4 feet 2 mouths

walking and eating our way around the world

Archive for the category “California”

LA Dreaming (by Carmen)

We are in the cold depths of winter here in NYC. I haven’t had to live through a proper, snowy January since I was six so I was curious and a bit anxious to see how I’d handle it. The weather put up a real challenge complete with polar vortices and plenty of single digit days. Now that it’s the very end of January, I know that if this is some of the worst the city has to offer I will survive the coming years just fine.

Typical LA street - palm trees, low-rise buildings, baking sun, nobody walking.

Typical LA street – palm trees, low-rise buildings, baking sun, nobody walking.

That said, I’m still allowed to indulge in a little California dreaming on such a winter’s day. Specifically, I’m thinking back to my past summer spent in Los Angeles. Nathan and I had just got married in Chicago and for our honeymoon we landed in…my parents spare bedroom. At the wedding, everyone’s favorite question was, “After all your travels, where are you going to honeymoon?” What we really wanted, though, wasn’t a honeymoon but a home base from where we could decide on next steps and start the job hunt. In this regard, LA was a great place to set down our backpacks.

Meatball sliders at Bottega Louie

Meatball sliders at Bottega Louie

The dessert case at Bottega Louie

The dessert case at Bottega Louie

 As a lover of urban environments, I’m always attracted to the high rises and historic areas of downtown LA. In fact, this area is becoming so hip it was mentioned in the NY Times article “52 Places to Go in 2014.” A major favorite of mine in downtown LA is Bottega Louie. Somehow, the restaurant manages to make a crisp white and marble setting feel simultaneously glamorous and laid back. And the food is every bit as good as you hope it will be. I ordered a plate of mini meatball sliders which were juicy and rich. After the meal, the case of exquisite desserts and macarons towards the front of the restaurant beckons with a rainbow of colors and flavor choices.
Early gray pie at The Pie Hole

Early gray pie at The Pie Hole

Downtown LA's Art District

Downtown LA’s Art District

If you resisted the sweets at Bottega Louie (or even if you didn’t) head nearby to The Pie Hole. This hipster cafe is located in the LA Arts District which is full of industrial chic restaurants and stores. They serve a mix of sweet and savory pies each day. I really fell for the earl gray cream pie – it was the perfect base for that delicate bergamot flavor. I’m going to have to recreate that one at home. If I get it right, I’ll post the recipe.

The Hollywood Sign family shot

The Hollywood Sign family shot

Garden at the Getty Museum

Garden at the Getty Museum

We were so lucky to have Nathan’s aunt from Germany join us for our wedding. After Chicago, she swung by California and we joined her for a day of LA sightseeing. The Hollywood sign is always a must see for guests and afterwards we drove to the breathtaking Getty Museum. The grounds and views are just as stunning as the art inside.

Dodger Game

Dodger Game

What American summer is complete without a baseball game? We rounded up friends Joey and Michelle to join us on a warm summer evening at Dodger stadium. We sat among the die-hard fans dressed in cobalt blue…and I was reminded how slow the game is. I’m checking out an LA Galaxy game next time.



During our down time we didn’t venture too far from my parents’ neighborhood, a suburb of LA which happens to have a large Japanese community. We scouted out the best ramen joints, izakaya grills and sushi. In the raw fish department, Nozomi stood out for having incredibly fresh and silky uni, or sea urchin. I still dream about the uni I enjoyed at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo many years ago and this was the closest I’ve found so far.

The chefs

The chefs

Tomatoes galore at the farmers market

Tomatoes galore at the farmers market

A tangle of green onions at the farmers market

A tangle of green onions at the farmers market

When we decided to stay in, we took full advantage of my Dad’s large kitchen. It’s nice to have so many foodies in the family. In some households, discord arises regarding who will have to make dinner. We had the opposite problem – we had to agree on who would get the honor of cooking that night. So we made a menu board before our weekend trips to the farmers market. Oh, my beloved farmers markets. The beautiful California produce is a sight to behold and something I’ll always miss.

Key lime pie at Fishing with Dynamite

Key lime pie at Fishing with Dynamite

As we took turns cooking, we still couldn’t resist LA’s excellent restaurant scene. One of the places we enjoyed was Fishing with Dynamite, a cozy seafood themed restaurant from the same owner as the ever popular Manhattan Beach Post. Each small plate that landed on the table was a hit. And the key lime pie dessert rather speaks for itself.

