bakery and ordered a number of things a mushroom croque monsieur on sour dough bread, a beautiful latte prepared with Four Barrel Coffee. And for take away, I bought a croissant, scone and a bag of crisp citrus peeled cookies for the next day.  It’s a local leisure coffee and pastry spot but also globally visited by many people from all over.

A restaurant globally known and also visited is Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse.  My boss made a table reservation for me prior to the week I was visiting San Francisco and normally the popularity of Chez Panisse would have required months in advance. What makes Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse so special and for so many reasons,  it’s worthy of one entire post about it but in a nutshell if it’s even possible, Alice Waters redefined American cuisine in the 1980s and have influenced so many talents to start their own food careers.  This includes David Tanis former executive chef and now food writer of NYT, David Lebowitz former pastry chef and writer of several culinary books, and from what I learned while dining, Acme Bread which provides San Francisco including at Chez Panisse excellent breads.  Alice Waters is a chef, restaurant owner, a food activist and also runs the Edible Schoolyard which is a nonprofit organization committed to educating children in where food comes from.  She was currently involved with working with the state of California in passing the prop 37 in proper food labeling non-gmo.  She is one of the most influential women in the food world and I am all giddy and fortunate to be able to dine at Chez Panisse.  Located in Berkley, CA on Shuttuck Ave which is a beautiful and quaint town.  Chez Panisse immediately stood out with an unusual tree growing in front of the restaurant that no one else had on the block.  The structure and ambiance of the restaurant felt like a cabin.  The menu changes every day from what is in season to what is fresh and locally available at the farmer’s market on the day when conceptualizing the menu – genius!  Dining at Chez Panisse was like a well orchestrated symphony; it’s a masterpiece.  From the service to the taste of the food to the presentation was on key every second.  Every dish was thoughtful and executed so well and truly interacts with all the senses, especially sight, smell and taste.  Never have I ever had anything so aromatic as the pork shoulders both sense of taste and smell.  It’s a restaurant institute for everyone who is serious about food and I am a lucky gal.

Here’s what I ate:

February 25, 2013 Chez Panisse Menu
Sonoma county squab and duck salad with rocket radishes and sherry vinagrette
Red beet soup with horseradish

Wood oven braised pork shoulder with fennel seed and rosemary with cannellini beans, kale and herb salsa
California sea bass with celery root purée artichokes and tapenade

Pink lady apple and sour cherry galette with meyer lemon gelato

Flying disc ranch barhi dates and Churchill Brenneis Orchards kishu tangerines
a pot of Mint tisane tea

Unfortunately, an electrical fire broke out on March 8, shortly after a week and a half since dining there and damaged the facade of Chez Panisse, read more here.  Alice Waters announced it will be reopen for business by this summer and I am sure it will be better than ever.

sf_seattle_van_2013photos taken with instagram by iLuvpotato © 2013

2.26.2013 Seattle, WA (Day 4): Heading northwest to Seattle, Washington.  There is the iconic Pike Place Market, Space Needle Tower, the original Starbucks which I overheard from some guy who was leading a walking tour that it is not?  … jaw dropped, but whatever, I’m in java city!   Unfortunately, my sister was not feeling well and the cloudy weather in Seattle certainly did not help either but we manage to make the best of our visit there.  Geographically, the west of North America is closer to Asia, which Asians have a long history in settling in cities on the west coast, this includes Cambodian Chef Seng Kok Ung.  A refugee in 1980 who fleet from Cambodia to Seattle to achieve the American dream in making a living and sharing his culture through his passion in food and is the chef and owner of a humble restaurant, Phnom Penh Noodle House.  These are the reasons why I love food and travel; discovering these stories and flavors.  My sister ordered a tender duck noodle soup and I ordered a Battambang’s Favorite Noodle and an appetizer Hay Cung, which is an interesting version of a shrimp roll and delicious, click on the menu for a full salivating description.  One of my favorite cuisine is Vietnamese because it is light and always highlights the ingredients.  Because Cambodia is a neighboring country of Vietnam, the two cuisine is fairly similar and has influence from one another.  Phnom Penh Noodle House certainly knows how to use ingredients and it really defines the importance of the quality of fresh ingredients and it makes all the difference.  Also important to have a knowledge and palette combination and this is what Chef Seng Kok Ung does so well in all of his dishes.  I don’t think you can go wrong with anything you order from here and besides it’s modestly priced, I would try everything if I had the iron stomach to.  I’m not from Cambodia nor have I been to Cambodia but it has the quality of comfort food that warms your heart.  Who would’ve thought I would find such amazing Cambodian food in Seattle, WA?  Liking the city already…

