Chez Panisse

category: Favorite,restaurants
by Yun, No Comments »

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San Francisco Bay Area is the birthplace of “California cuisine,” a style of cuisine emphasizing on high-quality locally-grown organic sustainable ingredients. The cuisine tends to be light and is considered healthy as it mainly features abundant fresh fruits and vegetables. If you visit the Bay Area and plan to visit a place where California cuisine began, Chez Panisse will be a good choice. The founder of the restaurant, Alice Waters, is a famous American chef and is one of the pioneers of the concept of California cuisine. The restaurant creates best meals possible from French recipes and also from only the freshest and finest ingredients available from local Californian farmers.

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Located only a few blocks away from the campus of University of California at Berkeley, California, the restaurant consistently ranks among the best in the world. The Café is upstairs and has a la carte meals such as pastas and pizzas. The Café has a casual ambience with an open kitchen, grill and wood-burning oven. The Restaurant is downstairs and offers a fixed dinner menu that consists of 3-4 courses. The menu changes daily depending on the availability of the locally-sourced fresh ingredients that mostly are seasonal. Reservations are essential since the restaurant’s size is small. I would recommend a casually elegant dress code for the restaurant.

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We had a dinner at Chez Panisse Restaurant (downstairs) together with our daughter. Children are allowed as long as they don’t disturb other restaurant guests. The service was good, as expected. After every plate, the server came to refill our water glasses, replace our utensils with new ones, and provide warm bread and butter for our enjoyment between plates. I had to restrain myself from eating too much bread because it was so delicious.

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The weekend dinner menus are slightly different from the weekday ones, both in terms of the food and the price. We went there on a weekday evening, so the menu was a bit less expensive and also less elaborate. Our dinner started with a very fresh salad appetizer: Sheep’s milk ricotta and roasted fennel salad with house-cured coppa.

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We came there at the right timing. That night, they served black cod fish and quail for main entrées. We both really love those ingredients. First entrée: Pan-fried Bolinas black cod with wild nettles and artichoke caponata. The grilled fish was fabulous. It’s cooked just perfectly (not overcooked). The fish was delicately tender, moist, and buttery smooth.

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Second entrée: Wolfe Ranch quail with grilled potatoes and radicchio, wild mushrooms, and pounded sage. The quail was nicely roasted with seasoned crispy skin. It was astonishingly tender and juicy. Very delicious! The served vegetables were a perfect combination and cooked into perfection.

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Dessert: Crepes Suzette. It was light and not too sugary. The crepes was just okay for me, perhaps because I’m not a big fan of orange/tangerine that was used for the sauce.

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Our dinner was concluded with a cup of hot tea and a complimentary plate of petite fours, containing chocolate-covered nuts and lemon cookies. They tasted good, though not too special.

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I highly recommend this place. Our overall dinner at Chez Panisse was great. One downside is that the place is small, so packed that we could clearly hear next table’s conversation. Every dish was simple and elegant. Undoubtedly, the freshness of the used ingredients was outstanding. The highlight of our dinner was the quail. Best fresh ingredients prepared by experienced chefs really make a huge difference!

Chez Panisse
1517 Shattuck Ave
Berkeley, CA 94709
(510) 548-5525

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Komodo Diving

category: Favorite,travelling
by Yun, 1 Comment »

Now the most exciting part of Komodo: its world-class diving sites!!! Komodo National Park is one of the most biological diverse habitats on the planet, both above and below the water surface. This still largely unexplored pristine underwater life is unbelievably remarkable, offering a mixture of different diving choices to even most experienced divers. Komodo seas offer spectacular biodiversity, magnificent macro opportunities, abundance of massive pelagic organisms, excellent walls, large open water pinnacles, crystal clear and warm waters, and often with raging ocean currents. Macro to massive, this is absolutely one of best diving sites on earth for sheer diversity of underwater life.

Diving variety in Komodo is amazing, offering every type of possible tropical diving. Some dive places are calm and relatively shallow, enabling you to crawl on the bottom looking at macro creatures such as tiny frogfish, pygmy seahorses, rare invertebrates and nudibranches. In the next place, you can be in a wide open water pinnacle with strong sea currents, watching big fish passing by like manta rays, sharks and dolphins. And in some other places, you can dive in caves and a live volcano.

