Thursday, December 29, 2011

San Luis Obispo, CA -- A Health(y) Revelation

It's nice to be back in California after a whirlwind, crazy, busy semester of student-teaching, 5:30 AM wake-up calls, night classes, and triple-day Metro rides from Upstate back to Manhattan.

What I thought was going to be a relaxing vacation with movie marathons on my plush couch turned out to be something MUCH better! My dear friend, Janet, invited Nims and me on a road trip to San Luis Obispo. She wanted to go and none of us had ever been before.

"This is my hurrah!," she told me over the phone as I hesitantly debated this impromptu road trip. Spontaneity and I don't exactly go together. To put it lightly, driving and I aren't exactly on the same page. We go together like granola bars and yogurt: good together but totally acceptable as separate elements. So...why did I volunteer my car? My lil' Buttercup needed to stretch her legs after a long hibernation in the garage. To be honest, so did I.

This trip was planned by Janet for Janet and her friends -- my new friends -- but it was also a nice getaway for me. For a while, I had my predictable routine of early-morning wake-up calls, freezing commutes to my student-teaching site, classes, homework, stress, and no coffee (it's not allowed on school grounds). This trip represented a real departure from things I was comfortable with: the familiar comforts of my suburban home, my movies, my commute from the East Bay to San Francisco where I glance at the Transamerica Building and phallic-shaped Coit Tower as I scoot across the Bay Bridge in rush-hour traffic blaring 99.7 way louder than it needs to be.

Thankfully, Janet's friends are solid drivers! This is what we encountered...

After schlepping to "Crap in the Box" (Emily's words; not mine -- don't sue), we finally arrived in San Luis Obispo. Naturally, the first thing we wanted to do was grub! Janet's friends from NorCal and SoCal had a mini-reunion at Big Sky Cafe. It was at this restaurant that Janet encouraged me to keep blogging about food. She said, "I've been looking at the blog, and I haven't seen any updates...have you been eating?"

In the spirit of trying different things, I ordered a vegetable platter at Big Sky Cafe. I thought, "Hey! It's time to be adventurous! It's time to be more open-minded. Order something you don't usually eat, Michelle. What the hell? You're in San Luis Obispo on a road trip with your friends. Go crazy." Well, you know what??? Vegetables are crazy.

Hell to the no. Never again will I order a full plate of JUST vegetables. I don't see myself ever being a vegetarian or vegan or anything close to that. I admit the corn was good. The pumpkin was really scrumptious and novel. I mean, how often do I get to eat pumpkin??? The spinach was tasty when eaten with the potatoes because they were too salty when consumed alone. For some reason, the potatoes were sour? It didn't occur to me that sour potatoes might have been weird to eat until after the trip ended. I don't really eat veggies often anyway, so...maybe potatoes might be sour sometimes? :/ I didn't get sick or feel nauseated in any way, so I assume they were okay for me to eat.

Please don't mistake my commentary for a critique of the establishment. Big Sky Cafe has phenomenal ratings from the Wall Street Journal, which named the restaurant "Where to eat in San Luis Obispo". Something that I appreciate about Big Sky Cafe is that it takes its ingredients from local farms around the area. Rachael Ray calls the cafe "A must for a healthy and tasty meal". But of course, people who know me know that healthy meals and I don't belong in the same sentence.

There's a coffee shop that names its sandwiches after literary giants! Kreuzberg Book Bar & Coffee Lounge has a wall full of inspirational scribbles written by patrons who have come and gone. This place is so hip it doesn't even have take out menus, so the only thing I have to remember this joint by is this picture of the sandwich menu. Who's your favorite author?

(I choose William Blake cuz' he created original poems and artwork to go along with them. He engraved his poems and artwork on metal slabs backward and pressed the slab against paper to make his own books. Every version of "Songs of Innocence and Experience" that was created by Blake during his lifetime is unique because he didn't apply the same amount of paint, the same paint color, and pressure on the plates every time he made a new copy.)

Moving on: here's Bubblegum Alley! I don't know why it's here, but I thought it was really amusing until Nimmie -- who's going to be a doctor -- pointed out that this wall was home to random people's DNA. Well, when you put it that but gross?

Downtown San Luis Obispo has a Nighttime Farmers Market. We sampled cheeses and jams! I bought my mom a jar of Olallieberry jam for Christmas from Mama's Preserves. She's always searching for random jams and mango chutneys...

Here's Janet and Katie hanging out at the avocado stand before dinner.