Father's Office

Father’s Office

Burger at Father's Office

Burger at Father’s Office

Stout ribs at Father's Office

Stout ribs at Father’s Office

Another great find was Father’s Office. This is bar food done right. And that was the surprising thing when my family and I entered – this place really did feel like a bar. We got ID’d on the way in! But the food lived up to its stellar reputation. The burger is incredibly rich, as could be expected when it’s covered in cheese, caramelized onions and bacon, and is best for sharing. We also sampled the pork ribs marinated in stout, then covered in a sweet, spicy honey glaze. I understood why the place was packed.

Pupuseria La Flor Blanca

Pupuseria La Flor Blanca

Pupusas with cabbage slaw

Pupusas with cabbage slaw

While Modern American cuisine is gaining a strong foothold in the city, the ethnic enclaves are what I get most excited about. For example, Pupuseria La Flor Blanca. Nathan had been here a number of years ago and we were excited to discover that it was still around. It’s a simple affair with fake brick walls and formica table tops, but as soon as you enter the door you can hear the slap of the pupusas on the griddle. Our pupusa (a bean and cheese stuffed dough patty) combined with the sour tang of the cabbage slaw was exactly what we were looking for.

Bahn beo at Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa

Bahn beo at Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa

Half and Half boba with Kathleen

Half and Half boba with Kathleen

We sought out more hole-in-the wall restaurant recommendations from friends and struck gold again. My friend Kathleen joined us for a wonderful Vietnamese lunch at Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa in Rosemead. She selected the bahn beo which are steamed rice cakes topped with dried shrimp, green onions and crispy pork skin. They were silky, sweet, salty and took us right back to the markets of Vietnam. Next up was a platter with rice paper, various grilled meats, fresh herbs, bean sprouts, tofu – basically all the ingredients you could want to make your own delicious and fresh spring rolls. Though full after all our food we made it over to Half and Half Tea House for some monster cups of boba. Thanks, Kathleen, for the incredible finds!

Our favorite local bar, which we frequented with our awesome friends Michelle and David

Our favorite local bar, which we frequented with our awesome friends Michelle and David

Indeed, it was wonderful to have friends and family around again. Whether it was catching a baseball game, scarfing down Asian treats, sipping a drink at our favorite beach-side bar during happy hour or sitting down to share a home cooked meal, I’d say our “honeymoon” in LA was just what we needed.

Now share some of the good weather already!


Road Trip Redwoods (by Nathan)

A good start to any road trip: breakfast at Acme, brunch at Sol Food, and Pinot Noir in Anderson Valley.

A good start to any road trip: breakfast at Acme, brunch at Sol Food, and Pinot Noir in Anderson Valley.

Our blog has been overshadowed by many crazy life events over the the past few months. Obviously returning to the real world after a trip around the world is tough. But…we are bringing the blog back! The next few weeks will be dedicated to bringing our stories to the present.

Every successful road trip requires a few essentials- a supply of snacks, solid tunes, interesting diversions, good company and an end destination. We set out from San Francisco to visit my grandparents 450 miles away in Oregon. The plan was to see some of the beautiful California coastline, hike in the towering redwood forests and enjoy every bit of the landscape along the way. Within the first several hours we were off to a good start with an Acme Bakery apple tart, brunch at the ever delicious Sol Food and wine tasting in Anderson Valley (favorite winery – Husch). Road trip Pacific Coast here we come…

Northern California Coastline

Northern California Coastline

A blooming California poppy

A blooming California poppy

Descending from Anderson valley onto the California coast is a subtle, but exciting experience. The pinot noir vineyards and patchy redwoods pull away to reveal the jagged and tumultuous Mendocino coast. Highway 128 ends and Highway 1/101 is the only route left to meander is way along the coastline.

Carmen celebrating not scraping the mirrors of our rented car!

Carmen celebrating not scraping the mirrors of our rented car!

