Posted in Food

A High Note in Berkeley

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“Diabolo Minthe”: sparkling water w/mint syrup

La Note is located on Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley, but you’d swear you stepped into some neighborhood cafe or bistro in Provence.  Other than Stacks or 900 Grayson, it’s my favorite spot for brunch in the Bay Area.  You can’t beat the ambience here. The walls are a brightly colored yellow with jars of French condiments and handmade bowls and cups lining the walls, all for sale.  There are bright green wicker chairs and fleur de lys patterned tables throughout this cozy, sunny, and usually crowded cafe.  

We were here this time for dinner, which can be just as enjoyable.  They have some very memorable dishes on both their brunch/lunch and dinner menus.

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I started with the Crostone au Jambon de Bayonne, which was country bread rubbed with olive oil and garlic, and then topped with prosciutto and cornichons.  It was all served over a bed of lightly dressed mixed greens and roasted roma tomatoes with garlic and herbs.  The combination was great and it was fresh and authentically rustic and French.  The serving was also big enough to share, but my husband wanted to order his own…

He got the special salad of the day, which was slices of roasted duck over a bed of mixed lightly dressed greens.  It was also served with the same roasted tomatoes I had on my plate and grilled country bread.  The duck was flavorful and smokey, and together with those fabulous tomatoes and greens, it made for another great combo.

Then came the entrees.  My husband got the Bouillabaisse Marseillaise, their classic fish stew that was “chock full of seafood,” as he says.  The tomato based broth was swimming with clams, crab, mussels, sea bass, scallops, and shrimp and so flavorful it was overwhelming.  We agreed the dish was phenominal, as always.

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I ordered the Poulet a la Nicoise, which was a stewed chicken dish with tomatoes and white wine, olives, parsley, and saffron rice that was perfect to suck up the stewing liquid on the plate.  This was a light yet hearty dish that was like comfort on a plate.  It was homey, delicious, and felt like a dish that someone’s grandma would make.

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The service is friendly, but largely absent.  We got there about five minutes before the place opened and instead of letting us sit and wait inside, they “kindly” told us they were closed and made us wait the five minutes outside.  And once they seat you, you’ll think they forgot all about you.  That’ll be the case throughout your meal.

But the biggest drawback with this place is the L-O-N-G wait.  You HAVE to get here either when they open or later in the afternoon/evening.  They only take same day reservations for parties of four or more for dinner, and five or more for brunch on weekdays only.  Brunch at this place is legendary, but dinner is no slouch.  Either way, it’s still one of my all time favorite restaurants in the Bay Area, lackluster service or not.

La Note – 2377 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley – 510. 843.1525

La Note on Urbanspoon

Posted in Food, San Francisco

Eating with the Elite

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My husband and I recently spent a late sunny afternoon on Fillmore Street in San Francisco.  We were without reservations, and after hitting a few spots, snagged the last two top at Elite Cafe.

The place is very San Francisco old school (in the style of Tadich Grill).  So much so that you’d expect legendary columnist Herb Caen to walk out of one of the enclosed booths.  Lots of woods and a ceiling fan.

The food however, is modern and sassy.  Their menu has a New Orleans slant with lots of rich meats and fried foods, but all done elegantly.

We started with an order of their legendary Meetinghouse Biscuits.  They were warm, fresh, soft and must’ve had buttermilk.  Really yummy.  I had two in the span of five minutes.  Decadent, indeed.

We also shared an order of the Cajun French Fries with Chipotle Mayo.  Those were hot and fresh out of the fryer, crispy and delish.

For an entree, I got the Braised Kobe Beef Brisket with Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Fried Okra.  Those who know me know I don’t hate much in the way of food, but I hate okra.  Even fried (which is usually enough for me) I couldn’t eat more than one.  Such a shame because I’m sure they’d be tasty to someone else (my hubby is trying to stay away from bread and breaded items).

The beef was rich and had a distinct element of cloves and cinnamon.  Along with the light yet distinctly flavored garlic mashed potatoes, it was a hearty, but not heavy meal, perfect for a chilly evening. 

My husband had the Slow Roasted Pulled Pork with Garlic Grits and Collard Greens.  Though he enjoyed the pork, it were the sides that really impressed us.  The pork was moist and tender, but lacked depth of flavor.  It was a little one dimentional.  The grits and greens were definitely worth having again.

All in all, it wasn’t anything spectacular, but a reliably good meal.  It was a bit pricier than we’d like for the kind of food we had (our entrees averaged $30 each), but it was a good meal.  And service was attentive and professional. 

If you’re in the area, it’s a good reliable choice.  But don’t expect it to wow you.

