San Francisco

After 11 days of sun and sand in Miami and Turks & Caicos, we were ready for some city. I hadn’t been to San Francisco for a very long time and forgot what a great vibe it has. It doesn’t have the intensity and excitement of New York, it’s more like a warm friend who is happy to see you again. Very walkable (some would disagree with all those hills!), lots of helpful polite people, good food and plenty to do. We did see a lot of homeless though which was quite confronting and heartbreaking.

On our very first morning to re-acquaint ourselves we hired a GoCar. These GPS guided three wheelers are sort of a cross between a car and a motorcycle and great fun.   The GPS tells you where to head as well as giving you some interesting commentary along the way, and plenty of opportunities to stop, take photos and look around. Loved it and recommend it. Bookings can be made online.sanfran (2)

It takes you on a really nice route along the water, and drivers are generally very considerate of the GoCars, which don’t go overly fast. You’ll stop at various points and beaches, getting progressively closer to the Golden Gate Bridge.sanfran (3)

You’ll also stop at the beautiful Palace of Fine Arts.sanfran (4)

Along the way you’ll pass some very nice – and no doubt seriously expensive – real estate.sanfran (23)

And there’s the drive down the crooked Lombard Street which gives the GoCar breaks (and your wrists) a serious workout.

In the neighbourhood nearby is Chestnut Street with its own little shopping strip. Stop in at Delarosa, a bustling, family friendly neighbourhood Italian. Delicious pasta and pizza at great prices, beautiful mixed Summer tomato panzanella salad. Loved the Zucca Highball drink too.sanfran (20)

Save room for dessert, because the “Coppa” desserts are worth having.sanfran (10)

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Around the corner on Fillmore is Woodhouse Fish Company, which serves up some very fresh and well priced seafood, including $1 oysters on Tuesdays. I liked the DIY iced tea – they give you a glass of ice and freshly squeezed lemon juice, then you add the tea and sugar syrup to your liking.sanfran (8)

The steamed clams were delicious, and the fish had a nice light crispy batter.  Lobster roll was disappointing though.

woodhouse_markedFor Modern Californian, give Nopa a whirl. They have a woodfire oven here and use it well, you could taste the smokiness, even in the slow cooked nine hour Bolognese.  They used fried quinoa with the squid, which I hadn’t seen done before and it added a lovely texture to the dish.sanfran (28)

sanfran (29)On the sightseeing front there is so much to do both in the city and its surrounds that it’s hard to know where to start. Note that the SF MOMA is unfortunately closed until 2016 – do go if you’re there after that, fabulous museum.

Half an hour from the city is Muir Woods in Marin County, where the giant redwoods live. You can do various walks, none are particularly strenuous. Best to go early – we got there at about 8.30am and by the time we finished our walk around 10.30am there were a hoard of tour buses and a long line of cars streaming in, the blissful silence was lessened.sanfran (26)

On the way back you can stop in the pretty town of Sausalito for a stroll. Some lovely art galleries and cafes here too.sanfran (27)

I also did a bit of a reminiscence walk around Berkeley (catch the BART), where I did a finance course many years ago. It’s a very pretty university campus, though the town has lost some of its distinct ‘hippiness’ that it had when I was there.sanfran (19)

For a bit of history head over to Alcatraz. But be warned you need to book tickets several weeks in advance. We were there on 9 July (I booked our tickets back in May), and the next available tour date?sanfran (14)

Although it has deteriorated, you can easily imagine the bleak life of the prisoners. Crime doesn’t pay!sanfran (17)

sanfran (18)From the Alcatraz pier you can stroll over to the Exploratorium, which is an awesome science museum for kids (though I have to say the Marito and I enjoyed it very much). It has lots of exhibits that cover concepts around motion, sound, light, spatial perspective, technology and nature; you can easily spend 2-3 hours here. Avoid mornings when all the school groups come.sanfran (13)

