Rumination – Just want to sit outside (All of 2019)

Increasingly, my one request for the weekend is to be able to sit outside. Whether its in Mexico City, where I can sit in the courtyard of an old church-turned-restaurant or at a wooden bench along any river in any city, I derive whole hearted enjoyment from just being outside, enjoying the breeze, and people watching. Often, my mind isn’t wandering the way I imagined Thoreau’s mind wandered, nor is it fixated on problem solving, the way Turing may have been. Instead, it alternates between planning what to do in the future, deliberate enjoyment of the birds chirping, flowers blooming, or just straight up blank nothing.

I think this new found, albeit stagnant, hobby is a result of being holed up in a conference room all day, debating ideas with my colleagues in tight enough quarters where I get inadvertently spit on twice a week. In my bschool and San Francisco life, I had ample time to go for walk outside along the Charles or Embarcadero. These days, I’d be lucky if I can walk a lap or two around a parking lot once a week. (For a workout, I did run laps in a Best Buy parking lot in rural Louisiana for about 3 months. About 8 laps was a mile, and I would do at least 3 miles. The security guy in the golf cart loved me.)

This sitting al fresco seem inherently at odds with my restless, active nature. However, the pause is much needed in the middle of all this hyperactivity – flights, calls, to do lists, trip planning, people seeing, book reading, inbox zero-ing. Its in this pause, the red wooden benches, and the perching rocks by the river, in which I place a lot of faith.

Faith that one day, I will figure out all this madness. Or at least figure out where to run besides Best Buy parking lots.

Location: Within James Turrell’s Knight Rise. Scottsdale, AZ 2019

Finding a Piece of Me Everywhere (Austin, TX 2014)

I felt like a regular in the Lone Star State capital. Having never set foot in Texas before, I imagined it to be a 180° from the California cities I’ve resided in. I wasn’t too wrong (Lexington, Texas is unrelateable to every molecule in me except one or two Western movie sets at Universal Studios), but Austin seemed like a place where I’d fit right in.

I’ve seen Austin listed as a top city for young professionals and I am often skeptical of the criteria for judging a city’s friendliness toward my labeled group. Nightlife isn’t high on my list despite it seemingly taking up a significant slice of the judgment pie. However, my few days in Austin were how I would want to spend a relaxing weekend, dining and lounging in public spaces, validating the title that I was so unconvinced of prior to the trip.

It’s not my everyday wish to wait in line from 7:30 till 11am for brunch, but Franklin BBQ demanded it and I would do it again. I will unlikely order brisket ever again anywhere else unless it’s known to be on par with Franklins. I could never get a hold of an entire piece of the fatty brisket. Not on my first nor my second or third tries. The slice would just separate due to sheer gravity each time. The tenderness is incredible, but the moisture and flavor paired with the fragile texture made Franklin’s brisket a staple in my day dreams.

Franklin’s seems like the place where people go to hang out before having a good meal – a tailgating of sorts. Folding chairs were set up starting at 8 in the morning where friends would just open a few beers and just hang out like a back yard BBQ. UT students throwing footballs and families sitting on picnic blanket were all in line, hours before they would taste their first bite of brisket. Standing in line for Dominique Ansel’s Cronut last year for 3 hours was the definition of a wait, Franklins was a tailgating festival for the ultimate show.

I also had Snow’s BBQ in Lexington, TX. For all the accolades it has received, I just thought it was a regular place. Franklin spoiled me but I’d rather wait 3 hours in line than drive the hour from Austin for Snows. The location in Lexington made the side trip enjoyable though – it doesn’t get more real than having BBQ in a small Western town with a gravel parking lot filled with huge smokers, pigs squealing behind the ranch fence next door (50 yards away), and the clear blue sky.

( I have to note real quick that Texas BBQ is enjoyed with white bread, the Wonderbread kind. California is commendable for pushing consumers to healthy whole wheat, whole grain options but white bread just tastes great. I miss it.)

The days were spent lounging in the many public spaces Austin has to offer. Lounging in Zilker park for a picnic or people watching seemed like a popular activity as was running along the Colorado river. I’d do both regularly if I resided here. I’d probably end my run with some fishing in the same river. It was awesome seeing families sitting on benches, fishermen in their boats, paddleboarders, and bikers weaving in and between the runners … all from a viewpoint on the Pfluger Bridge.

