Monday, July 31, 2006

Hakodate lights. A picture from Mt. Hakodate of the famed night view of Hakodate. I took it from a coffee shop at the top of the ropeway. Unfortunately I got a little exit sign reflection in the photo.

While in Hakodate I enjoyed some 'jingetsukan', the famous "Genghis Khan" dish of Hokkaido. Lamb marinated in a special sauce grilled with vegetables. We ate dinner near the harbor and fish market, although the action had taken place there far earlier in the day.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Miss Olivia's Obon Dance in Iwamizawa

Miss Olivia and Shohei celebrate obon at Shohei's preschool festival in Iwamizawa (Hokkaido) Japan with a special dance. Partial clip.

For more photos of the festival and children, see my set at Flickr.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Olivia, the photophobe at Biei. Miss Olivia didn't want her picture taken in the patchwork gardens of Biei, despite her grandmother's attempts... what a shy actress!

More Biei photos posted at my Flickr account.

We traveled to Biei after visiting Tomita Farm -- such beautiful flower fields, and a bumpy but fun tractor ride through the fields!

Shohei and Olivia in the Sunflowers of Tomita Farm - Furano. Shohei and Olivia enjoyed running through the fields of flowers at Tomita farms, and Jo-Ann snapped this cute pic of them

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Sooo hot! I have been loathe to do anything the last couple days, even blog! The temperatures have been searing! Today in Sonoma, I caught 113F at 5 p.m.! I couldn't eat yesterday until after 9 p.m. when I ducked out to my neighborhood Pasta Pomodoro for some vendura (roasted vegetables). I did the vegetable thing again tonight, taking my Dad to Deuce in Sonoma. I had the Couscous with roasted vegetables. We did have some crispy calamari as an appetizer. The calamari was great, crispy and light. I enjoyed the couscous, and Dad enjoyed his ravioli filled with ricotta, artichoke and mint. Dad wanted some vanilla gelato before dashing out in the heat, so I had some sorbet - a triple combination of kiwi, tangerine and passion fruit. The room was exceptionally noisy, and there were some service glitches, but all in all a good dining experience.

This morning I attended a RESULTS meeting, I encourage anyone interested in hunger and poverty issues to check them out.

Knowing that the movie "Who Killed the Electric Car" would likely be gone before I get back from my vacation in Japan, I took myself to the late show this evening. Made me feel so agitated about the ridiculousness of it all, that I now don't think I can get to sleep right away. But SEE THE MOVIE for yourself.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Happy 86th Birthday Dad! Tonight Dad and I celebrated his birthday at "Mangia" at the Swiss Hotel. Would that I look so good and be so healthy at 86!

Guests at the neighboring table asked in a very civilized southern accent -- What DO you eat?! You don't look 86!

"Well, I like to bake bread", Dad replied. Is that the secret? - well at least it keeps him happy!

The courses...

Coconut Shrimp

Anna's Cesar

Dad's Mixed Greens

Dad's Fillet

Anna's Spinach Pasta with Scallops

Anna's Lemon Panna Cotta

Dad blows out the candles on his Pistacio and Coconut Ice Cream Cake
May all your wishes come true!

The Butler and the Chef. Met my friend Carl and he introduced me to this wonderful French Bistro. We both had crepes -- buckwheat -- his filled with salmon and cream cheese, Norwegian style, and I had the chicken with dijon filled ones. The crepes were accompanied by spinach salad. Very good, and the atmosphere was very French, a mix of Parisian and what seemed to me themes of southern France. The Butler and the Chef is bordering South Park in San Francisco, a very quiet and pleasant neighborhood. The waiter was appropriately friendly and service good. Definitely recommendable!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Oyaji. Worth a visit! Very distinctively in the style of a Japanese bar (Izakaya). Great small dishes and friendly staff.

The owner is hugely funny and entertaining, and even gets more so if you buy him a drink!

Sachiko and I had a wonderful meal here tonight, with special off-menu items that I don't have a name for, but enjoyed nonetheless.

Lots of Japanese congregate here for true atmosphere and foods, the sound of Japanese is all over the restaurant. Great for practicing your Japanese language skills, and everyone is SO tolerant.

Oyaji is located on Clement Street in San Francisco, near Lincoln Park.

La Fleur de Lyon. Guy Birenbaum, Chef and Owner of La Fleur de Lyon creates the most luscious brioche! The crusts are perfect, and hearing the description of the efforts he puts into the fillings, well you know you have SLOW FOOD here!

