Thursday, August 31, 2006

To Fisherman's Wharf. We stopped and walked along Fisherman's Wharf, and searched for a restaurant to wind up our day with. The girls were interested in crab, so we chose a restaurant based on their crab offering, loosely.

We ended up at Nonna Rose Seafood Trattoria.

The interior was warm and ambient, and although had the feel of a grandmother's lovely home, also had a very romantic air.

We started out waiting in the bar, corrupting the youth.

In at last, and a starter cup of Boston Clam Chowder, with tender clams and a nice rich base of creamy soup.

Anna's Filet of Sole Dore was served in a fish-shaped platter, with accompaniments of sauteed zucchini with mushrooms, and onions as well as some broth-flavored rice. The sole looked cheerful with capers, fresh tomato and fresh green onion pieces scattered across the top of its lemon glazed goodness. It reminded me of an Italian grandmother's kind of cooking, and was done to perfection, even if a little crispy around the egg edges.

The waiter told us that it was founded by the owner's grandmother, Rose, and were pointed to a lovely portrait of her on the opposite wall.

Collette grinned and posed with her bib, ready to tuck into the succulent fresh steamed crab with melted butter. Maya and Collette polished it off without difficulty!

After dinner, it was back through the Marina, over the Golden Gate Bridge for the last time this trip, and on home to collect Collette's things and say good-bye to Auntie Anna. It was a wonderful week together.

Flash Tour and the Japanese Tea Garden. So off we went in my car to the city, and stopped first near the shore so the girls could run some excess energy off. Then back to the car to do some neigborhood hopping.

We stopped for awhile at the Japanese Tea Garden, and took some jasmine tea there and relaxed.

The girls really got into the posing mood!

San Francisco and the Golden Gate Park started to get windy and dark around 6 p.m., so we continued our tour through Japantown, Chinatown and North Beach where the girl's noticed the colors of the Italian flag painted on all the light poles in the district.

Sartaj India Cafe. I introduced the group (Regina, Maya & Collette) to North Indian cuisine at the family-run Sartaj India Cafe in Sausalito on Caledonia. This is a very simple restaurant, some would call a hole-in-the-wall, but what fresh taste and care is put into the delicious food!

I understand that every morning the woman who you greet and order from gets up with the birds to make the fresh breads and other delicious garnishes.

I had the vegetarian combo plate, which was predictably full of fresh tastes.

And the taste testers Maya and Collette enjoyed the chicken curry combo plate! Now we're off to the big city for a flash tour!

Fairyland. I got a surprise call from Regina who was coming to pick up Collette with her daughter, Maya -- the surprise was that they left at 3 a.m. and were already in town by 10:30 a.m. Collette and I were already on our way to Fairyland near Lake Merritt in Oakland, so we made a quick plan to meet them there.

Collette and Maya had a marvelous time in Fairyland which is a little girl's dream place. Even though I could see the faded murals and sometimes broken storyboxes, there was still an air of magic for those who had eyes to see it, and what little girl doesn't see magic?

They played hard until they got hungry, and then we got into the traffic to go back to Marin for some lunch...

Cafe Trieste. Collette and I tried going to the Dipsea, but there was not a parking place anywhere, even at 9:00 a.m.! So we did an about face and went into Sausalito to Cafe Trieste.

Although Cafe Trieste doesn't have vegetable omelets, they have a vegetable fritatta and graciously said that they could make it into a 'vegetable omelet' for Collette. She liked her omelet very much!

It was a busy morning, everyone seemed to be having a late breakfast! Collette wanted to know who all the people were, lucky enough to have a late breakfast. I told her that a lot of artists live in the boats, sailboats and houseboats nearby and so there were probably a lot of artists and authors in the room with us. She was impressed.

I tried their breakfast croissant, which has scrambled eggs and choice of breakfast meat (I chose bacon). It also was very good, the croissant was nice and flaky and warm!

Nice way to start the day!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Fun with Aurelia & Toran. Collette and I started the day at Caffe Oggi in Mill Valley, a lovely Italian deli-cum-coffee house.

Collette is posing in front. It is next to the now vacant Albertson's; I hope it won't affect their business, as it is a great place to have in the neighborhood.

Inside it is deocorated with photos of Italian scenes, and some graceful white columns are an added motif in the back upper wall. Often you can hear Italian opera being played as the background music.

I noticed an ad on the door for Italian lessons... sounds like a fun idea for that location.