Trailer parks where food trailers like Torchy’s Tacos are located were definitely a gem too. Similar to a food truck festival, these trailers are parked in trailer parks with outdoor wooden benches, bonfires for warmth, live music, and crude lights strewn overhead across fences. It’s a way of eating and life here – San Francisco can learn from such festive eating standards. Parking food trucks in a parking lot with makeshift tables and benches underneath a bustling freeway just isn’t the same.

I had dinners at both Qui and Barley + Swine. What I found at Barley + Swine was baffling at first. A roasted cauliflower dish with microwave cake? Cobia with romanesco and turnip cooked in a bag? Pancakes, fermented peas, and hot sauce? The tasting menu was filled with combinations that I had never remotely encountered before. Most of them were on the border of tasty or bizarre. It wasn’t until the latter half of the meal did I realize and appreciate what Barley + Swine was doing. They were utilizing the strictly tasting menu format to showcase their style of cooking – exactly what a tasting menu is supposed to be about.  It was one of the few times I’ve ever thought a tasting menu made sense. Too many haute cuisine tasting menus bring forth a myriad of styles, stealing technique and flavors from the el bullis, the nomas, the “gargouille.” Barley + Swine sticks to a personal style and the entire dining experience upholds this commitment.  I had some good bites there but for the thought provoking food, I would point a diner to Barley + Swine when visiting Austin.

Qui was more familiar to what I’m used to on the west coast – food with Asian influences. I ordered the entire left side (smaller sharing plates) of the menu and I enjoyed every single one of them. The cabbage dish, which our table was mutually reluctant to order at first, was stellar. Sautéed and raw cabbage with crispy fried chicken skin, fennel relish, and spiced yogurt. Talent is in the kitchen when a dish labeled “Cabbage” on the menu is the star of the night.

I’d be perfectly fine skipping Lonely Planet’s top 10 things to do if I was able to find comforting spots in new cities like I have in my recent travels –  riding a bike to find Blaine Wetzel pick sorrel from the side of the road, experiencing Zen-like sushi at Sushi Kanesaka, or celebrating in line while waiting for Franklin BBQ. Of course, good eats are what guide my travels, and Seattle, Japan, and Austin have been phenomenal vacations the past few months. I’m having a hard time thinking of where to next ….



15 Minutes of My Home

Upon returning home from my job today, I decided to head to a coffee shop 15 minutes from my apartment. A colder than normal day, I had on my thickest/warmest jacket – something along the lines of East Coast blizzard attire, but it was the perfect outer layer for this unusually cold, chilly day. Something about wind blowing into you, with your face grimacing and facing downwards, and briskly walking along a busy street is just classic city life in my mind.

The coffee shop I chose is a quaint one, located in an alley not too far nor close to any major pedestrian pathway. It acts as a bookstore and coffeeshop that serves some of the cheapest/affordable food you can find in this city. But what really stands out is that its run by a nonprofit that uses the cafe as a proxy to enable those that have hit rock bottom to get back onto their feet.

This evening was to be a “feel good” alone time couple hours and a “feel good” story definitely added bonus points.

During my magazine reading, two men besides me were discussing personal finance. I couldn’t figure out if the man in the suit was trying to court the young guy’s financial handling or what exactly was going on but it was definitely exciting to let my mind wander into the realm of “Is this young guy a successful start up whiz and just earned a ton of $$?” to “This young guy is networking with the older professional and wants to display his business accumen and impress him.” I wasn’t sure, but I was having fun. #eavesdroppingFTW


On my stroll back, I passed by a Michelin 2 star restaurant with a window lending some insight into their kitchen. I stood there for a few minutes, watching the masterful work of cooks and chefs slicing and plating artistic food. I’ve always taken a keen interest in the kitchen world so that 5 minutes was like a child staring into FAO Schwarz store window … two weeks before Christmas.

This evening of experiences that happened all within 15 minutes of my home(breezy city weather, nonprofit run cafes, professional conversations, and world class restaurants) packaged itself into a single thought in my mind ….

“I love this city.”

… 200 Miles and 2 Million Calories (Restaurant Post)

Summer 2012 was the quintessential post-graduation trip of a lifetime (see earlier post here). It was also where I dined at some of the most acclaimed or storied restaurants that don’t call the US, “home.”