Easy directions (and quick for the end user!) -- pop these in the oven for 15 mintues, add a salad and a glass of wine and you have a great light meal!

I find Guy at the San Rafael Farmer's Market on Thursdays, but I know he also can be found at other Farmer's Markets, and some fine food stores such as Scotty's Market in Terra Linda.

Earlier this month, I brought my nephew Colin (9 years old) to the Farmer's Market since he has aspirations to be a chef. Given this introduction to Guy at the market, Guy told Colin of the efforts it takes to be a good chef and told him to always find passion and love in life! Good advice for anyone, and you can taste Guy's passion in every bite of his brioche.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Strawberry Gourmet Delicatessen. This cool find is hidden in the less popular arm of Strawberry Village. Unassuming from the outside, the food is good and has nice touches. I've been here several times, and it is consistent. Today, I picked up some food to go to supplement leftovers at the house.

Strawberry Gourmet also has cleanly maintained wooden tables and chairs to eat within, or umbrellaed tables outside to enjoy al fresco dining.

I chose potato salad and hummus. The potato salad had bits of fresh celery, parsley and red onion in it. The hummus had a nice smoky flavor. I also spied french feta and tabboulah in the deli case. Definitely a great place to pick up a quick lunch, or supplements to your menu.

The proprietors, Alfred Baumann and Mare Salman have over 30 years of catering and restaurant business experience and would be delighted to assist with any catering needs as well.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Robata Grill and Sushi. Today was 'Dad's Day' in that we worked on making sure all his doctor's appointments were caught up and he had all the supplies needed while I'm off to Japan for my extended visit. I thought he would enjoy lunch at the Japanese restaurant close to my Mill Valley home, Robata Grill and Sushi. I have not reviewed Robata before, mostly because it's so uneven, I haven't been sure what to say about it. Perhaps simply, it's uneven!

The daily lunch box at Robata is highly recommendable. It has a nice variety of delectable items, and changes daily to include fresh creations.

The concept of Robata originated with Japanese fisherman who cooked small bites over the fire, and in the spirit of sharing, passed tastes oar-to-oar among the ships in the harbor. If you sit at the Robata bar, you will be passed your food on an oar in the old tradition. Kids really love this!

I've been to Robata many times, and particularly enjoy their 'hella' roll, made with asparagus and tempura bits. I also enjoy ordering off their special Japanese menu (you have to ask for it), for authentic delights such as chawanmushi, and a steamed chicken and vegetable pot.

Their yakisoba is pretty consistently too dripping with sauce, otherwise it would be a nice mix. Every time I've ordered scallops, they are exceedingly DRY and tough. They also 'paint' on the room temperature teriyaki sauce, and it often cools down the whole dish.. not my favorite way. Many of their rolls suffer from the US Japanese restaurant syndrome -- upsizing. Sushi in Japan is usually made in very manageable bite-sized pieces, with the mark of an excellent sushi restaurant being besides freshness, the proportion of filling/topping to rice favoring the filling/topping by an obvious amount. This is often in reverse in the US. To Robata's credit, they don't over do the rice/filling ratio, however the sizes are generally, just too big overall.

This too bigness was emphasized to me again with my father's struggle as an 86 year old with dentures in being able to enjoy the sushi and other offerings in his bento box. He had a difficult time being able to eat the huge rolls without them falling apart, and the broccoli spears really needed a knife to eat properly as they were too crispy to bite off in pieces easily, and way too big to put all in your mouth at once.

This being said, I do enjoy eating at this neigborhood Japanese restaurant, and just pick and choose my dishes carefully from experience.

In the evenings, they also have a great selection of specials, with freshly made examples with labels spread out as you pass through the door to the lobby. These are usually really tasty. They do a good job with light and inventive desserts too.