I had my favorite vegetable fritatta, but was disappointed to be given roasted potatoes instead of the usual sauteed swiss chard. The potatoes were done well, but I so love the well-flavored swiss chard's inventiveness and antioxidant boost in the morning. Not to mention it's originality as a breakfast side.

Collette lucked out in our visit to Jo-Ann's this morning in that Toran was home from school because of severe allergies. He perked up a bit and they enjoyed some play time while I did some consulting work in Sausalito. When I returned we grabbed a quick bite of lunch, and headed off to a used bookstore that Jo-Ann had been wanting to show me. It's called "The Book Place" and sales benefit the local Marin libraries. I picked up 14 books that Collette was interested in reading for $6.25. The kids had fun picking out books and reading excerpts to each other. We then went to the creekside by the actual Novato Library a couple blocks away, and the kids alternatively played and read books.

Not wanting the day to end, all the kids came with me to have dinner with "Grandpa Charles". Collette will be heading home tomorrow so it was her last chance to have some time with him on this visit. After quite the food preference discussion, it seemed the best common denominator was the Black Bear Diner near Grandpa Charles's in Sonoma. I have to say I was impressed that their "Cubs" menu had REAL dinners included, like fresh roasted turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy and cranberry sauce. All the kids chose this option, and it also came with a cute sundae at the end. We took the opportunity for a photo op with the bears afterwards.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Ceramics. Kids are good for getting you into new trouble. It would never occur to me to paint and fire ceramics, since I do not consider myself a graphic artist, or having any talent with a paintbrush. But since she was not inclined to bicycle ride (doesn't like anything on 'two wheels'), paddleboat, or shop for a yukata, AND her eyes lit up when talking about doing something with pottery/ceramics - was there any other choice?

So off we went to Doodlebug in San Anselmo, and we spent the entire day there painting our respective pieces. Collette chose a fairy sitting in a crescent moon, while I chose a plain tea cup and saucer.

Doodlebug is perfectly set up for children to enjoy exporing a number of crafts, but particularly ceramic painting.

We broke for lunch at Paradise in San Rafael, a Vietnamese restaurant with a quick buffet lunch bar. It is always better to go earlier in the lunch hour, as we were pushing it and the selection wasn't as good.

Back to Doodlebug, and it took until nearly five to get our masterpieces ready for glazing and firing. We won't see the final finished project until Thursday afternoon.

We scampered off just before 5 to get to Accepted, a comedy about a boy who when rejected by all the universities he applied -- created his own. It was entertaining and funny. Collette requested Auntie Anna's spaghetti marinara for dinner, which was certainly an easy fix!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Painting. Well, Auntie's ideas were not on point today... no Guide Dogs for the Blind Tour, no beachcombing, nor art museums. No, something mutch simpler was what tickled my niece's fancy. She loves to paint, especially wooden things. So a trip to the local Michael's for some materials, and we had a plan! She named her favorite restaurant, and luckily we had one in Marin, so off to California Pizza Kitchen for lunch. She enjoyed her children's cheese pizza and Sprite, while Auntie chowed down on a half Chopped BBQ Chicken Salad and a cup of Smashed Pea soup. I hadn't been to CPK for awhile, and must say they have downsized portions and raised prices... hardly any lettuce in my salad -- lots of 'munchy, crunchy' things, but lettuce was sparse.

After lunch Collette started painting in earnest, with delightful results. She is a budding talent! She also wanted to watch the "Kyle xy" marathon on TV, so we did, and it was a rather intriguing show. Afterwards we shot out to San Rafael to try some Cold Stone Creamery magic. She was fascinated by the stone slab and how they cut the toppings into the ice cream, although she declined any toppings herself.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Exploratorium. Well, the sad news this morning was that 3 of the 5 fish didn't make it.

But on to happier things, we started the day by having a French toast and turkey sausage breakfast at Auntie Anna's before deciding on our course of activities for the day.

The unfortunate first discovery after breakfast was that Auntie Anna didn't realize she needed to save some soda bottles for the "Pop Bottle Science" experiments. This being the case, and the kids chanting 'sci-ence, sci-ence, we wanna do sci-ence'.. well, the Exploratorium seemed to be the thing to offer (and get Auntie out of trouble!).

The Exploratorium was a perfect choice. They enjoyed all the hands on activities with three hours straight, without any dips in interest. And they learned a lot.

After finishing up inside, we grabbed cold drinks and enjoyed the garden outside for a bit.

We grabbed quick burgers and 'extra crispy' fries at "In and Out Burgers" on the way home. This time the 'extra crispy' fries were extra disappointing. Oh well.