Given the large size of the marine park and this much diversity of underwater life, there is so much to see in Komodo waters. There are many excellent dive sites around Komodo (between the main islands of Sumbawa and Flores), but distances between these dive sites can be quite far. So, the best way to explore Komodo seas is by liveaboard. Liveaboard diving trip to Komodo can range from days to weeks, leaving from different places such as Bali, Sumbawa, and Flores. One benefit of liveaboard is the opportunity to dive at remote and inaccessible areas. Liveaboard diving in Komodo is all year round, with best diving conditions from April to November (dry season).

We could not go for liveaboard diving since we brought our daughter together with us. We therefore opted for daily diving for four days from Labuan Bajo, the nearest town in Flores. Our daughter, S, stayed at the hotel with her nanny while we were diving all day. Our selection of dive shop was Lagona Divers located inside our hotel (i.e., Hotel Bintang Flores). The dive shop is owned and managed by Germans. We’re satisfied with the professionalism and friendliness of their dive staff. Every early morning, we departed from Labuan Bajo harbor to dive sites around surrounding islands in the marine park. The time for each boat trip from Labuan Bajo to different dive sites varies, ranging from 1 to 3 hours, which is not bad at all. Each day consisted of 2-3 dives. We normally returned back to the hotel at around 5 PM, just in time for playing with my lil S in the hotel’s pool, and for shower and dinner.

Selection of the dive sites depends on the divers’ passions and experiences. There are places for easy diving, where the waters are calm, shallow and ideal for macro diving. Also, diving in the waters of Komodo can be challenging. One example is that seeing sharks and manta rays in Komodo typically involves diving with high sea currents. The fast currents are caused by the higher tidal waters of the Pacific Ocean in the north flowing through the seas between Flores and Komodo into the Indian Ocean in the south. These ocean currents bring nutrients and planktons to keep the marine life in Komodo rich and very well fed. I actually enjoy drift diving very much because I’m a lazy diver. Haha… I just need to glide along with the ocean current flow without exerting any significant power for swimming. The sea current does the work, while I simply focus on enjoying the underwater beauty. It’s really relaxing.

Batu Bolong (meaning Hollow Rock) is my favorite dive site in Komodo. It has a small rock outcrop with a hole through it (i.e., the first picture above). Below the sea surface are massive steep walls and fascinating drop offs that disappear into depths. It is a view to behold. It is one of Komodo’s signature dive sites and a must visit for divers. The coral reef is healthy and in a superb condition, and the volume of fish here is amazing. The reef has not been targeted by fishermen, thanks to the rock’s topography and the strong sea currents. This dive site is also good to see large marine life as it’s patrolled by a variety of sharks, large groupers, giant trevally, napoleon wrasse and tunas. My dive master said that Batu Bolong always impressed every diver he took there.

My most favorite site for diving is Manta Point, which is an aggregation site for manta rays. Manta rays can be easily spotted at this place. We saw manta rays just on the surface even before the dive. During the dive, we spotted more than ten manta rays swimming in groups and patrolling the area. Manta Point is a relatively flat and shallow channel covered with rubbles and only with a few small coral blocks. This dive site often has strong sea currents. Divers can hang onto rocks at the bottom and wait for manta rays to pass by. Divers can go very close to observe the manta rays. Manta rays are A’s most favorite fish. He said that closely seeing these majestic giant sea creatures gently gliding through the water gives him an inexplicably peaceful feeling that can last for a long time. He said diving at Manta Point was his most memorable moment in Komodo. Manta rays’ gathering is typically a seasonal event, but NOT at Manta Point. It’s almost guaranteed that you will see manta rays at Manta Point all year round. This is what makes Manta Point a very special dive location.

Our diving in Komodo was truly an amazing experience. We both agree Bunaken certainly has more superb macro diving than Komodo. But due to overfishing in Bunaken that has destroyed its large fish population, Komodo is definitely better for seeing large reef fish. The diversity of marine life in Komodo from macro to massive is simply awesome. Swimming with manta rays in Komodo was unforgettable. We swam very closely to the manta rays. Equipped with our own underwater camera (not rental/loan anymore hehehe…), we managed to take some good pictures.