Back in Sonoma in the evening, we went to Mary's Pizza Shack for dinner and caught a movie at the Rialto - Peaceful Warrior. It has a limited showing and is based on the Dan Millman book, "The Way of the Peaceful Warrior", which I enjoyed reading years ago. Dad and I both enjoyed the movie. Mary's was good, but it has grown too corporate since I started going there. They no longer serve fresh lasagne, but microwave frozen, and 50% of the time it's come partly frozen, so I no longer order it. The clam linguine I had last night was acceptable, and Dad enjoyed his special "Sonoma Wrap", which contained chicken, avacado, bacon, and spring mix rolled in a tomato tortilla. We also ordered Mary's Pizza sticks, which used to be included in the meals, and they tasted as good as I remembered.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Japanese Chocolate. So I had some fun in Japantown picking up some chocolates on Thursday. There are some very interesting ones, like "every burger" chocolates made into little hamburgers, complete with sesame seeds on the buns. The coconut Pocky tasted like freshly grated coconut was under the chocolate. The "Fromage" was white chocolate that had a yogurt tang with some crunchies in it. But the hands down favorite -- taste tested today by Jo-Ann, Michael, Toran and Aurelia, was the green tea mousse coated Pocky. I can always find something cool in a Japanese market.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Gourmet Garden To Go. A sweet find! My friend Tula recommended that I check this place out. I don't see how I could have missed it before, being located just across the street from the Mill Valley Whole Foods. Gourmet Garden is themed on a European garden with walls painted in refreshing garden themes and charming touches everywhere. There are some metal garden chairs and tables in the interior, I suppose if one wanted to do a quick eat-in, but they did not look too comfortable. The concept is for fine dinners-to-go for the discriminating palate, with directions so simple that it takes creativity to mess them up.

The proprietor was friendly and enthusiastic and took the time to explain the system to me in detail as a first timer. Everything is fresh; they even make their own ricotta and pasta for the lasagne. There is a tall refrigerator case with charmingly arranged black paper boxes covered with film containing the appetizing entrees and side dishes. Everything but the lasagne is cooked in a pre-heated 400F oven in the box without the film top, for 10 minutes. How simple is that?!

I had to limit myself! I brought home the vegetarian lasagne ($10), French green beans with sherry/almond/butter ($8), Pear and Apple/Dried cranberry tartlets ($5) and an orignal Deep pocket sandwich filled with pancetta and chard ($12). This was carefully placed in big shiny black bag with napkins stapled artfully to the front.

I baked the deep pocket sandwich for lunch.. mmm.. astoundingly flaky crust. The chard and pancetta filling was good, almost too salty, but not quite too much. It was very filling. No room to sample a tart.

Later in the evening: Mmm. mmm.mmmmm. The lasagne was great. The pasta was so tender - the best I can remember since a friend's Italian Mom and Aunt came to visit and cooked from scratch all day... the pear tartlette had hints of almond extract and marzipan - yum as well.

Music for one apartment and six drummers

This is quite inventive! Cool food for the ears!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Adventures in San Francisco. Jo-Ann and I went to JTB to get our JR Rail passes for our upcoming trip to Japan, and Toran & Aurelia of course wanted to know 'what else' we would be doing while we were in the city. We replied vaguely in the car that we were sure we would have some 'adventures', but we would happen upon them as we went along. By 10 a.m. we already had our Rail Pass certificates, and the kids again wanted to know what adventures we planned on having!

Seeing how movement oriented they were, I suggested we visit the Golden Gate Park and perhaps the Japanese Tea Garden within. Yeah! went the backseat chorus. So I programmed my car and off we headed. The garden was a delight! I'd passed it many times driving through the park, but was always too rushed to stop. The entrance fees were nominal - $3.25 for adults and $1.25 for children. Naturally, with the kids we stopped first at the restrooms which were exceptionally clean, and also in Japanese style buildings to match the rest of the garden architecture.

We walked through the park leisurely, with Toran and Aurelia skipping ahead at times and pointing out things that fascinated them. All my photos are here. There were some beautiful iris blooming in the ponds, and pretty red-outlined gates and pagodas. I took photos of Jo-Ann and the kids on top of a very steep-curved bridge! After tea at the tea house, we decided to continue our Japanese-themed adventure and head into Japantown for lunch.

After due negotiation with Toran and Aurelia we stopped at Kuishinbo for lunch. I'd been there several times before with good experiences, but not for a few years. It was the same authentic meal experience with lots of Japanese language spoken around us. Toran and Aurelia found every photo op in the mall on the way there of course, for more photos like this post's lead photo, click here. The children shared somen salad with curry don, of which the salad was great, but the curry too runny. Jo-Ann and I had Hiyashi Chuka-ramen which was a cold ramen noodle salad covered with various thinly sliced vegetables and meat/fish. We all enjoyed the meal.

Not wanting to quite finish the day, we went the LONG way home, by the Palace of the Legion of Honor, and the beautiful back views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The rest of the photos of this view can be found here.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Las Camelias. Ok so you notice the Mexican theme? Well, I guess I'm just gearing up for the next Supper Club event - Regions of Mexico. So I tried a more upscale Mexican Restaurant tonight. I've been there several times before, and the food and service was consistent with my past experience. Las Camelias website is here.