Jonathon came over later in the afternoon and took the kids for a dip in my pool, meanwhile Jo-Ann picked up the ingredients for a special experiment.

Collette wouldn't let me forget the mentos and diet coke explosion demonstration! So after the swimming was over, and Auntie Anna's special somen dinner -- we went outside on the public shore, near a wide space for the demonstration. As Collette promised, there was a veritable GEYSER of soda that exploded out of the diet coke liters immediately upon the mentos touching the soda. Wow.

Then there are the 'professional mentos' guys, see their video (click on thumbnail below to go to the video):

We then waved Toran and Aurelia good-bye as Toran needed to get ready for his first day of school tomorrow, including a good night's sleep.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Obon. Today is the 75th anniversary celebration of Obon in Japantown. Collette and I picked up Toran & Aurelia for a day of fun, and sleep over. Toran & Aurelia brought along their yukata's to change into to be in theme for tonight's celebration.

First though, we fulfilled Collette's wish to go to the same park as her brother went with Toran and 'throw rocks' into the stream. Kids are so funny. Colin spent an hour with Toran when he was here in July, just experimenting with various rock sizes and shapes and weights and how they landed in a little creek in a shady park in Mill Valley. Collette's interest in it did not last an hour, she wanted to try what her brother did, but her interest is more in social activities like playing hide-and-go-seek. Which she promptly talked Toran and Aurelia into doing after a few rocks into the creek.

After cleaning up from the park activities, we got ready for Japantown and the much anticipated Obon Festival Dancing.

We arrived in Japantown in time for dinner, and chose Mifune, since it had the desireable "Bullet Train" dinner! Aurelia models in front of the attractive and tasty children's meal below. It consists of tempura, choice of noodles or rice, and pickles. (My mean of tenzaru soba - cold soba with tempura -- large prawns can be seen in the corner).

The kids were disappointed that the games were taken down after we finished dinner as they wanted to try the duck hunt and goldfish catching games. However, they did not go away empty handed as a child and mother beseeched us to take a bag of goldfish that they would not be able to take care of... 5 goldfish.

By this time, well, I couldn't convince the kids to dance in the festival, and it was COLD. And now, they wanted to rush the fish to Jo-Ann, because "Mom knows how to take care of the fish, and we have a fish tank!". So we left the festival, which had terrible technical difficulties with the music as well, so it was just as well we got ahead of the crowd.

The kids decided that they were cousins, since their grandmothers were both from Osaka, Japan, were related to warriors (samurai!), and shared an auntie (me).

No time to wind down, when we were almost home, Daniel called my cell phone and wanted to bring his new girlfriend over and introduce us.. I mentioned the 3 kids, but they thought it would be fun anyway. So the kids and I met Kit.

The kids finally crashed at midnight, about the time Daniel & Kit got on the road as well.

Friday, August 25, 2006

From Monterey to Sonoma to Mill Valley. We got up to get to the Monterey Aquarium when it opened at 9:30. After surveying the dearth of choices for breakfast near the aquarium, we chose "Bullwackers".

Despite finding eggshells in her poached eggs, Collette managed to smile.

Anna's Eggs Benedict were rather salty, and the potatoes were quite burned on one side, a hideous breakfast indeed.

No stars for "Bullwackers".

The aquarium on the other hand, was great. We all enjoyed discovering new things about the world of the sea.

Leaving Monterey around noon, we made good time, and decided to take in a movie while rush hour traffic rushed to the wine country. We saw Step Up, a great movie about dance. Then a quick dinner at Chili's and off to drop Dad back off home in Sonoma.