A German avid diver who had a record of more than 500 dives and had traveled around the world for diving said that dive spots could not be better than Komodo. That made us realize that we’re fortunate to have this natural treasure in our country. It’s heart breaking to witness the sea pollution and underwater destruction caused by irresponsible Indonesians who don’t realize the true values of Komodo’s beautiful nature. It’s good that protection of Komodo’s nature now is getting better as more tourists are coming there for sightseeing and diving. Four days of diving was too short, considering the high number of excellent dive sites in Komodo and some are accessible only by liveaboard. We will certainly revisit Komodo for more diving.

 

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Komodo, West Flores

category: Favorite,travelling
by Yun, 6 Comments »

 

Officially chosen as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World in 2011, Komodo National Park was founded primarily to protect the endangered Komodo dragons, the world’s largest living lizards. Komodo dragons are only found on a few islands in the Indonesian national park. The park was also dedicated to protect its one of world’s richest marine environments. It is a popular destination for scuba diving. The park comprises a coastal section of western Flores that is the main island of the Indonesian province of East Nusa Tenggara. Komodo is only about 90-minute flight east from Bali.

This summer, six days of our vacation were allocated to discover the beauty of Komodo. We departed to Labuan Bajo from Bali after attending our best friend’s wedding. It is a small fishing town on the western tip of Flores, served as the main gateway to Komodo National Park. The town can easily be traversed on foot in only 15-20 minutes. Once a small fishing village, Labuan Bajo now has developed into a busy place for tourism since the time Komodo National Park formally became part of the world’s seven wonders. The town’s main street stretches only a few kilometers along a bay and up the hillside. Stores providing daily necessities can be found along the main road. Here, tourists can also find a range of eateries serving both local and Western dishes with very fresh seafood. The main road is also lined with lots of vendors selling lodges, diving and tours to surrounding islands. It is worth heading to the seashore to watch scenic sunset and to see ships of all shapes and sizes in the harbor against a background of lump-shaped islands.

Compared to Bali, West Flores is much less developed and less known to tourists. Hence, choices for a good hotel in Labuan Bajo are not many. Since we planned to leave our baby girl, S, with her nanny at hotel while we were diving all day, it was essential that our hotel had to be family-friendly and comfortable to stay. We selected Hotel Bintang Flores, presently the only four-star hotel in Labuan Bajo. Overall, we were pretty happy with it. The hotel combines local style with modern conveniences and international standard of service. Situated on a private stretch of beach facing Flores Strait, the hotel features a nice pool area with a beautiful tropical garden, offering a peaceful and quiet place to relax with amazing sea views. Be sure not to miss viewing the stunning sunset from the hotel beach. Our daughter, S, very much enjoyed her daily swimming in the pool. During our stay, the hotel was almost empty so we had the pool to ourselves. The sea accessible from the hotel’s beach is unfortunately not good for swimming. It is dirty with rubbish. It was heart breaking to see the pollution in such a beautiful location.

Due to lack of guests, the hotel did not offer a buffet breakfast and we were asked to order from the menu. We frequently ordered Indonesian dishes, which we thought were good. Our only complain about the menu was the unavailability of local food indigenous to Flores. It would be fascinating to taste local food that can only be found in Flores. The service was very good, quick and friendly. The hotel staffs were fantastic at keeping our child entertained. Poor my little S that she suffered from multiple mosquito bites. We found that mosquitoes in Labuan Bajo were much more voracious than those in other places in Indonesia. Thus, do not forget to bring insect repellent. Also, sitting next to smoking people in hotel’s dining area (and generally in many other places in Indonesia as well) was a nuisance to us who are accustomed to smoke-free environment like in US. Shuttle service to the town’s main street is also provided by the hotel.

