Archive for the ‘Coffee’ Category

California Soul: Silverlake Edition (LA)

February 29, 2008

It’s all in the air/ You hear it everywhere
No matter what you do/ It’s gonna grab a hold on you

California soul… California soul…

— Ashford & Simpson

It’s in my bones, I can’t shake it off- California is IN me. Took a week off to attend a wedding in San Francisco, and detoured through sunny LA and San Diego on my way up. It’s been a glorious trip meeting up with old friends, and most importantly, voraciously eating through each day.

My bff Sara lives in Silverlake, in LA, which I absolutely adore. It’s hipster central, but not so annoying– lots of shops and restaurants and cafes that is totally walkable (very rare for LA, or California in general).

Every morning, I walked to a Chicago-based coffee joint called Intelligentsia- an authority on fine coffees and hot baristas. Good coffee, lots of locals, minimal interior and again, hottie central.

Right next to Intell is The Cheese Store of Silverlake, which is a fancy little fine foods shop (lots of imported condiments, chesses, olives and wine), that specialize in making awesome paninis.

Look at this wrapped panini- flat and compact, like a notebook!
Turkey, cranberry, cheese, and some mysterious green oozy stuff. Who you gonna call? C’mon, laugh.
A cup of cornichons
We went to El Conquistador for my first supper- gotta get your Mexican fix as soon as you land in Cali. This place was AWESOME. I stupidly forgot my camera, but the food was satisfying (I had the enchiladas, Sara had the ropa vieja), extremely friendly service, and flamboyantly kitchy decor. You have to go to see exactly what I’m talking about, but trust me, you will have a blast.

I was super skeptical about Pho Cafe: without a sign, overrun with hipsters, and with their orange Ikea chairs. Also, my friend, an LA native, had warned me that any restaurant in LA with an “A” rating is bogus (the LA Dept of Health grades all eateries, “A” obviously being the highest).

Boy, did they prove me wrong though- the food was excellent, the real deal (dare I use the word “authentic”). Worth the 15 minutes we waited for a seat (it seems this place is packed all the time).

Banh xeo: Crepe with shrimp, steak, shiitake mushrooms and bean sprouts

Bun cha gio tom thit nuong: cold rice noodles with egg rolls and beef

Pho tai gan: rice noodle soup with rare steak and tendon. The soup was very flavorful- a little sweet, lots of depth. I didn’t want it to end.

Possibly my absolute favorite part of Silverlake- the 99cent store. The window proudly displayed their offerings ranging from food, toilet paper, foil, to toothpaste. 99cents people!! There were 2 long aisles devoted to food– refrigerators packed with eggs and milk, condiments, dried foods and canned goods. I got Sara an awesome welcome mat here. A welcome mat for 99cents!!! GO NOW!

All the above spots are all within a 5 block radius from one another on Sunset Blvd. Can you imagine not needing a car in LA? All have a pristine view of the iconic Hollywood sign.
3922 Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90029

The Cheese Store of Silverlake
3926-28 West Sunset Blvd.

El Conquistador
3701 West Sunset Blvd.LA, CA

Pho Cafe
2841 West Sunset Blvd.

99cent Store

3600 West Sunset. Blvd.

Welcome to Cafe Nunes at Sao Jorge Island, The Azores

February 28, 2008
Mt. Pico from Sao Jorge

J and I went to the Azores for vacation last summer and visited three islands: Faial, Sao Jorge, and Pico. At Sao Jorge, we had a chance to taste the locally grown coffee. I read somewhere that the Azores is technically the only place that grows/can grow coffee in all of Europe. Of course, that is not surprising in post-colonial days.

Cafe Nunes is located at Faja dos Vimes, which is about an hour drive from Sao Jorge’s biggest town, Velas. There are more than 40 fajas (volcanic islands with really steep cliffs down to the sea) in Sao Jorge and some are inhabited.

Faja dos Vimes

When we visited Faja dos Vimes, where Cafe Nunes is located, there was no one around. Cafe Nunes was not even open. We rang the bell and the owner, a very nice lady came out and opened the place for us. We sat down to savor the coffee, which I found a bit acidic for my taste. But it was good. The owner took us to the backyard and showed where they grow the coffee. They do not make enough coffee for mass consumption.

Coffee trees growing in the backyard

Coffee beans drying under the sun

Cafe Nunes
Quite acidic, but good coffee.

Sao Jorge is also known for their cheese, which can be found here in the U.S. They say there are more cows than people in Sao Jorge and cheese factories are open 24 hours a day to keep up with the amount of milk that comes in everyday to produce cheese.

Sao Jorge Cheese
A little store spotted at Faja da Calderia de Santo Cristo, where you can only access by foot or one of those four-wheel bikes. This faja is also known as a surfing spot.

Mangiamo 2007: Bar del Cappuccino

February 22, 2008

There’s nothing like walking into a coffee shop that makes the best cup of coffee EVER. That’s what happened in Rome- we happened to walk into Bar del Cappucino, without a clue that the barrista is a middle aged man named Luigi Santoro, who has won countless number of prizes for his cup o’ brew– on TV no less! He’s a cappucino superstar!

He uses only Danesi beans- an Italian espresso brand that I never knew was so good. Little swirly designs decorate this frothy cup of goodness.

There’s Luigi in his little barrista corner. You see him over there? The other guy may have been his son. The staff were all really cute and funny.