Elite Cafe – 2049 Fillmore St., San Francisco – 415.67.ELITE

Elite Cafe on Urbanspoon

Posted in Events, San Francisco, Travel

It’s That Time of Year Again…

castro_marquee.jpg Courtesy of CAAM

Well, this year the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) is celebrating the 26th year of the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival. I’ve been coming to this shindig for 12 years now, and it never ceases to amaze me how much talent there is in the Asian indie film circuit. It also makes it painfully obvious how Hollywood has no idea how much talent they’re passing up in the Asian American community…

But I digress…

This year’s lineup is in my opinion, the strongest it’s been in over five years, which really excites me. There are many great films to check out and shows that still have tickets available. Here are some that are generating buzz…

“Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay” – I hate even mentioning this one, but I guess I gotta. The damn show’s already sold out! Your only hope is additional screenings that may be added or the rush line for last minute tickets.

“A Battle of Wits” – This one stars Hong Kong’s Tom Cruise, Mr. Andy Lau. He’s a real dynamo when it comes to Cantopop and badly dubbed over Cantonese movies. This one, however, is an epic drama and looks pretty good.

Spotlight on Filmmaker Wayne Wang – I had the pleasure of meeting Wayne a few years ago, and I’m glad to finally see him being celebrated at the Festival. He will be giving a talk and they’ll have screenings of a few of his films including “Joy Luck Club,” “Life is Cheap But Toilet Paper is Expensive,” “Princess of Nebraska,” and his new film, “A Thousand Years of Good Prayers.” He may have gone mainstream, but he’ll always be the king of indie Asian American cinema to me 🙂 .

“The Killing of a Chinese Cookie” – I had to mention the documentary about food! This film takes an interesting and funny look at the origins and evolution of the beloved (and very American) fortune cookie.

There are tons more documentaries, films from America and abroad, short films, lectures, and even celebrities! Check out the schedule of films and find out how you can be a part of this fantastic event.

The Festival runs from Thursday, March 13th through Sunday, March 23rd in San Francisco (two locations), Berkeley, and San Jose. www.asianamericanmedia.org

Posted in Events, Shopping, Travel

I Heart Paris: Fave Districts & Shopping

There’s almost no other city in the world that is spoken about with as much love as Paris. And after experiencing it for myself for a week, I finally understand why.

There is a certain charm, sophistication and class that can’t be replicated anywhere else. Add to that their fabulous food, fashion, art and history, and you’ve got an unbeatable combination!

There are so many different sights to see and places to go in Paris. The city’s many different districts all offer a different vibe, which is remarkable in itself. Here’s a list of four that J.Low and I enjoyed most and would recommend for shopping and just getting lost in.

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MARAIS

There’s a wealth of fabulous boutiques here on Rue des Francs Bourgeois (between Rue Payenne and Rue Vielle du Temple), like Mellow Yellow for the cutest shoes without totally breaking the bank. They’ve got beautiful patent leather flats in adorable shapes and funky bright colors. Then on the same street, head to La Chaise Lounge for the most fun gifts you’ll find (I got a pair of movable robot cufflinks for my husband there), Les Petits for the most stylish in wearable current fashion, and nearby Muji for sleek Japanese housewares.

Nearby on Clos des Blancs-Manteaux there’s also Les Touristes for drapes, table runners, and cosmetic bags (J. found a large cosmetic bag for only 8 euros in an adorable French provencal fabric), as well as Romane, a boutique that carries chic sophisticated women’s fashions. This was my favorite district in Paris. Great food, shopping and interesting people.

SAINT GERMAIN

Besides Le Bon Marche (the department store real Parisians shop at) and its Le Grande Epicerie (the king of all gourmet food stores), there’s one street for bargain hunters that can’t be missed: Rue Sainte-Placide.

J had a great time finding a pair of ballet flats for 29 euros, boots for 75 euros, and a lined trench coat for 20 euros. Great prices, especially for this part of the world. Stores like Rudy’s and Mode offer good deals on cool shoes, both designer and not. And Le Generale Pharmacie sells European skin and haircare brands like Phyto, La Roche Posay, Roger & Gallet, Klorane, Weleda, Biotherm and Rene Furterer for as much as half off U.S. prices, and slightly less than other Parisian pharmacies, which made me happy. 🙂

Rue Sainte-Placide is not a long street so browse around and you’ll find some bargains.

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LATIN QUARTER

Alleyways to get lost in, pubs to chat in, and bistros to linger in. Plus, a great array of little boutiques in those alleyways and larger chain stores near the main roads like Promod (similar to H&M) and Minelli for shoes and handbags (where I got a lovely “leather-esque” metallic silver handbag for 49 euros).