Back on the food trail, at Embarcadero you’ll find the Ferry Plaza, and on several days of the week, the Farmers Market. There is some beautiful produce for sale, and different food stalls on different days – Thursday seemed to be the most popular food stall day. We had some excellent organic coffee there too.sanfran (21)

sanfran (22)Inside the Ferry Plaza building there are permanent stores selling bread, cheese, wine, homewares, as well as restaurants and cafes.sanfran (6)

sanfran (7)In the Mission District (catch the BART to Mission 16th Street) you’ll find San Francisco’s famous Tartine Bakery. Out of the city, on a residential type street, mid morning on a grey and drizzly Wednesday, there was a line out the door and you couldn’t move inside. It’s worse on weekends. Great coffee and plenty of treats on offer. Below is a pain au chocolat (flaky and light), their famed morning bun (we loved it, that was the favourite), the frangipane tart (take it or leave it) and the chocolate tea cake (good distinct chocolate flavour but not too heavy).tartine1_markedsanfran (12)

To go to have later we bought a lemon tart (tangy, I thought it was decent but not great, though the Marito loved it) and the chocolate hazelnut tart which was disappointing, not hazelnutty enough. I have to say that our own Lorraine comes up trumps on the tart stakes.sanfran (15)

I didn’t get to try the sourdough bread they are particularly famous for – they don’t sell bread in the mornings. It’s a bit of a trade-off – go in the mornings, miss the bread. Go in the afternoons, miss the morning bun and other treats.

I have to have one burger while I am in the US and a friend suggests Super Duper Burgers. It’s a straight forward burger with a tasty patty – but what I really noticed is the freshness of the other ingredients such as lettuce and tomato, which bring it together very nicely.sanfran (9)

For some Modern Californian Italian fusion, there’s Jersey on 2nd Street. Instead of traditional arancini, here they are done with tuna confit; the polenta with rosemary, honey and pecorino; and I adored the soft shell crab salad which had a bit of a kick.sanfran (24)

The ragu was done with guanciale making it rich and hearty, with nicely made papardelle; and a good pizza selection too. Very friendly service.sanfran (25)
We finished with some cannoli – four cannoli for six bucks? Bit of a no brainer.sanfran (5)

There is plenty more to do, some of which I did last time I was here and skipped this time – like the Powell-Hyde cable car (go in the afternoon if you can, morning queues can be huge), going up the Coit Tower for sweeping city views, and strolling around neighbourhoods like China Town and Haight Ashbury.

We stayed at the Saint Regis Hotel on 3rd Street. Very impressed with the service, a really solid hotel, and a great location very close to Union Square, all the shopping, public transport and plenty of restaurants. The kids liked their welcome goody pack.sanfran (1)

We also had some seriously amazing pancakes at their breakfast restaurant, Vitrine (the photo does not do them justice). I’m trying to get my hands on the recipe.sanfran (16)

Thanks for having us SF!

Turks and Caicos Islands, the Carribean

turks (8)A short flight away from Miami lies the Caribbean and its crystal clear seas.  There are over seven hundred islands in the Carribean, which one to choose?  After speaking to a few friends who were living or had lived in the US, we decided on Turks and Caicos.  The largest island in TCI, as its referred to, is Providenciales. Provo as the locals call it, and has its own little airport so its an easy 90 minute flight directly from Miami. We’re in British territory here, so are greeted with a photo of Queen Elizabeth and a wave of the British flag.

We hop into our taxi and head towards the Grace Bay Club.  The reception area is so pretty…turks (5)

…and our room is lovely and spacious.turks (10)turks (1)

And then we look out the window of our room towards Grace Bay beach.  This will do quite nicely for a week, thank you very much.turks (6)

Oh, the luxury of this clear, warm water and its clean white sand.  What a place to swim!  What I also liked is that there were no cruise liners to big ships, they aren’t allowed at Grace Bay, which often makes those ‘world’s most beautiful beaches’ list.  You might see a little dingy or a small speed boat occasionally, but that’s about it. No high rises either.  I wonder if it will still be the same here in twenty years time.turks (2)turks (3)

See those blue skies? It is pretty much like that all year round; it only rains here about 8 days a year. Though visitors generally avoid August and September when the heat gets intense.