After arriving home, I returned a call from a friend in Bellevue (Aleta), and found a mutual friend (Rosemary) had passed away. Shock. The three of us attended the same schools from elementary on... And so very coincidentally, she was a close friend of my host sister, Kaoru, and we were talking of her in Tokyo the very day of her Memorial Service in the states (August 5th), unbeknownst to us. Time with family and friends takes on more poignacy and importance. Life is always throwing us curves.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Santa Barbara to Seaside. After having quite a scare this morning, we got on our way from Santa Barbara to Seaside (near Monterey). Dad went out while I showered, just down the sidewalk to enjoy some coffee and complimentary breakfast at the hotel. Well, he turned the wrong way out the door, and well, got lost. He's 86, and sometimes a little confused, but usually doesn't wander off... Apparently, he thought a neigboring hotel's breakfast buffet was ours and contentedly enjoyed his breakfast undisturbed. Meanwhile I finished showering and went to breakfast, not finding Dad, I imagined he took a walk along the beautiful beach in front of us. But when time kept passing, I went in search. The office staff hadn't recalled seeing him at breakfast - uh-oh. I got in the car and crisscrossed the neighboring streets in about an 8 block square. No luck. Really being worried at this point, about 90 minutes later, I called the police. Dad in the meantime, had left the other hotel and was wandering about not finding his room... and started wandering the streets. Luckily the very friendly and compassionate Santa Barbara police officers (Clark & Thompson), located my Dad and brought him back. Dad was his gregarious self, chatting animatedly with Officer Thompson when he came back. In the interim, a very sweet motherly like maid who only spoke Spanish, noticed my worried look, and the police, and tried to communicate, not giving up at my awkward attempts to say I didn't speak/understand Spanish. Problema?? she's say, and I'd say "Si", and shake my head 'no comprende espagnole.' She brought over tissues and gave me a big hug and said comforting Spanish things I couldn't understand, but yet understood in the universal language of those giving gifts of love freely. I was touched.

Not 5 minutes after Dad arrived back, Erika showed up with the twins, everyone starving as they left Rancho Mirage at 7 a.m. to drive directly there before taking breakfast. So we went to the neighboring Sambo's restaurant (yes, they even had the book "Little Black Sambo" for sale at the cash register). Tigers graced the menu, and we had brunch, which was quite welcome.

We drove to Sand Castle Inn in Seaside, an inexpensive and clean place. We drove around Monterey, and Collette chose Rappa's on Fisherman's Wharf for dinner. Dad and I had the Early Bird specials, he Snapper Italiano, and I Rock Shrimp Spaghettini. Both appeared to have the same insipid 'ratoulille with oregano' tasting sauce. And the Rock Shrimp, well were not what I expected, rather a strange version (or simply wrong, I'm not sure). The clam chowder starter was quite good though. The dessert tray tempted us all. We enjoyed our dinner and walk.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Sonoma to Santa Barbara with a stop in Paso Robles. I picked up Dad and met Linda for lunch at Shanghai, a cute hole-in-the-wall in a strip mall on the corner of Oregon & 5th Streets in Sonoma. Quite near Dad's house, and I'm told it's one of Miss Olivia's favorite places because of the fish tank. The luncheon special was also good, a large selection of entrees paired with several choices, spicy or not soup, won ton or egg roll, white or fried rice or chow mein with your selection for a flat $4.95. The chicken and broccoli I had was quite good as well. No photos this time, but will be going back at a later date.

From Sonoma we drove straight through to Paso Robles, except for a gas stop near my house for the cheap $2.89 per gallon gas. In Santa Barbara the price is $3.39 for the same gas, so I am again happy to live near a bargain Arco station. We stopped for dinner at "Wilson's" in Paso Robles, and to stretch. Wilson's is family run and founded in 1948, so it must be doing something right. I took some photos which I will arrange here once I'm back home.

I chose Wilson's because it looked quite local, and well kept on the outside, and it looked like it might be a little 'retro', which I thought my Dad might enjoy. Indeed it was retro, and my Dad enjoyed his 'petite plate', which was not peitite at all. I tried the beef dip, which was quite good, the chef used quality roast beef. The iceberg lettuce salads with carrot and red cabbage slices topped with crutons came on a chilled plate and with a chilled fork. So that kind of salad might not excite me, but they were in theme, and they did do the small things to make the food taste the best for what it was. And the waitress was friendly and full of local facts and advice. It was an enjoyable meal.

We rolled into Santa Barbara around 9:15 p.m. and started our hotel search. The going rate seemed to be $290 for a room in a seaside hotel, but we found a hidden gem at the Ala Mar for $149, which although not a 4-star, certainly is clean and reflects care by the management. It also has a HUGE in-room jacuzzi tub and separate large shower unit. The furniture is California-style big, and although there is no air conditioning, there is a nice fan and ocean breeze to moderate the warmth. And free wireless internet, which I'm utilizing to write this. Throw in a manage/owner who has a brogue (Irish??) so thick you need a power-blade to cut it, charming and helpful, and its a win!

Off to Santa Barbara. Taking a short trip with my Dad to enjoy the seaside and pick up Collette for her week with Auntie Anna. Will be taking my trusty camera.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Ristorante Fabrizio. I tried a new cool place tonight - Fabrizio's in Larkspur. For once, there was street parking, so I decided to take advantage and try a new place in Larkspur by walking around and looking. Fabrizo itself has a parking lot, so as a destination it is quite attractive in a parking challenged area.

