Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

State Bird Provisions: Inside nation's best restaurant

March 26th, 2014
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statebirdlegsSquab leg on pancake at State Bird Provisions, named the James Beard Awards Best New Restaurant 2013.Nadine Kam photos

SAN FRANCISCO — Travel is a great barometer as to where Hawaii stands in the culinary scene, and while the food in our state has improved greatly over the past two decades, there's no such thing as resting on laurels because excellence is a moving target.

I was in the San Francisco area, meeting up with relatives in Fremont for a wedding, so only had one night in the city for dinner and my options were Nopa or State Bird Provisions. Being a bit of a weirdo, I couldn't resist the audacity of the latter, which began life with the premise of serving up the state bird, the California quail, symbolic of hardiness and adaptability.

Now that's something you wouldn't see in Hawaii with the endangered nene!

I'm not that keen about eating small birds that are more bones than meat, so thankfully, the restaurant's chef-proprietors Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski moved on to other local, organic and well-crafted ingredients.

And yet ... the restaurant is known for its savory pancakes, so I ordered the confit squab short stack with maple vinegar and candy cap powder, and it was more than enough to change my mind about the appeal of small birds. It was only after polishing off the thigh that I looked down and realized they were still attached to the bird's gnarled claws!

That's the other thing about this place. I had to inhale my meal. As the nation's Best New Restaurant 2013, as deemed by the James Beard Awards committee, it's one of the Holy Grails of restaurants and therefore, I was told, impossible to get into. People must log onto the restaurant's website precisely at midnight 60 days before their desired reservation date to get a seat.statecartOrder off the menu or dim sum style, off carts and trays bearing many tempting delicacies, from single oysters and up. I really wanted the halibut and avocado atop a nori cracker, but I had to eat and run.

But, parsing the words on the restaurant's website, I learned that they do save room for walk-ins on a first-come basis, and I've never had trouble getting into popular restaurants. It helps to show up early as a single or couple, and be willing to dine at the bar.

The trouble came when a 15-minute rest turned into a three-hour snooze and I missed the 5:30 p.m. opening time. I got there at 6:30 and spotted a single opening at the bar, but they said that was spoken for. They did have a two-top available, but that meant eating and running in 45 minutes when the reserved party was due to arrive. Done!

Having got in, I thought that was easy enough, but later I was told walk-ins regularly wait in line two hours to get in.

If you're curious as to what goes into a restaurant worthy of being called the nation's best, great food is a given. Here, it's casual, and I would say not much different from dozens of great restaurants across the nation. But, restaurateurs also have to get the attention of jaded food writers who have "seen it all."

State Bird Provisions wins points with memorable service, delivering contemporary American cuisine dim sum style. Order off the menu to start, but don't pick up enough for your entire meal. It's worth waiting for waiters to appear with trays or pushing carts provisioned with amazing appetizers and ingredients starting at $2. The small plates command attention and there's nothing froufrou or "arranged" about them. The hearty ingredients are filling and I still marvel about the simple, delicious elegance of a salad of hearts of palm, avocado, yuba and tahini.

I started with three dishes, and it was hard to pass up smoked trout and avocado  dip served with chips. Unfortunately, with time flying by, I didn't have time to try the nori cracker topped with halibut and avocado, king salmon tartare with fermented turnips, or pork belly-blood orange salad. Maybe next time I'll make a real reservation.
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State Bird Provisions is in the Western Addition at 1529 Fillmore St., San Francisco. Open
5:30 to 10 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays, and 5:30 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Call 415.795.1272.

statebirdroomIn addition to table seating, a bar on the right side of the restaurant overlooks the food prep.

 

statecrabSpicy Dungeness crab kimchi with yuba and smoked egg. Unfortunately, I think the kimchi flavors overwhelmed the sweet crab.

statebirdHearts of palm salad with avocado, pomelo and tahini-chili oil, $13. I rarely take food to go when I'm traveling, because there's always an abundance of restaurants to try, but this was worth doggie-bagging and it was just as delicious the morning after.

statechipsChips with smoked trout and avocado dip, $9.

stateplateOn my way out of the restaurant, I passed this artichoke, quinoa and chickpea tabouleh on a tray awaiting delivery.

 

Crystal Cruises Serenity, journey of 4 hours

February 6th, 2014
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crystalAt the entry to Crystal Cruises Serenity ship, with first- and second-story lounges.Nadine Kam photos

I'm always looking for different dining experiences, so that's how I found myself on board Crystal Cruises Serenity when it docked in Honolulu Harbor Jan. 25 as part of its "Pacific Ocean Odyssey" voyage to Tokyo and Yokohama, Japan, with stops in Guam and Saipan.