What! A tree you can dive through? Yeah, we did that! Because every good American road trip requires a visit to a 60’s style tourist trap. Carmen expertly maneuvered our rented Ford Focus through the Chandelier Tree. We had now entered the redwood forests of California. To everyone that has not been to see California redwoods, there are several national, state and local forests that spread throughout California. The Northern California coastline boasts the tallest trees in the world, Kings Canyon in Central California, the fattest, but there are redwood forests all over the place. To name a few of just this trip, we saw Hendy Redwoods, Smithe Woods, Richardson Grove, Humboldt Redwoods, Prairie Creek Redwoods, Redwood National Park and Jedediah Smith Redwoods. Each park or forest is can be enjoyed along the drive, but it is the national and state parks that really take the prize for being spectacularly amazing.

Nathan in Fern Canyon

Nathan in Fern Canyon

Redwoods holding onto the shear bluff

Redwoods holding onto the shear bluff

Early in the road trip we had received a recommendation to visit Fern Canyon. The canyon was formed by a small creek that cuts through the redwood forests, carving a narrow gulley into the hillside. The vegetation is lush, vibrant and dripping with life. It is such an impressive sight that it was used for filming the first Jurassic Park movie. Usually, visiting the canyon has a fee but lucky for us it was free State Park day so we drove right onto the five mile dirt road towards Gold Bluffs beach. The road was in fairly good condition with the exception of a creek that caught us off guard; let’s just say I was happy it was a rented car that jumped that ditch.

Fern Canyon

Fern Canyon

Wild elk near the mouth of Fern Canyon

Wild elk near the mouth of Fern Canyon

One amazing thing about the Redwood National Park is that there are a few wild herds of Elk that migrate through the park. Supposedly they like to go swimming in the ocean! We did not see any elks catching waves, but we did get to see five of them eating shrubs near the beach. This female elk was huge and not at all scared of our presence.

Towers of Redwood National Park

Towers of Redwood National Park

Nudist tree? Open for interpretation.

Nudist tree? Open for interpretation.

The thick redwood forests around Lady Bird Grove

The thick redwood forests around Lady Bird Grove

Within the Redwood National Park, we headed towards an excellent and easy hiking loop in the Lady Bird Johnson Grove. This is probably the third or fourth time I have been here in my life and every time I love it. There are a handful of short or long trails that make it easy to fit in a short or long hike during the road trip. We started with just a small loop, but both Carmen and I got excited and we continued to meander through the forests for a few hours. We did see this rather graphic tree, which we dubbed the nudist tree, that continues to make us laugh.

Tree canopy

Tree canopy

Nathan and one “Big Tree!

Nathan and one “Big Tree!

As we hiked up and down the hillside we heard this faint, yet tremendous crash. Somewhere in the distance a tree branch or maybe an entire tower collided into the ground. It was an amazing rumble that of course sparked the existential debate of a fallen tree in a forest absent of listeners. Walking between, around and through these trees creates a similar feeling to exploring a great city. The height, the culture of the environment are something I enjoy through my core. The majestic height of these trees is inspirational to me to design taller and more beautiful buildings.

Phosphates for 25cents in Oregon!

Phosphates for 25cents in Oregon!

It was tough, but we dragged ourselves back into the car for another five hour stretch of roadway. The end destination of our trip was southern Oregon. It is always exciting to visit my family here. The city where they live has a small-town feel with a very homey downtown. One of my favorite places on the main street is this old pharmacy that sells phosphate sodas for 25 cents. There is a nostalgic charm that continues to welcome us. Oregon boasts an easy-going tranquility that we rarely have seen in all of our travels. To get out of town for a while my aunt took us on a hike along the Rogue River and in the rolling hills.

Fresh beets from the farmer’s market.

Fresh beets from the farmer’s market.

At the time of our visit, the farmer’s market was abundant with local vegetables. We stocked up on several types of beets and made a delicious salad to enjoy on the deck. It was a spectacular road trip that concluded with great food, sunshine and the wonderful warmth of family.

