Monthly Archives: July 2015

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.

Accommodation
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 Caribbean

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 running.miami (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 begins.miami (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 bread.miami (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 layering.miami (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 behind.miami (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 well.miami (12)

Gelato in hand, we head towards South Pointe, it is a lovely evening stroll.miami (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 long.miami (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 lime.miami (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 Century.miami (20)miami (21)

Although we are stuffed we squeeze in the recommended key lime pie – delicious.miami (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 warm.miami (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 sweet.miami (7)

But we do enjoy the sides, nicely charred asparagus, and corn brulee – yes brulee – creamy and sweet but not overly so.miami (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 awaits.miami (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.