To spot the indigenous Komodo dragons, we travelled by boat to Rinca Island that can be reached in 1.5 hour from the main island. The dragons also live on Komodo Island that is 3 hours away. The dragons tend to be larger on Komodo Island than Rinca, but it is easier to spot the dragons on Rinca. Arriving at Rinca, we were greeted by a park ranger who led us to enter the ranger station for registration. In the ranger camp were five Komodos lazily lying in the shade under an elevated house. Komodo dragons are cold blooded animals, so it is important for them to avoid the hot tropical sun to cool down their body temperature. Their sizes were impressive, more than three meters. Macaque monkeys can also be spotted in the camp. We opted for a shorter trekking route that took about 1.5 hour. The other alternative route is longer and takes about 3 hours. Armed with forked stick, the park ranger guided the walk through the forested island. We saw signs of nesting areas. Luckily, we located three dragons roaming in the wild. The dragons camouflaged perfectly in the bushes, looking like a stone. They are natural predators. They stalk and ambush their prey. The park ranger made sure that our walk was always within a safe distance from the most lethal dragons on earth. The ranger told us that the dragons must hunt in the wild for their food. Their prey includes water buffalo, deer, monkeys, wild boars and some exotic birds. What makes the dragons very dangerous is the infection from their toxic bites. Their saliva is loaded with a high level of bacteria, causing death after only one bite. We moved up into hills of the island to view the lush forests and the grassland dotted with palms. Rinca is a beautiful dry place that will best be appreciated by desert lovers.

While the food selection in Labuan Bajo may not be great, but the prices are. With its recent economic boom and rapid growth in popularity as a tourist destination, demands for accommodation and food are increasing quickly. Most of good restaurants in Labuan Bajo are owned and managed by Western people, who generally spent months before opening their restaurants, just for training their staff to speak better English and to provide excellent service to guests. Labuan Bajo is still in the process of becoming more and more tourist friendly. “Made In Italy” offers a special atmosphere with the best food and service so far — far better than one would expect in such a remote location. The Italian food served here is even good for European standards. Their pizzas are good, and their seafood pasta is certainly a must try. The restaurant next door is “The Lounge” where we dined in for their local seafood that was fresh and also delicious.

Because the purpose of our Komodo vacation was primarily to scuba dive, there were other tourist activities that we did not explore. This includes a trip to Kelimutu, a volcano containing three colored lakes, located in the district of Ende close to the town of Moni. The crater lakes are in the volcanic caldera and fed by volcanic gas, resulting in highly acidic water. The lakes change colors irregularly from red through green and blue, depending on the oxidation level of the lakes. Another alternative activity is a trip to Batu Cermin Cave that is only 5 km from Labuan Bajo where visitors can see beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. Tourists can also visit Cancar Village to enjoy beautiful panorama of spiderweb rice fields with lush and dry hills on the background.

See our next blog that illustrates detail of our experience on what we think is the most exciting part of Komodo: scuba diving.

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Le Bernardin

category: Favorite,restaurants
by Yun, 6 Comments »

Le Bernardine

The intention of this blog is for describing our LAST fine dining experience at Le Bernardin when we still lived in NYC. Yes, it IS true that we moved from NYC to San Francisco Bay Area last month. Moving was not easy for us since we had a toddler that needed constant attention. We spent about two months for packing, finding a new apartment, moving to the new place, and unpacking. Even till now, we are still not completely settled down yet. Due to this reason, I can have an excuse for the long time of no new postings. :-)

Le Bernardine

To make a reservation at Le Bernardin was not easy. I fruitlessly tried couple times before. Since I knew I had to move to California soon, I made the reservation early ahead of time.  We got a very early dinner which worked very well with our schedule and my lil S’ bed time. Thanks to our best friend M and her family, who babysitted S during that evening. Without her help, our dinner plan would not be as memorable as it was.

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For amuse bouche, we had cold crab meat with crispy wonton paper. It was light, cold and refreshing, simply a perfect way to start a meal.

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First course, layers of thinly pounded yellowfin tuna served on top of  foie gras and toasted baguette, topped with shaved chives and extra virgin olive oil. This course was my favorite. It was truly outstanding. I don’t eat raw fish often, but I couldn’t pass on this dish. The combination of rich and creamy foie gras, fresh paper-thin tuna, and the crispiness of the toasted baguette created a very complex but wonderful flavor. Bravo, Eric Ripert! What an incredible dish!

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Second course, peekytoe crab salad, spiced mango sauce and daikon nage. The fresh crab and the mango sauce gave a nice compliment to each other. A subtle yet very exciting dish.

