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Chinese Cheap Eats in Los Angeles

Friday, 19. October 2012 5:25

Hainan chicken -- comfort on a plate at Savoy Kitchen.

LOS ANGELES and VICINITY — Hainan chicken is pure comfort food to me. It’s nothing fancy. But there’s just something wonderfully satisfying about a plate of tender poached chicken served with rice infused with the resulting savory chicken broth.

So, when Chef Will Pacio of Spice Kit in San Francisco and Palo Alto recommended Savoy Kitchen in Alhambra, famous for its Hainanese chicken rice, I knew I had to check it out.

With its European sounding name and bistro-type outdoor seating flanked by trees lit up with strings of blinking lights, it hardly resembles an Asian restaurant from the outside. Inside, the space is tiny, with just a few tables and some counter seating. It also has a rather head-scratching menu. Yes, there is the Hainan chicken. But there’s also escargot, sausage pasta, and conch pizza. Go figure.

We were there for the Hainan chicken, of course. For $6.95, you get an ample portion of chicken, served traditionally at room temperature, along with a mound of rice that has soaked up all that chicken-y flavor, and three dipping sauces: pounded ginger, chili with garlic and sweet dark soy. For $1 more, you can exchange a portion of the rice for a simple iceberg salad with tomatoes and a creamy Italian-esque dressing instead.

The white meat chicken was juicy, and the rice moist and slightly oily from all that chicken-y goodness. Smear some ginger sauce over it all and experience total contentment.

The place was packed on a Saturday night. There were plenty of folks picking up take-out, too. With chicken this good, who can blame them?

The Din Tai Fung dumpling mascot greets you at the door.

What I wouldn’t give for a Din Tai Fung in the Bay Area. But alas, this dumpling house out of Taiwan only has locations in the United States in Seattle and Los Angeles.

Whenever I’m in Los Angeles, I have to stop into the Din Tai Fung in Arcadia. Actually, there are two in Arcadia, practically right next to one another. There’s almost always a line to get in. But because they’re so efficient (think servers with headphones who roam the dining room while always in communication with the kitchen), the wait is never that long.

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Category:General, Great Finds, Restaurants, Travel Adventures | Comments (7) | Author:

Three Sweet Treats in Los Angeles

Thursday, 18. October 2012 5:25

Fonuts "Hawaiian'' donut (front) and "Banana Chocolate'' (back).

LOS ANGELES & VICINITY — During a quick weekend trip down to Southern California recently, my sweet tooth got a major workout at three stellar places.

First up, Fonuts, the donuts that are almost guilt-free. That’s because they’re not fried, but are baked or steamed. Moreover, many of them also are vegan or gluten-free.

Fonuts of Los Angeles is the creation of Waylynn Lucas, formerly pastry chef at  The Bazaar and Patina, both in Los Angeles; and voice actor Nancy Truman.

The donuts, about $3 each, have a moist, tender crumb and a texture akin to a tea cake or muffin.

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Category:Bakeries, Chefs, Donuts, Fruit, General, Great Finds, Travel Adventures | Comments (9) | Author:

A Visit to the California Vineyard Nearest to the Pacific Ocean

Friday, 14. September 2012 5:07

Mediterranean summer flatbreads to enjoy with wines at Fort Ross Vineyward's new tasting room.

Last month after three years in the making, Fort Ross Vineyard opened the doors to its brand-new tasting room in Jenner — less than a mile from the Pacific Ocean.

That also makes it the only tasting room in the newly established Fort Ross-Seaview AVA on the Sonoma Coast that was approved late last year.

It’s an appropriate location for it, given that Fort Ross, a historic Russian settlement, was where the first grapes were planted in Northern California in 1817.

Husband-and-wife, Lester and Linda Schwartz, who met as students at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, started their Fort Ross Vineyard 12 years ago. The winery produces Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and the signature varietal from the Schwartz’s native land of South Africa, Pinotage. Indeed, it’s one of the few producers of Pinotage in the United States.