They have made a very fine effort toward making the interior warm with interesting artful accents in each room.

The waiter was patient with my lengthy read of the menu. Well, what can they expect when it's so different than the standard Americanized Mexican menu and is a delight just to read!

I finally settled on "Pechuga de Pollo Parrilla Al-Guaca-Mole Salsa". This was a moist, flavorful mole covered chicken breast (none less than a Rocky Jr.) sliced, and served with amazingly flavored black beans, with salsa fresca, guacamole and fresh corn tortillas.

The mole was beautifully complex, and I rolled it over my tongue trying to distinguish the flavors within. The chips, by the way, were gourmet quality as well. Thick and crispy and fresh tasting!

The only misstep of the evening was serving my splurge - flan - before clearing off my dinner plate. It was also to die for -- smooth, creamy and fresh, with perfect carmelization on the top.

I wonder what the waiter thought when I pulled out my digital camera and took a snap before digging in... I like to be incognito, but also want to record something of the actual dinner to share here.

I'm going to be making some effort to go to out-of-the way, smaller places which may be missed by the standard reviewers. Hopefully, this won't mean a slew of poor reviews, but I think there may be some hidden gems for more casual and inexpensive dining. Stay tuned.

Bionaturae Organic Pasta. Nice taste and very good for you. Has rough exterior to hold sauces, and good biting texture. A cool find. See more details on their website.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Panchitos. I stopped for a VERY late lunch at Panchitos in Terra Linda, in the Scotty's Shopping Center.

The menu stated that the restaurant had been in business for 28 years. It was clean and welcoming with nice paintings on the wall. Very casual, but everything was sparkling, even the restroom, and the service was prompt and friendly.

I had a Tamarind soda and Chicken Tostada. The chicken in the tostada was perfection, had the look of pulled chicken and was moist and flavorful. A highly recommended neighborhood kind of place.

Real Fruit Juice - NOT. I had a little adventure going to a shopping center in Terra Linda which houses 'Scotty's Market', and a host of other small businesses. I found a line of intriguing licorice-like candies, and decided to try the watermelon 'Juicy Twists' on a whim. It proudly states, "with real fruit juice" on the front. Yes, real apple juice, but nary a drop of watermelon juice! They are sweet and have that artificial tang, so definitely could be passed by.

Applegate's Sunday Bacon - Organic, with no nitrates, and a whole lot of good taste. However, no nitrates means it should not be kept around for long, so having some left from a meal made for a guest earlier last week, I decided to have some for breakfast this morning. Fried crispy, and set on a piece of Jewish Rye Bread, it made a mini-explosion of delightful flavors in my mouth this morning. Read more about it. Paired with a San Rafael Farmer's Market fresh white peach (which had gone tree to me direct, without ever seeing the inside of a cooler) it made a breakfast fit for a princess.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Supper Club, Cuisine of Japan. Tonight's event was fabulous! Full photos here. All participants melded with the theme of Japan. Caren even wore an antique kimono, while Emil wore a traditional blue and white summer Yukata which Linda and Anna had given him as a gift a few Christmases ago. It was wonderful to welcome first-timers Richard and Paige who blended right into our mix of chefs seamlessly.

The final menu, served in separate courses:

Catepillar Sushi - Glen
Edamame - Tom M.
Chawanmushi - Stephanie
Okonomiyaki - Tom H.
Yasai dengaku - Linda
Buridaikon - Emil
Banbanji - Bob
Miso Soup - Karen
Somen - Richard
Sushi - Glen
Refreshing Daikon-Okra Salad (pictured) - Anna
Assortment of Sweet Mochi and Mochi Ice Cream - Paige

Caren, Tom M. & Karen and Richard all brought an amazing selection of authentic sake in different styles and regions and the tasting was a total education! Anna brought a traditional Japanese Plum Wine for dessert as well.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Sushi Lin. A new sushi restaurant (no bar) opened up a couple weeks ago in San Rafael. I tried it this evening. They remodeled an old Japanese restaurant (previously Tomoe's) to be more airy and light, and the old diggs were freshened and repainted. The walls are now apricot, with light green tablecloths as the contrasting color. The sushi was good -- nice light use of rice vinegar and distinct rice grains were in the sushi. The tempura appetizer by way of contrast, was awful. One would need mouth armor -- it's the hardest tempura batter I've ever attempted to eat. But the proprietors are friendly, and working hard at making the guests welcomed, so maybe the cooking kinks will work themselves out with a bit more time.