I have been past this restaurant many times, but never quite made it in, so tonight was my lucky night!

The entrance is quite inviting, and there is a covered terrace for outdoor eating which looked quite pleasant. I chose to go inside. There were some very pleasant watercolors gracing the walls with discreet price tags. I enjoy it when restaurants promote local artists. The waiters were very friendly and prompt. And for an early dinner, the place was becoming packed.

Everyone seemed to be eating lobster, and it looked really fresh and inviting. Then I discovered why -- there was a Monday Night Special -- Caesar Salad and Maine Lobster for $17.95. Yes that's correct, what a deal right here in Marin. I promptly ordered the same, wanting to be sure I had my order in before the lobsters ran out!

The Caesar Salad was very crisp, and with a good balance of dressing to leaf. The dressing was not overly anchovy heavy either so it gets a good rating from me.

The lobster itself was visually appealing, and fresh and tender as can be. The green beans were cooked to perfection - not raw, and not overcooked either with good color. They were deftly coated with a bit of garlic and butter which enhanced their flavor. The roasted potatoes were likewise in good form, crispy and rosemary scented with a nice soft texture inside. And also not dripping with grease!

The dessert menu looked inviting, but after last night's extravaganza, I thought it prudent to pass. However, the listings looked quite worthy of tasting sometime.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Supper Club - States of Mexico. Once again, we had a fabulous event, this time breaking a record for attendance -- 20 people!

Full photo coverage and event notes from last night's event can be found at my Flickr site.

The Menu

Margaritas (Tom M)
Champagne Sangria (Janis & Bill)

Setas con Epazote (Anna)
"Killer Guacamole (Tom M)
Chicken and Roasted Red Pepper Quesadillas w/Poblano Sauce (Jennifer)
Traditional Caesar Salad (Glenn)

First Courses
Ceviche - Karen
Corn Soup (Janis & Bill)

Poblano Roasted Begetables on Watercress with Lime (James)
Calabacitas (traditional squash and corn) (Lauren)
Mexican Corn Comfort Food Casserole (Caren)

Palate Cleanser
Fresh Watermelon with a Squeeze of Lime (Shayla)

Main Courses
Chicken Mole Negro (Tom H)
El Pámpano a la Sal (roasted fish) (Emil)
Barbacoa-style Conchinita Pibil (roasted pork) (Glenn)

Tres Leches Cake (Lisa and John)
Fruit Salsa and Cinnamon Chips (Isadora)
Mexican Chocolate Cake (Stephanie)
Apple Pie (Bob)
Rhubarb Pie (Bob)

For coverage of previous Supper Club events, see my archives as follows:

January 24, 2006 (and subsequent days) - French
March 25, 2006 - Southern US
May 21, 2006 - Persian
July 8, 2006 - Japan

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Making of Setas con Epazote. This turned out to be a lovely dish. It has some heat in it, but nice balance. The recipe was adapted from Mexico Connect. The recipe hails from Tlaxcala, and small (actually the smallest of the states) but interesting state of Mexico.

Setas con Epazote

2 lbs. setas (wild mushrooms -- I used oyster and brown beech aka shimeji mushrooms)
3 tbs olive oil
1 medium to large white onion chopped
6 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
6 serrano chiles, seeded, halfed lengthwise and sliced finely
1/2 cup finely chopped epazote
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


1. Wash the mushrooms by rubbing them between your fingers in a bowl of water (be careful not to SOAK, they absorb water easily); drain and let them dry.

2. Heat the olive oil in a very large saute pan and saute the chopped onion until transparent; add the garlic and saute for one more minute.

3. Add the mushrooms, chiles, and epanzote and cook starting on medium high and finishing at low until reduced to 1/3 of size (minimum 8 minutes), stirring occasionally (lots of moisture so not much risk of over browning).

4. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 20 as an appetizer. Pairs nicely with warmed corn torillas as wrapper. Not only in taste, but in theme as Tlaxcala means "Place of Maize Corn Bread".

As you can see, I used a BIG saute pan, the mushrooms in the basket in the photo at the head of this section filled this to overflowing, but it cooked down nicely, intensifying and concentrating the flavor.

All finished and ready to go to the Supper Club!

I couldn't resist a couple add ons to the dinner from my visit to Casa Lucas, so I also brought a snack (wheat based, but made to look and have the texture of pork rinds), and some original Mexican Jarritos soda!