Incidentally, they also make bombass paninis too. They steam this special flatbread and fill it up with whatever you want- bresaola, prociutto, salami, even pastrami! This panini maker, a cute sassy blond girl, had a loyal following of regulars who would taut her as she made the sandwiches. The banter was fun.

One of these days, I’ll edit the video clip of her making the sandwich- it’ll make your stomach growl.

We returned the next day for our morning coffee. Why fuck with a good thing?

Bar del Cappuccino
Via Arenula, 50
00168 Roma
Tel. 06.68806042

Pacific Northwest Road Trip 2007

August 6, 2007

Just got back from a 6 day jaunt around the pristine and spectacular Pacific Northwest, stopping in Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. The trip was cloudless, seamless, no accidents, no trip-ups– just good times drinking, eating, discovering, and mellowing with my friend Kristi, who gets a cookie for putting up with me through 2 states, 2 countries, and all that mileage.

My traveling method is really to just go-with-the flow. Especially when you’re traveling with others, I think it’s important not to create any strict expectations about what to do/ where to eat. I did want to eat well, but I had only done a little research going out there, so we ended up getting stuck in a few tourist traps, but whatever, it happens. Here are a few highlights from the trip.

Kristi and I were super stoked when we drove by this Kwik-E-Mart in Seattle. Neither of us knew this was happening to 7-11s all over the country, and it was a very random, very welcome happenstance.

We of course got out of the car, got our Squishee on (the sign really does say Squishee!), and took pictures with Homer, Chief Wiggum, Apu and Ralphie. YES!!!

Seattle is known to be the coffee capital of the US. It is, of course, where Starbucks originated, and I was very looking forward to drinking some hardcore coffee.

My friend Dawn, who lived in Seattle for 3 years, recommended Espresso Vivace, in Capitol Hill, which was my favorite part of town. Look at my cappucino, isn’t it pretty! It was neat to watch the barista make the heart/ leaf design– she basically put the foam on top of the espresso, then with a quick flick of the wrist, created this work of art. And it tasted even better than it looks, really bold but not overpowering, at just the right temperature too.

Kristi’s hot cocoa was gorgeous too, with the whipped cream on one side and the foam with the design on the other. So cool! Watching these hot baristas made me want to master the art of coffee!

We went to Pike Place for their row of veggie, fruit, seafood, cheese, flowers and just-about-everything-else vendors, right alongside the water. Here’s a little clip of this one specific seafood vendor, famous for throwing the customers orders from one end of the counter to the other, and singing all the way through.

Kinda kitchy, but I loved it. It’s sorta hard to tell, but the guy behind the counter really did catch the huge fish! And these fishermen are all so HOT!

In Vancouver, we went to this great indoor market on Granville “Island” (not to be mistaken as a real island, it turned out). Here they house a plethora of local produce, bakeries, butchers, and like Pike Place, just about everything else.

How great are these little pieces seaweed, sold as “sea asparagus”. So cute! I’m sure it would be good in salad and soups.

I had one of these “salmon rolls” which is basically salmon rolled in pastry puff. Since the northwest is especially known for their salmon, this was a great little treat. For $2, it was the best deal ever!

Ironically, the best meal I had throughout the entire trip took place while I was waiting for my flight at the Seattle-Tacoma airport. By then, Kristi was already on her way back to San Diego, so I was all by my lonesome.

I had been saying to Kristi everyday, “let’s go get oysters today”, but for one reason or another, it never happened. Oysters of the northwest are absolutely the best, in my opinion, so I was totally stoked when I got a chance to sample a few before leaving. In the airport, of all places! Thank god for Anthony’s (it turns out it’s a chain!).

Overlooking the tarmac, I ordered a glass of chardonnay at the bar, along with a half dozen, local oysters. I wish I had taken a better picture, but they were all jewel-like creatures of wonder.

There were three different kinds: Baron Points, Snow Creeks, and Bay Waters (I’m pretty sure this is right).

The Baron Point oyster, above, was a luscious, plump beauty, that was milky and briny- just how I like them! The other ones were more subtle, with a little crunch, even, and airy. PERFECT.

After the oysters and another glass of wine, I was pretty wasted and ordered this fresh crab and avocado salad with a bold of clam chowder. The crab was so meaty and delicious! It was truly a fantastic meal, all for myself, to end a memorable journey.

Other good eats/ drinks from the trip that I unfortunately don’t have pictures of, but highly recommend:

– Hot dogs on the streets of Seattle and Vancouver. Best street dogs ever. In Seattle, they smear cream cheese on the bun, which was so good. I had a great dog in downtown Vancouver, from a cart on Robson Street- really good sausage, topped with grilled onions, a slew of various condiments (horseradish mustard and Sriracha, oh my!), on a delish deluxe bun. Yummy!

Linda’s Tavern Bar in Seattle, in Capitol Hill. Great little place. Best martini I’ve had in a while. We went twice!

– The bar Shanghai Tunnel, in Downtown Portland. I hear it’s haunted, as this underground place used to be where locals were lured and kidnapped (or “Shanghaiied”), then sold to ship captains to be slaves. The place was awesome- really seedy, kinda creepy. And you can smoke inside, which I appreciated. Good music too.

– The pho at Ballet, in Seattle was excellent. Large Vietnamese population, I take it. Lots of Vietnamese restaurants all around town. I’ve been super into Vietnamese lately- perfect for summertime!

– The Charlatan for affordable food and drinks in Vancouver. Steamed mussels were yummy, and they had this great, comfortable deck that was perfect for people watching.