While in harbor, cruise passengers are allowed to invite friends on board for dinner, or you might be able to arrange it as part of a sales tour.

I've heard about Crystal Cruises wonderful restaurants, and have always been intrigued by the idea of cruise dining because it can be several days before the ship arrives in ports allowing the pantry to be restocked, no such thing as emergency shopping. While in Hawaii, I definitely saw regional influences on the menu in the formal Crystal Dining Room.

Once on board, it's very tempting to stow away. Who wouldn't want to head on to Tokyo, without the hassle of air travel?

Only the idea of leaving our pets at home to starve over the next few weeks got us to our feet before the ship set sail at midnight.

cdiningroomThe Crystal Dining Room.

crystalcasinoThe journey to Tokyo takes seven days. When you're not dining, you can spend time in the casino. It was tempting to put some money in the slot machines, but they are locked when the ship reaches Honolulu Harbor.

crystalsalmonSalmon tataki and poke salad with julienne carrots, daikon and beets. (more…)

Explore Hyatt Regency Waikiki Farmer's Market

January 29th, 2014
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hyattcaneOne of the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Farmers Market vendors is Lincoln Vo, “the sugar cane guy,” who runs stalks of cane through a specialized cold-press juicer for a full cup ($4.50) of pure sugar cane juice, with a touch of calamansi. We've been taught to fear products associated with sugar, but according to the Livestrong organization, sugar cane juice keeps glucose levels constant. It’s also an alkalizing drink that decreases acid and is full of essential minerals.Nadine Kam photos

As soon as Sven Ullrich took on executive chef duties at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki in fall 2011, he embraced all things local, and then some. He scoured markets for all Hawaii had to offer, from fresh seafood to artisan cheeses to tropical fruit including cheesy mabolos, puddinglike sapotes, mangosteens, jackfruit and dragonfruit, items not common on local tables.

A native of Hamburg, Germany, he sampled everything in order to fairly represent Hawaii on his menus. “It was very interesting for me. I had to try everything, Rainbow Drive-In, all the L&Ls. It’s been very fun and very educational.”


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That early experience has led to a new farmers market, introduced last fall, that takes place 4 to 8 p.m. Thursdays at the Hyatt. The chef selects purveyors whose locally made products he loves and who aren’t widely known, understanding that these artisan food companies could use a boost to make their efforts sustainable. One of the newest products is a delicious Kona coffee butter spread made in Waimanalo by Eric “Fats” Gaspar and his wife, Kahea, infused with Kona coffee from Kuni Goto. It’s delicious spread on toast, bagels, pancakes, waffles or steak, at $10 a jar.

What's more, the Hyatt is also starting a boutique project of its own, introducing an apiary housing 20,000 honeybees, which by summer may result in enough honey to serve in its restaurants and to make available at the farmers market.

“We’re working on the bottles and labeling now,” Ullrich said. “It’ll be 100 percent sustainable for the hotel.”

A whirl around the market:

hyattplateKalihi Corner's Tiffany Bracero, left, offers her local specialties ($8 per plate), including hamburger steak, beef stew, stuffed pork chops, and shoyu pork with turnips and black mushroom, ewith a touch of star anise.

hyattmoreWhat's a farmer's market without plenty of beautiful fruit and veggies?

hyattfruitLilikoi from Frankie's Nursery.

hyattmalaThere's fruit cream-, chocolate- and custard-filled malasadas for about $1.75 apiece.

hyattccSpun Paradise's yummy cotton candy is made from 100 percent organic cane sugar and contains no additives or dyes. Among flavors are lychee, pineapple, mango, coconut, sea salt caramel, macadamia nut and lili­koi. A 2-ounce container goes for $4. Don’t feel bad about eating it all — it has only 75 calories per container.

hyattmacawOne of the market's fans, a hyacinth macaw. When I last saw him, he was eating a Thai summer roll.

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Thailand eats Part 2: Terminal 21

September 15th, 2013
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Coconut candy on the ground floor of Terminal 21, one of the major malls along the Sky Train route, Asoke station. Nadine Kam photos

BANGKOK, THAILAND — At Terminal 21, one of the major malls in Bangkok, one of the food courts is set up like a marketplace for individual street-style vendors. It's cool that the cost of food is also no more than street cost so that you can get a full plate for about USD$1 to $1.50. One day I splurged and got a plate and a fresh fruit smoothie for a whopping $3!

