Wednesday, January 23, 2013

At Long Last

Here's me swaddled against January in New York. Today was the first day of my last semester of grad school! And it was also 10 degrees Fahrenheit when I left the apartment to head to campus at 10 AM. After a long day of work and class I really wanted a piping hot bowl of soup, so Devin and I decided to try out this new Vietnamese place called Saiguette that had just opened on Columbus and 106th, half a mile away from our apartment. Vietnamese? In Morningside Heights? Previously I'd had to travel about one and a half hours round trip to Chinatown to find any Vietnamese food at all, which seriously bummed me out, as pho and banh mi had become dietary staples for me while living in San José, CA.

After glancing at the restaurant we had some doubts about our choice, as it looks pretty much just like a takeout place. There are a few stools and a counter facing the window, but it's a super small tables, and no one else dining in. A little of my faith was restored when I heard the owner and employees speaking Vietnamese to each other...that's always a good sign.

And! The pho was AMAZING. We didn't want to carry our food back to the apartment, though they'd given us everything to go (I don't think they have actual bowls and spoons and stuff), so we just unpacked everything and ate there. Oh man, this was some legitimate pho. The broth was perfectly salted and seasoned, they were very generous with their beef, noodles=perfection, and they provided little containers of hoisin sauce, sambal oelek (no sriracha, which at first confused me, but I subsequently got over it), and pickled jalapeños, plus a baggie of bean sprouts, basil, and a slice of lime. I ended up being happy with the counter-sitting, since it allowed me to get my face as close to the bowl as possible while I happily slurped noodles and broth. It was also the perfect amount of everything--I conquered that bowl. And my tummy was warm and happy on the walk back to the apartment, and long afterwards. As good as any pho I've had in California.

Devin got the moon dumplings with shrimp, which he aptly described as "delicious," and then decimated. There's a bunch of other stuff on their menu we want to try--beef satay, steamed shrimp summer rolls, taro mochi, BBQ spare ribs, papaya salad, grilled lemongrass pork shoulder banh mi. So, in other words, we'll be back. Soon. Very soon. I'd also like to mention that we paid $15 for everything, which is a good $6 less than it costs us to eat at Five Guys or Chipotle. And so, so much better.

Here's our view of Columbus and 106th as we were munching away. I'm a little bummed that it took a year and a half for a good Vietnamese place to open nearby, especially now that I'm most probably moving back to California in four months when my program is over. Oh well, it's a good excuse to make Saiguette a weekly excursion. Plus! Another banh mi place has just opened on Broadway and 108th. So expect some sandwich action pretty soon.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Tea Time

As part of my 25th Birthday Weekend Extravaganza, Pia took me to Lovejoy's in San Francisco. I love High Tea, and I definitely love San Francisco, so this was a perfect excursion. Lovejoy's is an especially great English tea house because it feels like you're going to tea at the cottage of a well-loved and slightly dotty great-aunt in the Cotswolds. All the plates and saucers are charmingly mismatched, and the tea and nibbles are scrumptious.

The sugar dish adorned with butterflies!

Pia pouring her cup of Tea Room Blend. We chose the High Tea Service, and each got a bottomless pot of our own choice of tea. Look at her teapot! There's borage painted on it! Borage is one of my favorite edible flowers--delicate and star-shaped, with a slightly nutty flavor.

Here's what comes with High Tea: Scones, clotted Devonshire cream, preserves, shortbread tea biscuits, cabbage salad in a caraway cream dressing, spring greens with mandarin segments and a balsamic vinaigrette, and four kinds of tea sandwiches. We chose chicken-apple-walnut salad, smoked salmon and cream cheese, ham and English mustard, and pear and Stilton cheese.