Hanging out with the family on the porch

Hanging out with the family on the porch

Lingering in Los Angeles (by Carmen)

The movie LA Story starring Steve Martin really captures Los Angeles for me despite the fact that it came out 20 years ago.  It plays on the stereotypes of Angelenos being self-involved, superficial, apathetic road-ragers, which they can be at times.  At other times, though, there is a charming, laid back, carefree aspect to the city.  Add to this warm sandy beaches and the sunny Mediterranean climate and Los Angeles can really start to look attractive.  I am always going back and forth between love and disdain for LA.  Some of the people I love most live in the LA area, “area” being the key word since the city is so spread out.  On the other hand, I simply don’t want to spend half my life stuck in traffic on the freeway because there aren’t many viable transit options.

Roased chicken and sweet potatoes with bread seal

Decadent brownies

Nathan and I have been using LA as a home base during our time in the US.  And since we’re here we are taking advantage of the good side of LA as much as we can.  Fortunately, that has meant a lot of good food – including home cooked meals! One of my favorites has been Dorie Greenspan’s chicken in the pot recipe which Nathan and I have wanted to make ever since we saw it on the cover of her book. The dough seal on the pot means the chicken steams into juicy, tender perfection.  I also tackled some of David Lebovitz’s desserts including these incredibly fudgy brownies.  I’m happy my dad shares our love of cooking and shared his large kitchen and ample cooking tools with us  : )

Fried chicken and slaw at Manhattan Beach Post

We also had the opportunity to eat out. Manhattan Beach Post falls under the California cuisine category. To me, this means it has unique flavor combinations matched with the right cooking technique to produce food that makes you sit back in pleasure.  The menu is super varied with everything from Vietnamese influenced caramelized pork jowl to mac and cheese. But the common thread is that is all undeniably delicious.  One of my favorite dishes was a simple turkey sausage, mixed with kale and drizzled with maple syrup.  Another similar and equally yummy place is The Sunny Spot in Venice Beach.  Sadly, I didn’t get any pictures but I highly recommend it.

Guisado’s Mural

Guisados tacos

You can’t talk about food in LA without talking about tacos.  And the ones at Guisados are worth talking about.  The variety on the menu left us speechless for a while but we eventually ordered a ceviche tostada and tacos filled with rajas, carnitas, chile verde and chicken.  After so many months in South America, simple, good tacos were just what we needed.

Din Fai Tung dumplings

The Chinese community also makes up a big part of LA so it’s no wonder that it has a branch of the international chain Din Tai Fung Dumpling House.  We came here for the soup dumplings and were not disappointed.  They came steaming hot and filled with savory pork broth.  Now I just have to figure out how to get my hands on one of those dumpling shaped bobble heads they had on the counter.

Decadent Osteria Mozza

On the occasion of my Dad’s birthday we made a special outing to Osteria Mozza, which is owned by a group of chefs including Mario Battali and Nancy Silverton.  The simple clean decor, the smooth service, the sommelier’s smile all indicated we were in for a treat.  There were about 5 different burrata starters! With great difficulty we narrowed it down to one.  I then ordered simple red sauce pasta which had a perfect balance between sweet and acidic.  Nathan’s roast chicken included toast slathered with rich liver pate.  To be honest, you really don’t expect less from a place like Osteria Mozza. But it definitely delivered.

The beautiful California Coast from Palos Verdes

Like LA, these restaurants are all over the map- Venice Beach, Manhattan Beach, East LA, Arcadia, and Hollywood.  Try to hit them all and you’ll see what I mean about freeway overload. But if you can at least get yourself to some sand and surf, the road rage will begin to melt away a bit.  

A Dinner Party to Honor the Bay Area (by Nathan)

When we lived in Berkeley we cooked a lot of food.  We had friends that also cooked quite a bit.  It was natural for us to want to cook for each other, and thus the beginnings of frequent feasts.  One Saturday afternoon Nalat, Brenda, Carmen and I embarked on a long and strenuous hike in the Berkeley hills.  We did not expect to be so hungry, but after hours of no food we wanted to cook something.  That night we made a feast of fresh sushi, sashimi salad and onigiri.  Rubbing our bellies and sipping on sake we decided to begin the regular dinner party.

The potluck would be alternated between three apartments on a rotating theme chosen by one of the chefs.  For almost two years we would have a party every two to three weeks.  The themes ranged all types of cuisines, cooking methods and styles.  We cooked Chinese, Thai, Japanese (not sushi), French, Indian and we insisted on something stuffed, fermented, barbecued, lucky, vegan or using squash.  Some meals required drink pairings, another, a jug from Preston winery as the highlight, a few dinners featured homebrewed beer made by Brenda and Drew.  We even had a dinner inspired by the four elements: earth, wind, fire and water.  Each dinner was a highlight to our week, a highlight to our month and an experience bringing us closer as friends.