All in all, they produce 5,000 cases in total annually. Their winemaker is the acclaimed Jeff Pisoni. The first vintage by Pisoni, the 2009 Fort Ross Vineyard Chardonnay was chosen as one of the top 100 wines of 2011 by Wine Enthusiast.

The exterior of the tasting room.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of sitting down with the Schwartzs in the new tasting room, set amid redwood forests and boasting views of the ocean.

Owners Lester and Linda Schwartz, originally from South Africa.

Their personal story is as intriguing as their wines. The couple fled South Africa 40 years ago because of the political unrest during the apartheid era. They settled in the Bay Area. Linda was a pianist and classical music composer. Lester became the first South African licensed to practice law in California.

He happened to be driving up this hilly area one day when he spotted the property and just fell in love with it.

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Category:Chefs, General, Going Green and Sustainable, Travel Adventures, Wine | Comments (7) | Author:

A Taste of the Breathtaking Sonoma Coast at Timber Cove Inn

Thursday, 13. September 2012 5:25

The famous Benny Bufano obelisk that soars over the Timber Cove Inn's property

Timber Cove Inn, in the tiny town of Jenner not far from Bodega Bay, was originally opened 49 years ago, making it more than twice as old as its current chef.

Executive Chef Benjamin St. Clair of the inn’s Alexander’s restaurant is all of 22 years of age.

But he’s been working in kitchens since he was 16 and has worked with the likes of Bay Area Chef Joey Altman. He may be barely old enough to drink legally, but his prowess behind the burners is already evident.

Last month, I had a chance to experience his cooking when I was invited to be a guest of the inn, located about 90 miles north of San Francisco, just off a narrow, twisty section of Highway 1, where you’ll likely encounter cyclists precariously hugging the non-existent shoulder and cows grazing just inches from the road.

The inn sits on 25 acres of rugged cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. How gorgeous is the setting? So breathtaking that the late famed photographer Ansel Adams often captured the images of the seaside scenery.

The full totem with the inn in the foreground.

A seat with a view.

The view from an ocean-front room.

There are pathways that meander around the picturesque grounds, along with strategically placed Adirondack chairs to just take a moment to bask in the view. And fire pits so you can enjoy the outdoors even when night falls.

You can’t missed the soaring Benny Bufano Peace Obelisk that stands 93 feet tall. The totem, erected during the Cold War era, depicts the Madonna and child, with an outstretched hand at the top. You can actually pick you way up a rocky path to get to the obelisk, which technically encompasses one of California’s tiniest parks, according to Keith Hill, the inn’s general manager. Would you believe that the hand was transported to the top by helicopter — and accidentally put on backward by the sculptor’s assistants? But when Bufano saw it, Hill says, he liked it so much he didn’t complain.

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A Taste of Old and New at Madrona Manor in Healdsburg

Thursday, 23. August 2012 5:25

What a way to start the meal, but with an egg that tastes smoky and a leaf that tastes like an oyster.

You wouldn’t normally expect to find trendy, liquid nitrogen-molecular gastronomy cooking going on inside an 1881-era Victorian mansion.

But at Madrona Manor in Healdsburg, that’s just what you’ll enjoy at the acclaimed Michelin one-star restaurant on the premises of this 22-room historic inn nestled in the hills above the Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County.

Recently, I was invited to be a guest of the inn, which is charmingly decorated with period antiques and art pieces, including hand-painted wooden dolls and a framed Victorian lace wedding gown. The rooms feature fireplaces and claw-foot tubs. Homemade chocolate chip cookies are left by the bedside to welcome you.

The historic Madrona Manor.

Executive Chef Jesse Mallgren has cooked alongside some of the biggest names in the industry, including Jeremiah Tower and Gary Danko.

He draws inspiration from local ingredients, including the 3/4-acre organic garden on the premises, where he harvests tomatoes, herbs, greens and fruit that show up in many dishes on the menu.

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