Restaurants on the island tend to be expensive, particularly as almost everything is imported.    But there is plenty of locally caught fish on offer, they will let you know which ones.  I did like Café Caicos and Coco Bistro, the latter among pretty palms.turks (18)

But my pick of the food was the Thursday Provo Fish Fry, where there are various casual food stalls, local crafts, and some live music.  It’s loud and lively and colourful.  We had some fabulous jerk chicken, and the promised fried fish was just delicious.turks (17)turks (16)turks (11)turks (12)

There’s a cute little village to stroll through, and a nightly ice cream stop was deemed mandatory by the young Masters Napoli. There were a few to choose from; my favourite was The Patty Place, which had creamy Jamaican ice cream.turks (19)

This was a fabulous week of relaxation.  Sun and sea, the pool and a few good books, an evening stroll, in a glorious setting. Doesn’t get much better than that.turks (13)turks (7)turks (9)turks (14)turks (15)

South Beach, Miami

Standing in the queue to board the flight, we are chatting to a native New Yorker. “You know”, he says to us, “Miami used to be the place where old people went to die, then BOOM, now it’s the hip place to be”. Got it. We get to South Beach and I can see what he means, bars, clubs, restaurants, trendy hotels, art deco bought to life, and of course that long long stretch of beach. Lots of young couples, families, girls on a weekend getaway, bucks groups.

We stay at The Setai, an Asian inspired hotel on Collins, where the surrounds are serene and the service excellent. Collins Street is the main strip, right on the beach where you’ll find most of the larger hotels. In June, we are in what is considered the start of “low season” as it’s the time of year where the heat really starts to crank up and the humidity can as well, but it was nothing over the top. Avoid August and September, when it is apparently unbearable, and lots of places shut down.

We have a lovely view from our room. First thing in the morning it is deserted and quiet. Quite different to somewhere like our own Gold Coast where early morning you’ll see hundreds of people power walking, casually strolling or (13)

By late morning it’s a rainbow of colour, umbrellas and beds set up calling the beachgoers, the music turns on and the day (11)

On the advice of a friend who’d just been, we use Uber a lot to get around – it is super efficient and quite a bit cheaper. Jose, Luis, Leopold, Roberto, we meet some colourful locals. One is a violinist; most don’t speak a lot of English, with Spanish being the primary language here.

Off Collins you’ll find Lincoln Road Mall, which is a sort of out door mall.  It starts off with lots of touristy junky shops and (slightly dodgy) electrical shops, and then becomes progressively nicer, with plenty of bars, cafes and restaurants to stop at along the way.

miami (14)One night we head to Macchialina on Alton Street for dinner. You won’t stumble across this place, it’s a bit away from the main drag, but it is worth knowing about. Chef Michael Pirolo is producing some seriously good Italian food. Our server Paul is – of course – from Noosa of all places; he’s been living in Miami for 5 years. He tells us we’ve happened on a food gem and he isn’t wrong. This would have been one of my favourite meals in three weeks of travel in the US, and I thought the prices were reasonable for the quality.

The octopus with a concentrated tomato and potato crema is devine, a stand out. We soak up every bit of the sauce with the excellent (15)

So too is the eggplant parmigiana. Clever how he has created and individual serve by wrapping eggplant layers around a gorgeous ball of mozzarella rather than the typical (16)

The pasta dishes hit it out of the park. The short rib and taleggio lasagne and the mushroom tagliolini are rich and fragrant and my favourites; though the cavatelli Macchialina and the spaghetti vongole aren’t far (5)

Afterwards, the boys feel like some gelato and Paul suggests we head towards South Pointe for a stroll and stop in at 4D gelato along the way. We wonder what 4D might stand for, and find out it was started by 4 brothers whose surname starts with D. They don’t do any “out there” flavours here, it is the Italian classics, executed very very (12)

Gelato in hand, we head towards South Pointe, it is a lovely evening (17)miami (18)

The following night we try Joe’s Stone Crab, a bit of a Miami institution, open for over 100 years. It is a much larger restaurant than I expected, but that doesn’t stop it from filling up, and in the peak months the wait can be (19)

The calamari is very tender and tasty, and the fish has a nice batter. The lobster roll is juicy but I have had better. We love the side of corn which is roasted with a little (10)

Then on to some big fat juicy crab legs. All that crab meat! The Marito and I ponder how much this would cost somewhere like Golden (20)miami (21)

Although we are stuffed we squeeze in the recommended key lime pie – (22)

We also give Quality Meats a whirl. At first, it reminds me of Rockpool Bar & Grill in Sydney. An old art deco building restored, excellent and knowledgeable staff, and a comprehensive choice of cuts of meat. miami (6)

I like the amuse bouche of sweet watermelon with a salty sour crumb, and the house bread is fluffy with a nice smattering of herbs, served (8)