Our dinner party feast

So, when we returned to Berkeley for a few days, there was one thing on all of our minds: when is the dinner party? And more essentially, what would be the theme? Carmen and I chose the theme “Missing the Bay Area.”  The idea was to cook something that we could not live without from the Bay Area.  The general theme among all of us was the freshness of the ingredients.  The produce available here is unparalleled, farm to table is actually possible; I walked from talking to North Bay farmers at the market to the Brenda’s kitchen knowing exactly where my vegetables came from.

Battered squash blossoms over tomatoes and avocados

Humbolt Fog, honey and almonds

Highlighting the freshness of the ingredients, I made stuffed squash blossoms over early girl tomatoes and avocado.  I also picked up a slice of Humbolt Fog cheese that we smothered in sliced almonds and honey.  Carmen contributeda lemon, almond tea cake based on one from Tartine Bakery.

Rancho Gordo beans

Fig, raspberry and chocolate tart

Rancho Gordo beans are delicious, Brenda stewed a handful of ingredients together into a salty savory concoction deserving of seconds and thirds.  She also made a David Lebovits inspired fig and raspberry tart with Tcho chocolate drizzled over the top.

Nalat’s chapino

Oysters on the half shell

The abundance of seafood in San Francisco is amazing.  Nalat recreated a chapino that she loves from the North Beach neighborhood with mussels and crab legs.  We cracked open a few oysters and topped them with a mignonette.

Fig, prosciutto and arugula pizza

Drew put together a fig, prosciutto and arugula pizza and shared some of his hoarded Siduri wine.

We ate, we drank, and then we had a little more.  As always, the meal was a feast of delightful cuisines and treats.  We slept overly full, but dreamt hungrily of our next dinner party.

A Tourist in San Francisco (by Nathan)

Downtown SF and trolley car

Victorian buildings of San Francisco

San Francisco definitely has a charm to it.  The Victorian style homes sit shoulder-to-shoulder on rolling hillsides.  There are beautiful bridges and bounties of delicious food. Who could forget trolley cars, light rail and a commuter train- public transit for the local traveler.  To our benefit, Carmen and I were able to once again return to San Francisco, we visited some of our favorite eateries and sat in the sun enjoying the few moments of heat that we could get.

Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco City Hall

A recommendation to any tourist in SF: bring a jacket, always.  So many believe that because San Francisco is in California that it will be warm, that there is actually a summer, but it is always cold.  I too forgot and I clung onto the one long sleeve and jacket that I brought for the two weeks.  A jacket is especially necessary if you are visiting San Francisco’s most spectacular piece of architecture, the Golden Gate Bridge.  It spans the mouth of land that confines the SF Bay closing off the enormous Pacific Ocean which means it is often covered in fog.  Another favorite architectural sight is the city hall sitting prominently with a magnificent dome.

Dolores Park and SF skyline

Bi-Rite Basil, Olive Oil and honey lavender ice cream

We did find time to lie in the park.  Dolores Park is large and filled with people that try to soak up the mid-afternoon warmth before the fog seeps in over the hills.  We read, people watched and turned away the magic truffle salesman.  The sweets we had in mind were: ice cream.  Bi-rite is at the far north-east corner of Delores Park.  A mile away is another glorious ice cream institution named Humphrey Slocomb.  We ate at both (on separate days).  There was basil and olive oil infused at Bi-rite and sesame seed and Szechuan strawberry sorbet at Humphrey Slocomb.

Dry fried chicken wings at San Tung

Xiao Long Bao at Kingdom of Dumplings

We spent a handful of days visiting consulate offices in San Francisco.  It is amazing how many Visas are needed to be secured before traveling for seven months.  China was definitely the most scrupulous, but to celebrate we ate Chinese, twice! We went to San Tung for best chicken wings and Kindom of dumpling for you guessed it: dumplings.