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Third course, pan roasted monkfish, sea bean, white asparagus, in a light bearnaise scented broth. First, taragon puree was poured alongside the fish, and then the broth was poured over the dish. Then, another waiter came drizzling a hollandaise sauce on it. The fish was cooked in perfection, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. The béarnaise scented broth added a nice flavor to the monkfish.

Le BernardineFourth course, baked wild striped bass, baby carrot, herb salad, miso-butter sauce. The tasty miso-butter sauce gave a nice pungency to the fresh baked striped bass. However, I would rather pick a different fish other than a wild striped bass.

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Fifth course, bread crusted red snapper, saffron, smoked sweet paprika sauce. I loved the crunchiness of the skin. The fish was cooked very well. And the saffron gave a nice touch to the pasta. The sauce was very bold. Well, I am not a paprika lover.

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Sixth course, Greek yogurt pannacota served with strawberry rhubarb and basil. It is a bite-sized dessert you will love. It has a little flavor of everything. It was light and very thirst-quenching.  I really wished I had more. :-)

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Seventh course, maralumi milk chocolate parfait topped with liquid apricot and ginger caramel. This second dessert was a bit heavier compared to the first one. The combination of the acidity in liquid apricot flavor and the sweetness in the chocolate parfait paired perfectly.

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And I am lucky to get next dessert, passion fruit parfait over graham cracker crust and white chocolate. I think this is what everybody will get when they celebrate their birthdays here.

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Petite four to conclude our meal. The mini pistachio macaron was my favorite. We very much enjoyed the dinner. It was our first “seafood” tasting menu and the food exceeded our expectation. I will definitely go back again to Le Bernardin next time. Kudos to chef Eric Ripert.

Le Bernardine

Quote from Eric Ripert: “Cooking is a holistic process of planning, preparing, dining and sharing food. I place food at the center of our humanity, as it nourishes not only our physical bodies but also our emotional and spiritual lives. Food is truly a cultural phenomenon that informs our traditions and our relationship with the earth. I genuinely believe that food connects us all.”

Le Benardin
155 West 51st Street
New York, NY 10019
(212) 554-1515

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Shiori’s Sweet Shoppe

category: Events
by Yun, 17 Comments »

My blog post this time is not related to travel or food. This post is dedicated for my precious S, who just celebrated her first birthday. Initially, I did not plan to celebrate her birthday since A had already gone back to New York earlier last month. However, I could not just let a special occasion go by without any celebration. So, I finally became busy planning and arranging my lil S’ first birthday party in Indonesia.

First, selecting a suitable venue in my small hometown, Solo, was not an easy task. I wanted a place with a relaxing and cozy ambiance, with an outdoor space for kids to play. After careful thought and consideration, later I decided to hold the party at Goela Klapa Restaurant. The place has a classic traditional architecture profile with a mix interior of little Indonesian touch, with the ambience of luxurious, classic, elegant and cozy. At the back of the restaurant is a small beautiful garden and outdoor area. It was exactly what I had in mind, just excellent for a kid’s party.

Second, after meeting a few decoration vendors, I couldn’t find what I was looking for. That time, I already had some ideas how I would want to decorate the room. I doubted if someone in Solo could realize my ideas perfectly. So, I finally decided to decorate the room by myself. Yeah, it was a LOT of work, but worth it. I had to finish much of the art work myself in order to achieve what I wanted.

I got very busy starting from a week before the party. When the D-day arrived, some items were still not completed and not perfect. But, overall, I was very glad everything went smoothly as planned. One day after the party, I realized how difficult it was to be a single parent. I had to organize the party, arranging the sweet table, planning the menu list, setting up the decorations, and so on and so forth, all by myself. Phew… I think next time I should get an assistant. Not to forget that I was very grateful for having a full-time nanny for S, so I could concentrate to the party.

I can’t mention one by one for everyone who contributed their effort  to make Shiori’s sweet shoppe memorable.  Thanks much!

Birthday Planner and Organizer: Shiori’s Mom
Cake: Blessing Cake
Cupcakes: Baking Bee
Cookies: Olanos
Decoration: Shiori’s Mom

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