The sauce for steak is prepared at the table, which is a nice touch. But our Neil trumps them on the meat; the filet mignon, ordered medium, is still alive when we cut into it, and my bavette is overcooked, and the cured orange salad too (7)

But we do enjoy the sides, nicely charred asparagus, and corn brulee – yes brulee – creamy and sweet but not overly (9)

If you can peel yourself away from the beach and pool and head downtown, do go to Wynwood Walls and the surrounding streets – some fabulous artwork and graffiti (1)miami (2)miami (3)miami (4)

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In My Kitchen, July 2015

A short and sweet IMK post this month as life as been a little hectic!  But I wanted to show you my new baguette pan that Il Marito bought me (a gift with motive as he loves baguettes!).  I’m still tweaking baking times, technique and size as I have only tried it twice but the baguettes have been a hit and seem to disappear faster than the loaves.imkjuly (1)

He also got me a “bread slasher” which makes short work of slashing, rather than trying to angle my knife just so.  These are very very sharp, so definitely keep them out of reach of any little fingers that may explore drawers.imkjuly (2)

So here are the loaves, risen, slashed and ready to go into the ovenimkjuly (3)

Et voila! Duex baguette!imkjuly (4)

imkjuly (5)Also In My Kitchen is the homemade vanilla extract that I set to steep a few months ago.  Its now ready for use, rich and fragrant.  I used it for the first time when I made ricotta cake.imkjuly (6)

Thank you as always to the very generous Celia from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial for hosting.

Today’s Cake – Ricotta Cake

This recipe is based on the one in a beautiful cook book I bought recently called “Sharing Puglia”.  I changed it a little because, well, I can’t help myself but also I thought it had too much sugar, with the original recipe having 345g sugar for 500g ricotta, as well as candied fruit, which I’m not overly fond of.  I did slit the top as suggested but it still cracked so think I need a few more slits.  The liquor used is called Strega (which means ‘witch’ in Italian), one that Mamma Rosa uses in a lot of her sweets.  But you could probably also use brandy. Tip – I used Glad Go Between to roll out the dough – made it very easy.

330g of 00 flour
220g caster sugar
200g butter, cubed
4 egg yolks

1kg ricotta
3/4 cup caster sugar
3 egg yolks
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbps Strega

Icing sugar, for dusting

Making it
1. Place your ricotta in a fine sieve and put on top of a bowl, cover and put in the fridge to drain

2. Meanwhile, make the pastry. Place the flour and butter in a food processer and pulse till it forms a crumb. Add the sugar and pulse, then the eggs and continue pulsing till it starts to come together. Tip onto a benchtop or board, form into a disc then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes

3. Grease a 19cm springform cake tin with butter. Cut off about a third of the pastry and set aside. Roll out the large portion of pastry into a large circle big enough to line the cake tin; gently place into the tin and press gently against the sides, cutting off any excess. Roll out the extra piece to form a circle matching the size of the tin for the lid. Refrigerate for at least an hour or until ready to bakericottacake (1)

4. Take your ricotta, still in the sieve, out of the fridge and sit for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 170 fan forced. Remove the ricotta from the sieve and place in a clean, dry bowl. Combine ricotta and sugar using a whisk or electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Add the remaining ingredients and combine. Pour the mixture into your cake tin, cover with the pastry lid pressing around the rim to seal, and then using a sharp knife put some slits in the top. Bake for about an hour ; if it starts to brown too quickly cover with foil. Allow to cool in the tin. Once cool remove from tin, dust with icing sugar and servericottacake (2)ricottacake (3)ricottacake (4)ricottacake (5)

Bowery Lane, Sydney CBD

bowery (6)Somewhat hidden in the foyer of an office block, Bowery Lane was a welcome addition in 2014 to a part of the CBD which until recently was a little deficient in good casual dining options. The interior is an interfusion of textures – a little concrete, some wood, some leather, exposed bricks – and you can start to drown out the office block surrounds. bowery (3)

Like the venue, the menu is a bit of a mixture too – appropriate since Bowery Lane is named after a street in Manhattan, itself is a melding of cultures and cuisine. For instance there’s a little Italian (burrata, carpaccio); pure NY diner (Reuben on rye, fried pickle), and some Asia (salt and pepper squid, Asian slaw).