Mission Chinese hot and spicy everything

Cheung Hing barbecued meats

And then we ate more Chinese.  I didn’t realize it fully when we left the Bay Area, but many of our favorite places pulled the spicy, oily flavors of Asia right onto our doorstep.  Our first stop was Dol Ho that serves some awesome hole-in-the-wall dim sum.  Then Mission Chinese for fiery meats and vegetables.  One of our favorite Chinese barbecue places is called Cheung Hing; juicy meat hangs in the window and fried suckling pigs are wheeled out to families preparing for a party.

Chairman Bao food truck in SF sunset

We made time for street food.  San Francisco has a blossoming street food culture with delicious food trucks and mobile eateries.  One of the best things in the Bay Area in recent years is the advent of Off The Grid.  This organization has been organizing food truck circles and street markets all around the Bay Area.  Carmen and I would attend a 10 truck one in Berkeley on Wednesdays, but the mother of all events is the Friday scene in Fort Mason with almost forty trucks.  Our favorites were Chairmen Bao’s tofu steamed bun, Happy Dumpling, Azalina’s Malasian banana balls and copious amounts of Magnolia beer.

Phở roll at Rice, Paper Scissors

The next day we decided to get even more of the action at the annual Street Food Festival in the Mission neighborhood.  This conference and festival is fun because trucks and restaurants mix to provide a “small item,” “large item” and drink.  Our favorite was a mushroom phở roll at Rice, Paper Scissors.  From sambusas, bread pudding and pão de queijo; this event had it all.

A glorious Tartine Bakery assortment

One of the best places on this planet for baked goods is Tartine.  There is something wrong with how good everything is at this place.  We went a couple times, but our favorites are the bread pudding, croissant, and their country bread loaf.  We also had a toasted almond and pecorino sandwich that was so rich that we needed to take a nap afterwards.  One night we cooked with some friends and re-created their lemon almond tea cake, very easy to make and absolutely delicious.

Suppenküche spätzle

Another favorite is Suppenküche, a fabulous German restaurant to die for (and die by).  Their cheesy spätzle is one of our favorite dishes alongside one a German beer from their long list of taps.

Bay Area Friends

All that food was nothing in the enjoyment of seeing all of our wonderful Bay Area friends.  We stayed in multiple houses and apartments.  We camped, slept on floors, couches and air mattresses, but the real fun was spending time with some of the people that know us best.  There were long nights drinking, dinner parties cooking up feasts, and casual lunches, brunches and late night dinners.  We truly have a family of friends in San Francisco and they will surely be missed.

Berkeley Bites (by Carmen)

Last time I wrote a about Berkeley it was to say goodbye to a city that had treated me well.  Seven months later we have returned, not as residents but as visitors.  After we attended the Sonoma wedding we ventured back to Berkeley to stay with friends and revisit old haunts.  It was wonderful to be back in a place I’m so familiar with, where it feels like I know every nook and cranny.  But as I walked around the sunny, tree lined streets, I didn’t feel regret about leaving.  I appreciated the good food and easy walkability of Berkeley but was confident I had made the right choice to move on.

Berkeley Farmer’s Market

River Dog stand at the Berkeley Farmer’s Market

There was only one moment of weakness.  On Thursday evening we attended the organic farmers market and were reminded of the bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables available in California. After the market we made our traditional stop at Vintage Berkeley to be tempted by their excellent selection of wines, all of which are priced under $25. We also made our way to the best cheese shop in the world, The Cheese Board Collective. The woman behind the counter was totally excited for our idea of stuffing squash blossoms with ricotta and immediately brought us some amazingly delicious samples to try. Following this routine with a home cooked meal constitutes what I consider to be a perfect Thursday evening, one we enjoyed many times while living here. Aside from all the friends we sorely miss, this foodie path pulled on my heartstrings the most.

Produce at Berkeley Bowl

Heirloom tomatoes!