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RUE de FAUBOURG SAINT HONORE

If you’ve got the cash, you can plunk it down here. This famous street right behind the Louvre has a storefront for every name brand European designer you can think of. A little rich for my blood, but if you’re into window shopping, it’s worth the trip.

As for the usual department store suspects like Galleries Lafayette and Printemps, I wouldn’t suggest it for most shoppers. It is such a madhouse in there that it’s enough to make you run for the hills. I’m an expert shopper and it made me run for cover. And there are much more interesting items to be found in the boutiques around town anyway.

It’s easy to love Paris. But by the time I left, I felt like it could love me back. And that was the best part.

Posted in Events, Food, Travel

I Heart Paris: The Food

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I was fortunate enough to visit the glorious city of Paris for a week recently with pal, J.Low. I fell in love with the city, it’s people, the culture, the landscape, all its character, and of course, the food and shopping.

For this post, we’ll talk about the food. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the cuisine at the fancy joints or the brasseries that impressed us most (though they were definitely charming and the food wasn’t anything to complain about). It was the street food that made us swoon!

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LADUREE – Various locations

Macaroons to absolutely DIE FOR! These aren’t the coconut butter shortbread numbers we have here in America. These are like a soft yet crisp, light wafer cake with flavored cream, jam, caramel, or fudgy chocolate filling (depending on the flavor). They have a crazy array of flavors and colors like chocolate, rose, vanilla, coffee, raspberry, cherry, strawberry, and on and on… But my faves were the caramel w/fleur de sel (wonderfully chewy caramel filling!), cassis & violette (it totally captures the flavor and essence of Paris), and the fragrant and delicate orange blossom flower.

They have various locations throughout Paris, but the one on the Champs Elysees can’t be missed. The restaurant’s decor, boxes, and details bring every tea party fantasy you’ve ever had, to life. Both beautiful and magical.

L’ENTRECOTE – Champs Elysees

The hype with this restaurant is in its “green sauce” that goes over their steak frites (and that’s pretty much all they serve, by the way). But tasting is believing because the hype is worth it! I’m still trying to recreate the sauce at home. We were trying to figure out what was in it and we’re pretty sure it’s a dijon base, along with porchini mushrooms and a little melted butter. Add that sauce to their perfectly cooked steak and crisp fries and we were in heaven.

CHEZ HANNA – Marais District

This kosher middle eastern restaurant was actually our second choice when we arrived in the delightful Marais district. We were looking for the world famous L’As du Fallafel, but they were closed since it was Saturday. But J. and I didn’t care because the falafel sandwich we had at Chez Hanna was simply the best we’d ever had!!! It was a warm soft pita, hummus and a tomato chutney, lightly vinegary shredded red and green cabbage and diced cucumbers, perfectly crisp falafel balls made fresh that didn’t taste full of additives, and some delectable roasted eggplant slices with olive oil. It was fantastic!

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STREET CREPES – All over Paris

This, of course, isn’t a restaurant but what is arguably Paris’ most popular street food. J. and I were so addicted to these puppies we had six of them in six days! And trust me, I would’ve had more if I could :). I’m personally a fan of the savory crepes stuffed with shredded white cheese, ham, and sometimes egg or mushrooms, fresh and warm from the griddle. Mmmmm….

For a sweet crepe, I enjoyed the Nutella but actually prefered the ones filled with apricot or strawberry jam.

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LA BALZAR BRASSERIE – Latin Quarter

It’s this place’s atmosphere and charming waitstaff that are worth the visit. Our waiter, Jean, was the most darling older gentleman and he was making jokes all night in his heavily accented English. I’d recommend this place simply based on the experience and less for the food. Definitely order the French Onion Soup with its wonderfully thick layer of melted cheese, but skip the tough and overcooked escargots.

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AMORINO ITALIAN GELATO – Various locations

I have to trust J’s word on this one because…I’m not a huge fan of ice cream. (I KNOW I’m gonna get tons of grief for that statement.) But she didn’t say a word while she was eating it and that pretty much says it all. She loved it and thought the flavors and texture were out of this world. They let you choose as many flavors as you want for one price and then even shape the ice cream into a lovely rose. Leave it to the French to make something as simple as gelato/ice cream so beautiful.

By the way, if you want reservations to a Paris restaurant before you leave the States, check out www.bestrestaurantsparis.com to make them online!  Piece of cake.

Next week, I’ll talk all about some of the lovely districts we visited and the great shopping we found…