Some of them were fine dining, some of them were Michelin starred fast food joints. But what was truly awesome was to see how flat the world was, how fine dining operated in similar fashions throughout the world, yet with their own subtle, but distinct local flair. Sushi Mizutani in Tokyo consisted of few words spoken, and even less minutes spent in the small sushi temple. Louis XV was spent on the balcony of Hotel de Paris, overlooking hundreds of Bentley’s, Ferrari’s, Maserati’s…

I began in Tokyo with the Tsukiji Fish Market where I experienced the most incredible sushi  at Sushi Dai. With a 2 hour wait at 7 in the morning, the sushi there was surreal. Priced extremely fairly and I was all smiles after the meal, but honestly who isn’t when they walk out of “Big Sushi”? A few days later, I entered the temple of Chef Miztauni at Sushi Mizutani. Photo privileges were denied, but the meal was not even close to the experience I had a few days earlier at the fish market. Its supposed to be on the level of Sukiyabashi Jiro, Mizutani’s former Sushi mentor’s fellow 3 star establishment. It was great, but if I was asked where to go for sushi in Tokyo, I’d direct them toward Sushi Dai in a heartbeat. Mizutani and Jiro experiences can be saved when you mentally prepare yourself to be in front of a true master of a craft, with all the beauty and intimidation that comes with it.

My second food destination was to Hong Kong where in the 24 hours, I had 3 Michelin meals that were priced a good chunk below the average SF restaurant price. Some of the best dim sum and goose was to be had here.

Next, I journeyed to Europe where many of the smaller, unknown restaurants impressed me far more than the heavy hitters. Maybe it was the expectations, but nonethless, disappointment usually occurred with the red book 3 stars.  Gordon Ramsay was more or less unforgettable, but Pierre Gagnaire and Alain Passard just completely underwhelmed. Maybe I dont appreciate French cooking/genius/whatever.

Heston Blumenthal threw curveballs , left then right. It was ridiculous how fun my friend and I had at the Fat Duck. When you’re having tea with the Mad Hatter or enjoying a dish accompanied by ocean sounds, you cannot possibly leave that playhouse without giggles all over.

I bow to Alain Ducasse. In addition to having the most majestic dining room ever, Le Louis XV showed me simplicity can be artistic culinary genius and truly beautiful. Simple wild strawberries over a mascarpone sorbet prompted me to declare it the best dessert I’ve ever had. His signature cookpot of season vegetables…. words cannot describe… you would have to enter my day dreams to understand how much I enjoyed this.

I returned to Carme Ruscalleda’s sea side restaurant, Sant Pau, and left knowing that my amazing dinner 8 months earlier was no fluke . Equally amazing, the town, Sant Pol de Mar, transformed, night and day, from the quiet winter neighborhood to the bustling seaside town of summer, full of Spanish vacationers to the beaches of the Mediterranean.

Another notable included the amazing views of Chateau Eza, along the Cote D’Azur of France. The food didn’t match the breath taking views, but then again.. what can? (probably the cookpot at Le Louis XV….)

The smaller name restaurants I spoke of earlier were Reinstoff of Berlin and La Degustation of Prague. Reinstoff was a solid modern fine dining establishment, fully deserving of its 2 stars. It was a meal that my San Francisco Bay Area palate was happily familiar with. La Degustation also employed a modern approach, albeit to traditional Czech cuisine. It amazed me that ingredients throughout the world dont vary too much (didn’t encounter any new mushrooms I had never heard of), but the sourcing and preparation play a huge role – I never thought catfish would ever appeal to me, but I would choose this Czech catfish over most halibut, salmon, or cod preparations  .

At the end of it all, I came back with a nice collection of memories, restaurant business cards, and a souvenir knife from L’Arpege. It was an incredible experience, being able to eat at all these dream restaurants with one of your best friends. I’m sure I will return to Europe sometime down the line, Noma proved elusive this time around, but honestly being able to eat meals in a foreign country is blessing itself.

The places I visited this summer:

Chateau Eza* – Eze, France (August 2012)
Hung’s Delicacies* – Hong Kong (June 2012)
La Degustation* – Prague, Czech Republic (July 2012)
L’Arpege*** – Paris, France (July 2012)
Le Louis XV*** – Monte Carlo, Monaco (August 2012)
Lei Garden* – Hong Kong (June 2012)
Pierre Gagnaire*** – Paris, France (July 2012)
Reinstoff** – Berlin, Germany (July 2012)
Restaurant Gordon Ramsay – London, U.K. (July 2012)
Sant Pau*** – Sant Pol De Mar, Spain (August 2012)
Sushi Dai – Tokyo, Japan (June 2012)
Sushi Mizutani*** – Tokyo, Japan (June 2012)
The Fat Duck*** – Bray, U.K. (July 2012)
Tim Ho Wan* – Hong Kong (June 2012)