And then there is Berkeley Bowl.  My love of food and cooking was awakened in Berkeley and I feel that this wondrous grocery store played a role.  To be sure, it is not for everyone.  The enormous variety of good quality products at low prices, not to mention their glorious produce and bulk sections, makes it popular.  With so many people there is a certain amount of jostling to be expected, especially near the bottleneck by the berry section.  But Nathan and I had a strategy: 1) divide list based on sections of the store, 2) enter, we each pick up a basket (carts will just slow you down) and try cheese sample, 3) Nathan goes to deli counter, I head over to dairy, 4) meet up around yogurts (or, more often, retrieve Nathan from nearby wine section), 5) Nathan selects meats and seafood, I find packaged and canned goods, 6) Nathan gets nuts, flour, etc. from bulk, I start in on the produce leaving my basket in a nearby aisle in order to increase maneuverability, 7) Nathan joins me in produce to select fruit, 8) get in the check-out line and breathe!  Oh how I miss it.

In fact most of the things I miss about Berkeley revolve around food.  So with that in mind I present my personal Best of Berkeley list.

Zachary’s Roma Pizza

Zachary’s Chicago Style Pizza

Best Place for Deep Dish Pizza: Zachary’s.  This place is right up there with any Chicago deep dish restaurant.  Actually, its rich tomato sauce beats out any competition.  The Bay Area deep dish debate generally revolves around Little Star (cornmeal crust) vs. Zachary’s (flaky crust), with the occasional Paxti’s lover thrown in.  I can appreciate both styles but for ambiance, employee benefits (Zachary’s is a co-op) and satisfaction guaranteed, I will always head to Zachary’s.

Thin crust from The Cheese Board

Cherry corn scone and english muffin from The Cheese Board

Best Place for Thin Crust Pizza: The Cheese Board Collective.  Another co-op run pizzeria (hey, this is Berkeley!) makes my Best of Berkeley list.  Quite simply, it serves the best veggie pizzas with lots of garlic and herbs piled on a chewy crust.  Plus they give you the bonus half slice with each order. Go to the shop and bakery next door to sample any cheese you can think of a grab a cherry corn scone.

Chilaquiles Verdes from Picante

Best Place to Get Over a Hangover: Picante.  When does good Mexican food not make one feel instantly better?  And for the perfect pick me up, I have two words: chilequiles verdes.  A tangy tomatillo sauce is scooped onto two fried eggs accompanied by rich black beans.  Sop it all up with fresh tortillas.  Wash it down with a cinnamon sweet cafe de olla.  Heaven. Evidence of its excellence: Nathan and I ALWAYS order different dishes at restaurants in order to share and have more variety.  When it comes to Picante’s chilaquiles verdes, we do not share. We each order our own.

ACME Bread

Best Place to Buy Bread: ACME.  In a tiny little bakeshop on the corner of Cedar and San Pablo, the glory of good bread is celebrated.  Everything is good here.  Puts all other supermarket breads to shame.

Brazil Cafe

Tri-tip sandwich at Brazil Cafe

Best Place to Eat Al Fresco: Brazil Cafe.  Walking past this cheery food stand with the Brazilian music blasting round the clock, it’s hard not to stop.  They rope you in with lots of grilled goodies, either stuffed in sandwiches or on top of rice. And then they drizzle on a tangy green garlic sauce that takes it to a whole other level.

Yes, more pizza. This time at Gather

Best Place to be a Localvore: Gather.  The inventive cuisine at Gather is already well known as it was one of the first to really push eating locally.  And they do it in style, with plenty of great vegetarian and vegan options that are packed with flavor.  Their pizzas are excellent and have these special crusts in which the dough is somehow pinched to create pearls of bread around the pie. Yum.

Bakesale Betty sandwich with a strawberry shortcake

Best Place to That Sells Only One Thing: Bakesale Betty.  Ok fine, it sells maybe 5 things and is technically in Oakland.  But you really only go there for one thing – the fried chicken sandwich.  It’s perfectly crunchy and crispy and topped with well-dressed jalapeno coleslaw that rocks.  Followed with a strawberry shortcake or cookie, it’s a decadent treat perfect for a sunny afternoon.

Salsas and tacos at Comal

Best Place to Feel Like You Are In SF: Comal.  This restaurant opened in the 7 months that we were gone and we are already sad that it wasn’t here sooner. Berkeley has some great food but for that buzzing, urban cool ambiance we usually head across the Bay to SF.  But this place was hopping on a Monday night, maybe because their sophisticated cocktails are hard to resist.  As for the high-end Mexican food, we were pretty much licking the plate.