You put money on a food court card before ordering at the various vendors so they don't have to deal with cash or make change to keep traffic flowing.

Which made it sad to come home and go back to paying $12 for a sandwich and smoothie here.

On the ground floor there's another area for confection sellers, ranging from Dairy Queen to locals hawking coconut and jelly candies and other treats.

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Someone who saw this photo when I posted it to Facebook said he wouldn't eat this. I looked at it and said, "I have to eat that!" Various forms of pork with hard-boiled eggs stewing together. Below, the pork plate for 45 baht, about USD$1.50 with rice, egg, pickled vegetables. I added the chili peppers from a condiment tray.

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Condiments.

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Jelly candies.

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Looks more like a street marketplace than mall food court setup.

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People on lunch break await smoothies.

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Cups are filled with fresh fruit awaiting blending into all-fruit smoothies. They do add a bit of sugar, but you can request no sugar.

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The Terminal 21 mall is loosely set up to duplicate airline terminals around the world. On the "Paris" level, there are macarons and Western-style desserts like the chocolate mousse cakes below.

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Thailand eats Part I: Open air

September 15th, 2013
By



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This chicken, coated with a light, sweet barbecue sauce was delicious. I negotiated 20 baht, about .65 cents, for two pieces, at the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. — Nadine Kam photos

The mobile food vendor has made a comeback in the West, but the Thais are experts, hawking everything from noodle soups to grilled meat to dessert on land and on dirty water.

I knew I wanted to eat the street food so it's recommended that those traveling to Thailand get immunized against hepatitis A. I also got tetanus and typhoid injections, but the hep A hurt the most and I was left with a big bruise! What we go through for a taste of authenticity.

What is also authentic is getting ripped off. I was warned to watch out for the taxi drivers, but you never know what's going to happen when you get into a cab. I caught a cab outside the royal palace, a good place to scoop up tourists. I was heading for the Jim Thompson house, and the cab driver seemed friendly enough. Then, the scam starts. First, he says he's going to make one stop for gas. So I goes, "Fine. Just one stop."

Then as we're moving along, he says he's going to take me to a jewelry gallery and if I look around, they'll give him a free liter of gas. "You just have to look 10 minutes," he said.

Sigh. "All right, but no more than that. I have to meet someone for dinner," I said.

Later on, he says it's not good enough to look for 10 minutes. I have to make it look good, 20 minutes before they'll give him gas. And if I buy, they'll fill his tank!

I actually did have to buy a gift for someone, but later he asked, hopefully, if I had spent $10,000 baht, about $350. "Forget it," I said.

Nevertheless, I booked him to take me to the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market the following day. And he cheated me again, taking me to the tourist entry area, where I had to pay $2,500 baht, about $80, to get on a boat to get to the market, instead of the walk-in entry. I actually did want to get on the water, and probably would have ended up paying around that anyway, but I just didn't like the way it was done. (It's basically the same cost for one person as a couple, because the boat operator's time cost is the same.)

They have the tourist thing down, snapping my photo on the boat so that a plate bearing my image was waiting for me on my return, about $7. I bought it because I didn't want a picture of me circulating around Thailand!

A lot of times the drivers will also turn off their meters. One did that when I went to the airport and I caught him midway through, so I asked him how much he would charge me. He said $600 baht, about $21. The real cost is about $400 baht, or $14, so I told him that's all I was paying. Arguing with taxi drivers became tiresome, so at the airport I converted all my baht to dollars. I didin't feel like going back to Thailand.

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Two of these tourists ran their hands through the dirty water. Why they would do that, I don't know.

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Market vendor of bananas and mangosteen. Sure, the market is touristy, but the boats also provide a service to the community,  making their way from home to home to hawk their fare. The women trade with each other, and as you can see below, socialize while eating their own cooking.

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Fish, chicken and pork on the grill in Sukhumvit.

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Waiting for the hungry in Sukhumvit.

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The plastic to go bags at left contain sauce.

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Meatballs and sausages being offered on the streets of Lumphini.

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Fish and skewered, barbecued frog (they looked like toads) were offered by this Lumphini vendor.

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This bag of cockles being sold in the Lumphini district was 35 baht, roughly USD$1.12.


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There was construction and a lot of dust flying going on behind these Sukhumvit vendors.