2.27.2013 Seattle, WA (Day 5): It was our second and last day in Seattle, WA, too short indeed!  During the day, we visited a historic neighborhood in Seattle, Pioneer Square and visited the Smith Tower.  Afterward, we had an early lunch at Salumi which is all things pork and cured meats by salumist, Armandino Batali, Mario Batali’s father.  This narrow storefront with no more than 20 seats would have a line out the door and wrapped around the block during lunch.  All the cured meats are made in house including mozzarella.  For lunch, we had a porchetta and a salumi with mozzarella sandwich to share. The little storefront/ restaurant felt like we were invited to a house party with a mantle of figurines, you guessed it, pigs!  Family portraits hung on the wall and cookbooks stacked on the shelf.  It is nothing like the restaurant empire Mario Batali has built, quite the opposite and what I generally prefer, the ambiance and taste of grandma’s home cooking with a lot of love.

We spent the afternoon sipping coffee, watching the rain fall and listening to music from my high school days at a cafe.  Before our dinner spot, we took a stroll at the Olympic Sculpture Park. Then headed to the outskirt of Seattle, a town called Ballard which seemed far more interesting and wished we had the time to explore the neighborhood more.  We decided to conclude our visit in Seattle at the critically acclaimed  Walrus and the Carpenter.  This place is a hidden gem and literally very hidden; located in the back of what seemed to be an office building.  As quiet and deserted the neighborhood may have seemed on a Wednesday rainy night, entering Walrus and the Carpenter was like time traveling to a vibrant, sunny, warm, happy place; after all what an awesome restaurant name.  Without a table reservation, the wait was no longer than half hour and we were seated at the bar which is my preferred seating where I can observe the oyster shucking, cooking and mixology action.  My sister is not the biggest raw oyster fan and it was only in recent years she started eating raw fish.  On the other hand, I like raw oysters but I now officially love west coast oysters!  And Walrus and the Carpenter does a fine job from sourcing to shucking.  It even changed my sister’s perception on raw oysters on a half shell which is that good.  We ordered only a half dozen and selected: Barron Point, Blue Pool, Hama Hama, Sun Hollow and 2 Totten Virginica – cool names huh?  Each oysters is named after the inlet of the bay the oyster is harvested in and the Pacific Northwest is one of the best, learn more here.  With only a light squeeze of lemon juice, sip and slurp paired with a pint of local Georgetown Porter, was refreshing.  The best was probably the fried oysters.  The panko battered fried oysters with aioli sauce melts in your mouth and plenty to go around until satisfaction for only $8!  We celebrated our last day in Seattle also with a cabbage salad, cured salmon, salmon roe with asparagus and to top off our meal, a creamy panna cotta with a hint of lemon zest and berry.  Walrus and the Carpenter is a young, up and coming restaurant that has already received top reviews from New York Times to Bon Appetit.  I can see what the buzz is all about and it’s definitely worth traveling to Seattle for and solely for.

sf_seattle_van_20133photos taken with instagram by iLuvpotato © 2013

2.28.2013 Seattle, WA to Vancouver BC, Canada (Day 6):  O Canada!  I think taking the train is underrated and not enough travelers take advantage of this experience in seeing America.  It’s a beautiful scenic route on the Pacific Northwest on the Amtrak from Seattle, WA to Vancouver BC, Canada and rather inexpensive ($28 one way per person).  The train ride was 4 hours long.  It was a perfect way to gather thoughts.  We arrived to Vancouver around noon with rain. There was apparently a tropical storm while we were there called Pineapple Express which the meteorologist explained it was a warm air mass from Hawaii.  Not far from our hotel was a strip of shops and many were Japanese and Korean restaurants.  We had lunch at Ramen Jinya.  A bowl of ramen was spot on and perfect for the Vancouver kind of weather.  We took a stroll at Stanley Park but it was raining quite heavy and decided to spend most of the afternoon in the hotel which was nice to wind down and laid in bed and watch television.  I later caught a PBS series called The Mind of a Chef.  It is food series narrated by Anthony Bourdain in the footsteps of Chef David Chang from the Momofuku restaurant empire.  It’s a travel, eating and cooking show and both entertaining and educational.  That evening, we had Korean food at Red Chicken.    As you can tell, we’re taking the Asian cuisine route in Vancouver!