View of the Golden Gate from the Berkeley Hills

And of course there’s more. Phil’s Sliders for its perfectly proportioned gourmet mini-burgers. La Note for its scrumptious French style breakfasts. Ippuku for its awesomely authentic Japanese izakaya cuisine. La Mediterranee, for its completely addictive, savory sweet chicken filo rolls.  Cafe Coulucci for its Ethiopian stews to be sopped up with the spongy, sour injera bread.  I could never name all the places.  All I can say is thank you, Berkeley, for supporting my eating habit with such good options!

California Coast, Vineyards and Food For the Sol (by Carmen)

Four feet dangling over the sand

Point A: Home base in Los Angeles

Point B: Friend’s wedding in Sonoma

There are various ways to get from point A to B, but Nathan and I chose to take it slow. A mini road trip to enjoy the changing landscapes of the California coast was in order. As we pulled out of LA the hip beaches quickly gave way to rocky shores lined with oak trees. First stop: Santa Barbara.

Sunset in Santa Barbara

Rocky central coast beach

Nathan has fond memories of Santa Barbara based on the many family camping vacations that took place here in his youth. My family enjoyed Santa Barbara as well but since they aren’t exactly the camping sort, they had different reasons. One of them was La Super Rica.  We happened upon this gem years ago after learning that it was one of Julia child’s favorites. We went and we fell in love. The love has since spread to Nathan and his family.  Indeed, it has become Nathan’s favorite Mexican restaurant in California!

La Super Rica lunch (and dinner)

This little white and blue, divey looking shack is now a Santa Barbara institution.  It is not a typical California burrito stand; it’s better than that. Instead it serves much more authentic and complexly flavored dishes, often on heavenly handmade tortillas. On this occasion, Nathan and I indulged in a veggie tamal (corn husk stuffed with maize dough) covered in crema, rich rajas (sautéed Anaheim pepper strips), delicious chicken sopes, and a queso fundido (melted cheese) studded with chorizo and onions.  Add a Jamaica drink and our feast came in at under $30. Best deal ever.

Rolling Paso Robles hills

From Santa Barbara we made our way to Pismo Beach, a cute little town right on the water. Our mission here was to make our way to Sans Liege, a special little winery with vineyards around the Paso Robles area. In their tasting room we enjoyed smooth whites, reds and rosés poured by a winemaker with a heavy French accent.

Wildflowers at Tres Sabores

“Yeah…I’m standing in my food been. Your point is?”

We set up camp for the night and headed off the next morning through the rolling hills towards Napa. Nathan and I were lucky enough to be invited to the rehearsal dinner at our favorite winery, Tres Sabores.  The wines, staff, ambiance of this special place are all cozy and laid back, somewhat rare qualities in Napa.

Spring Lake campground

View from Rockpile Winery in Sonoma

After dinner we set up camp again, this time at the charming Spring Lake.  With all the wedding activities we didn’t have time to go tasting but just being in the area brought back nostalgic memories of wine tastings past.

Barrels of wine

Old truck

Finally we made it to point B, the beautiful wedding on a Sonoma winery. The vintage truck at the entrance set the easy going Sonoma chic tone for everything. After the touching ceremony we enjoyed delicious food, good people and a rocking dance floor.  Really, what more could you ask for? Congratulations Julia and Jonathan!

The bright and shiny Sol Food

Pollo al horno at Sol Food

To finish off a great weekend we headed over to another amazing restaurant, Sol Food.  Basically, the food at this Puerto Rican eatery is too good for words. My thoughts while eating here usually start with “how” as in, “How do they get this chicken soooo tender? How is this rice so wonderfully garlicky? How is this shrimp so perfectly fried? How is all their food just so damn good???” I love everything the chefs send out of the kitchen at Sol Food but the customer gets to put the finishing touch. On each table there is a bright orange, tangy hot sauce that is the perfect balance of spicy and sour. As soon as the plates touch the table Nathan excitedly douses everything and I happily let him.

Schwieger vineyard

Wine country was a wonderful part of our life per-year off.  California is beautiful with its rolling hills green trees and vineyards.  It was a great way to be reintroduced to the Bay Area as we spend the next couple weeks catching up with old friends and attending yet another wedding!

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