Here I am with my tea of choice, Black Tea with China Rose Petal, which I drank plain with a touch of sugar. It was completely delicious. I also appreciated that they served my rose petal flavored tea in a tea pot with roses on it! It's the little things. I've come to the conclusion that my favorite kinds of tea are either floral or fruity--my top five are black tea with mango, white tea with pomegranate, green tea with jasmine, Earl Grey with lavender, and black tea with rose petal. Herbal and spicy teas (like mint, ginger, or chai) have their place in my cupboard, but I generally only use them for their specific properties--peppermint to settle the stomach, chai if I need to be warmed up. But still, I'd be hard-pressed to find a tea I genuinely dislike.

A feast for crows!

Yes indeed.

Sometimes scones can be a disappointment. Not here! They were light, fluffy, flaky, and studded with plump raisins. The raspberry preserves and clotted cream were also top-notch.

A look at the shop.

Since it was my birthday, our waitress brought me a chocolate petite four with a celebratory candle!

We split it and smeared with raspberry preserves.

Now, on to some San Francisco! I've always adored the city, but this visit especially made me want to move there and really get to know it. I've gone there often all my life, but now I have the urge to really make it mine.

Rose petal lace.

We took a drive to  the 16th Ave. Mosaic Steps in the Inner Sunset. Here, Barbie's Dream house and a rocketing bird.

And the steps! The begin in the deep sea, work their way to the ocean's surface, turn into a stream, get to the mountains, and then become the cosmos.

Pia and the crescent moon!

And the view is astounding! Spot the Golden Gate in the distance on the right. And those hills! Another reason why I love the city.

The tree at the top of the steps.

City by the bay.

Winter succulents.

  This little guy came by to send us off. San Francisco, four months is too long until my next visit.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Post from Switzerland

I came home to a lovely surprise the other day...a birthday package all the way from Switzerland! My lovely friend Erica, who has been living across the pond for a little over two years now, orchestrated one of the best gift-opening experiences for me. Here, the outside of the package, wrapped in brown paper with a trompe l'oeil bow drawn on! It's also just exciting to get something with a "Swiss Post" sticker on it. Plus, a postcard with an illustration depicting vintage women's skiwear!

After I tore off the brown paper, next came the box, which she had hand-painted to look like the snow-covered Swiss mountains she lives nearby! I definitely kept the box.

And finally, the goodies inside! Some boxes of eucalyptus-flavored Ricola, which are super-delicious and gently eucalyptus-y, and jasmine green tea flavored gum! Has a better gum been invented? I think not. And then! A jar of Tannenschösslig Latwerge, of course. It's like maple syrup, but fir tree syrup! Erica had posted about it on her blog, and I had been curious about it ever sense, so I was super excited to have a jar of my own!

Here's how I had it: over vanilla yogurt and slivered almonds with a grind of edible flower sea salt from TJ's. And it. Was. So. Good! When it hits your tongue, it's initially very bright and sweet, with hints of molasses and something almost fruity. Then the aftertaste is distinctly but delicately piney...not nearly as astringent or strong as the scent of pine sap on your hands, but still fresh, tingly, spicy, and woodsy.

I had it with a cup of peppermint tea, and the combination was amazing. Pine syrup and peppermint is the coziest, Christmassy-est, wintery-est, combination ever. And, though Christmas is over, winter is here to stay in New York until late March when trees finally start to bloom. So, this is my official endorsement of Tannenschösslig! Evergreen in a jar!

Many thanks, Erica!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

All the Avocados

Here's my grandparent's Southern California back yard on Christmas Day. It was in the mid-sixties even though it was late December (it is SoCal, after all), so James and I futzed around outside, exploring, and eventually ended up playing a pretty intense game of underhand catch with an unripe avocado. Then we went back inside and watched more Adventure Time. PS-James is a pretty good blog model, don'tcha think?

Blue skies.

Citrus! Here, lemons. Elsewhere, Valencia oranges, which aren't great for eating out of hand, but make killer juice.

Sparkly leggings.

Hey there little buddy.

Fortnight lilies.

Pretty serious about avocados.

Here they grow on trees for free rather than costing big bucks in supermarkets, a la NYC!

African daisy.

Enveloped by avocados.

I wouldn't be Laura without a plant hat.