3.1.2013 Vancouver BC, Canada (Day 7):  The beauty of the cities in the west coast is the proximity to the great outdoors.  Within 30 minutes on a public transportation it literally transports you to the wilderness.  We visited the Capilano Suspension Bridge which is a national park surrounded by acres of evergreen from red cedar wood to douglas fir trees to ferns dating back to more than 1300 years old!  Incredible.  It’s an oasis for urbanites.  While we visited, there were downpours and rained especially hard because we were more north; after all it is a rain forest.  Despite the weather the rain, mist and fog created a beautiful also a mysterious visual landscape, it smelled absolutely wonderful, clean crisp oxygen exert from the trees and the rain drops like soothing music to my ears.  I can spend all day at the Capilano Suspension Bridge park and by far one of my favorite destination of the trip.

That evening, we had dinner plans at Dinesty Chinese with my sister’s friends from her study abroad in Beijing, China.  It has been 10 years ever since and two of them coincidentally resides in Vancouver.  Dinesty Chinese, a Shanghai restaurant and is known for their soup dumplings. It was a fairly new restaurant on the block and pretty high tech, taking orders on ipod, waiters communicating with each other on blue tooths.  I was most impressed with their menu design.  All the dishes had a photograph of the dish with English and Chinese translation and icons of the type of meat or vegetarian friendly.  The food reflects the authenticity for flavors, technique and creativity.  It was the first time I probably had such delicate thin soup dumpling skins and still maintain the broth innards which is a technique that is hard to achieve. The Chinese food in New York City has got to step it up!  I agree with Chef Hung Huynh in a recent interview with Serious Eats. We are spoiled with the $1 dumplings in New York City.

3.2.2013 Vancouver BC, Canada (Day 8): Vancouver hosted the 2010 Winter Olympic and we were hoping to visit Whistler and ride the gondola to see the wintery scenery, except it was just our luck that our Greyhound bus had broke down on the middle of our journey or the bus driver was playing hookie. All for nothing waking up at 4am!  Nonetheless, we took it easy and had brunch at Two Chefs and a Table in a nice part of town known as, Gastown.  I was craving for fried chicken and luckily there was chicken and waffles on the menu.  The waffles was a home run, it reminded me of Hong Kong hot cakes and the pecans added a nice nutty and sweet touch.  The maple syrup was…well, we are in country of the maple leaf.  Although, I still prefer my Pies n’ Thighs fried chicken or deep south New Orleans fried chicken.  Later, we spent the afternoon on Granville Island for some public market reference.  Granville Island is a combination of artist studio space, artisans hand made crafts from yarn, soap to textiles and a public market food hall.  It was an urban redevelopment project and have done a good job in preserving the facade and feel of an industrial mill but made to be a destination for shoppers and visitors from all over.  On our way to the Oakwood Canadian Bistro for our last meal of the trip, a peak of sun came through the clouds.   The sky cleared in beautiful shades of colors and finally we were able to see Vancouver.  There was the landscape with the snow cap mountains on the peak, the tall evergreens follow by the Vancouver cityscape.  Where we were viewing this magnificent view was on a beach.  I cannot think of any other cities in the world where the landscape and the cityscape juxtapose and for this reason is probably what makes Vancouver such a unique city and so desirable to live in.

3.3.2013  Flight back to New York City (Day 9)  After a whirlwind west coast dining tour, there is always something magical about home cook meals and a simple bowl of white rice and being back in New York City.  I was surprised at how much I enjoyed visiting the west coast and America & Canada!   I’ve always dreamed about moving out there and according to plans which have been derailed I should have moved to San Francisco at 25.  The trip assured me that it is possible, maybe… maybe, in six months or in a year from now, I will be writing in the pacific time zone?  A thought to be continued…