The burgers are very popular, in particular the New York cheeseburger with wagyu, bois bordran, Monterey jack, tomato, cos lettuce and onion, served with fries. Considering a lot of the new takeaway burger joints are selling burgers for $10 with $5-$6 for the fries, at $18 this is pretty good value for a sit down table service meal.bowery (5)

I also recommend the tempura soft shell crab burger with Asian slaw; it comes with a delicious miso mayonnaisebowery (4)

On their Summer menu I was fond of the duck confit salad with green beans and duck liver parfaitbowery (1)

The breakfast menu also offers plenty of tempting options. The hotcakes look good (next time) but I tried the poached eggs with smashed avocado, quinoa and feta which was nicely donebowery (2)

There is a little counter out the front for takeaway coffee and breakfast treats, and at the back of the restaurant, salads and hot food for takeaway lunchbowery (7)

For groups there are banquet menus for $55 and $65

Bowery Lane, 1 O’Connell Street, Sydney, Ph 02 9252 8017
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Young Guns dinner @ LuMi Dining

The Young Guns series is a clever collaboration between four Italian restaurants and their four great chefs – Federico Zanellato (LuMi), Victor Moya (Ormeggio), Matteo Zamboni (Pilu), and Mitch Orr (ACME) – with hosts Alessandro Pavoni and Giovanni Pilu. Each restaurant is taking a turn at hosting a dinner and showcasing dishes. The degustation was $80, or $125 with matching wines, so it was a great value – and delicious – evening. There was an extra dish on offer for $10 which we readily agreed to.

First Course: LuMi “snacks”
Salt and vinegar rice chips – heavenly lightyoungguns (2)

Porcini Brisee with Marscapone and a Macaron with onion and chicken liver. Loved them both; the porcini brisee had a beautiful crumbly texture and was something new and different, as was the savoury macaron.youngguns (3)

Jerusalem artichoke chips – very clever. I love Jerusalem artichoke but would usually use it four puree or soupyoungguns (4)

And of course LuMi’s signature Chawanmushi. The last time I came here I had it with tomato water; this time it was with an onion consommé and a little caviar. The texture on that custard! I have to say that LuMi has been one of my favourite dining experiences so far this year and the meal that night reaffirmed it.youngguns (5)

This was followed by some warm delicious bread and grissiniyoungguns (6)

Second course: Ormeggio roasted capsicum and mozzarella salad with Mediterranean herbs. A feast for the eyes as well as the palate. The texture of the balls reminded me of the liquid gnocchi at Gastro Park. Very clever and freshyoungguns (7)

Third course: Pilu’s Cappelletti with lentils, red wine and vegetable broth. Zamboni explained to us that this dish was completely vegan, not something you find often in Italian cooking. It was an interesting dish and with each mouthful you could taste different elements of the flavour.youngguns (8)

Fourth course: ACME’s pig’s head with cime di rapa and condiments. Don’t think too much about the fact that you are eating a pig’s head and dig in! Loved the flavour combination here; rich juicy pork cut through with the bitterness of the rapa, and I particularly loved the soy and vinegar dipping sauce, which Mitch told us was actually based on a Filippino sauce.youngguns (9)

Fifth course (extra course): Lumi Burrata, honey, rosemary and vinegar meringue, served with casarau. Oh! This was a table favourite. Devine! What a combination! And then if you threw in some crispy bits of casarau, a specialty Sardinian crispy bread, it became even better. This could have passed as a dessert.youngguns (10)

youngguns (11)Sixth course: LuMi’s Yuzu with licorice and mandarin curd. The plate was freezing cold and Federico tells us that it has been put in the blast chiller at -25 degrees. This was wonderfully light and fresh with a good amount of acidity and those wafer like pieces of licorice adding texture.youngguns (12)

Some pictures of the Young Guns and hosts. Zanellato’s brother Riccardo is all boyish charm; Matteo is sweet and softly spoken and Giovanni Pilu is quick to point out that he is already married ladies! (there’s A Tea with the Queen next to Signore Pilu). I ask Mitch if he’s considered an honorary Italian – “I’m pure Inner West” – he tells us. Alessandro is as effervescent as always. A really great evening – there are two more Young Guns dinners in the series.youngguns (14)youngguns (1)youngguns (13)

LuMi Dining,