Beautifully overgrown. I love how many things fruit and bloom during a California winter.

And here I am in the same backyard in 1989 at age 1.5, smelling lantana.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Foodie Frenzy

My 25th birthday was a week's worth of awesome excursions, and the bar of awesomeness was certainly raised by Danielle, who treated me to one of the most sumptuous meals I've ever had. She had shrouded the journey in secrecy, and I only found out about our destination as we drove up to Mission Street in San Francisco--We were going to AQ. AQ's deal is seasonality, and my deal is seasonality. They are also all about tastiness, as am I. Yet, when I go out to eat, I usually tend towards things I can't easily make at home: Pho, sushi, dim sum. If a restaurant uses ingredients I myself use, I often think "Well, I could have just made this at home." Not in this case! So, on to what we tucked in to. Above, my cocktail, the Bison Rose, which consists of Zubrowka Bison Grass Vodka, Cocchi Americano, and a Meyer lemon rosemary shrub. It was tangy, slightly sweet, and utterly refreshing. PS, Please pardon the painterliness of these photos...neither my camera nor my phone performs well in low-light ambiances, but the iPhone won out, as you can tell by the Instagrammy nature of these shots.

Here we have the darling Danielle with her poison of choice, the Christmas Island--A concoction of white rum, kiwi, champagne, and sweet woodruff tincture. 

AQ completely renovates their menu every four months in celebration of the seasonal bounty that they have access to in Northern California. Everything is also plated delicately and sparingly--Just enough food for a couple of bits between two people before the next course is brought on. And the next. And the next. Here we have leeks, eucalyptus, molasses, venison, and savory granola. This was my first foray into venison!

We sat at the bar, which was a treat, as we got to sneak peaks at all the chefs do their cheffy thing, dabbing and swiping sauces on plates and carefully stacking the components of a dish.

This was a favorite of mine and Danielle's: Rabbit merguez (my first rabbit, too!), sweetbreads, and carrot, with yellow eye and carrot harissa. The harissa offered a nice spicy kick, and all the bits were delicious. I also appreciated the macabre cheekiness of serving rabbit with carrots--A very deconstructed Bugs Bunny.

Here, another contender for top place in my heart: Guinea hen, sweet potato, cereals, and salted persimmon butter. This tasted very sagey and buttery, which happen to be two of my favorite things. The "cereal" was some indiscernable, slightly chewy and delicious grain. And the persimmon bits! Oh, persimmons. I miss you already.

Above the chef station, a lamp that resembles a gargantuan whisk!

Here, suckling porchetta, chestnuts and anchovy, kohlrabi, and burnt oranges. Look at those cute little kohlrabi leaves.

Another favorite: Well, anything with avocado. But especially avocado with grapefruit, sesame, and parsnip milk. The orange strips you see can best be described as crispy/chewy concentrated grapefruit juice, the sweet bitterness of which paired nicely with the tingly freshness of the non-dehydrogenated pink grapefruit slices.

Interior! Check out those branches hanging from the ceiling. AQ also changes its decor for each season...for winter, it was all white tablecloths and curtains and beautiful bare branches.

On to dessert! This is Danielle's jasmine, white chocolate, kiwi, menthol, and spearmint...a diaphanous creation I expect the elves breakfast on in Rivendell. 

And my chocolate, dark beer, malt, devil's food cake, and almonds, which I expect is best breakfasted on past noon in your pajamas with a blissful smile on your face. The chocolate came in the form of those half-mousse, half-fudge drops of chocolate and the ring of moist dark chocolatey cake, the beer was the sweet and bitter cream in the center, and the malt and almonds made up the salty, sweet, crunchy brittle strewn across. Man, I could go for some more of this. More of everything, actually, now that I'm reliving it in blog form.

The exterior of AQ, branches dangling from the windows. Now I can't wait for it to be spring. And then summer. And then autumn again, so I can luxuriate in my beer and chocolate and salty almonds, or in whatever other excellence they dream up in the meantime.