Here's the group at dinner! Firestone Grill is known for its Tri-Tip Steak Sandwiches. I might not be able to finish a plate full of vegetables, but I never thought I would turn away from tri-tip steak. As a kid, I could down two thick slices of prime rib from House of Prime Rib (the second slice is free if you're under 12, and it's your birthday) and have my baked potato. No one had to dare me. It was easy. The tri-tip steak sandwich looks small, but it isn't. I ate half -- half! -- and almost opted out because there was TOO MUCH bread and meat. Since when is there too much meat for me to handle??? I'm a bit disappointed in myself. That sandwich was good, though. Add some BBQ sauce, alternate the slices of tri-tip with some salty fries, down it with Root Beer...overall, it was satisfying.

In retrospect, I experienced some extremes with food on this trip. I either ate too many vegetables at once or too much meat at once. Next time, I'll opt for something in-between with the best of both foods. There's something cool about trying new things, like embarking on a road trip to a faraway land with people I know and people I met along the way. There's also something nice about the familiar, like old friends and comfort food that surprises you. Instead of going to extremes for the hell of it, I think I will try to strike a healthy balance next time in a way that works for me.

-- Michelle

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Taking a Bite out of the Big Apple

It's been way too long since Michelle's last blog post. There are too many places that I've eaten at and not blogged about. Some places are "meh" while others are worth sharing about.

The #1 place that I've been too so far in recent months? SHANGHAI CAFE DELUXE! This hole-in-the-wall in the heart of New York Chinatown never has an empty table. On any given day, people wait diligently for a free table just to sample the Siu-Long-Baos/Xiao-Long-Baos/Soup Dumplings that made this joint famous. I don't have any pictures of these famous dumplings, but a quick search on Yelp proves that people who have eaten here absolutely love them. Check it out:

Another tasty venue is Yatenga French Bistro & Bar in Harlem. Their creme brulee is buttery heaven -- flavorful, yet light and fluffy! Also, the decor looks really swanky. People sit at the bar with their laptops, listening to Spotify and just hanging out. The furniture is cute as well, shabby chic wooden chairs with huge windows that are conducive to people-watching.
Here's a glimpse of their website if you want more information:
Feel free to Yelp Yatenga to see other reviews!

Of course, there's Nikko Asian Fusion in Morningside Heights/Harlem. This new restaurant does Hibachi well. Waiters cook your food in front of you, so you're essentially paying for the frills and ribbons of having chefs work their magic on the stove in front of you. It's a great place to take your friends for their birthdays, which is what we did. Happy Birthday, Sarah! I like Nikko's because it sets itself apart from other "fusion" restaurants because of it's hibachi angle. To be honest, I don't really care for Asian Fusion, I just like a good dinner and show. :D

Lastly, I must blog about Ellen's Stardust Diner in Midtown. This restaurant is close to the Gershwin Theatre -- home to "Wicked"! "Mamma Mia" and "Sister Act" are around the corner, as is Conan O'Brien. Or David Letterman? I can't remember, and in any case...I'm not blogging about them right now. Stardust is excellent because it has SINGING WAITERS. Because of the 1950s decor, neon-infused, futuristic uniforms, and over-the-top ambiance, this place gets five stars from me. The singing waiters are no joke; they belt out Broadway tunes and serenade the guests. Most of the waiters are waiting tables here until their talent whisks them away to bigger stages, like the Broadway venues within walking distance. A few alums have gone onto "Sister Act" and the L.A. rounds of American Idol. Em, Ana, and I invited Crys to this place for her birthday dinner because, honestly, where else do you take a working actress in New York who's got a voice that could double as Adele's? :) HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CRYSTAL!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Just To Say

Steph fully intends on blogging her food experiences from Cameroon.

She's moving in to village on Tuesday. :) Maybe she'll learn a new dish and post about it by the new year!

- S

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Zona Rosa in Pasadena

Another day of exploring L.A.’s coffee culture, except this time, we ventured a little further to Pasadena. With Serial Foodies regular Bianca, I visited Zona Rosa, a tiny cafĂ© in Pasadena's Playhouse District. There is a paucity of tables, but at the same time, it doesn’t seem that there is ever an unbearable crowd. I recommend grabbing a seat on the sidewalk tables, because you can see the locals walk by and the theater crew pushing speakers back and forth across the street.

The coffee was great, a medium strength house bean that was perfect for a mid-morning meetup. A very strong A!

(I got the double caffe latte!)

Great company in Bianca! A local and a very great friend!

- Steph

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Eat Real Festival in Culver City

Last weekend (during the supposed "Carmaggedon"...not), I had the opportunity to check out the Eat Real Festival in Culver City, a food truck event at Helms Bakery celebrating sustainability and environmentally-friendly fooding! I grabbed a quick bite from The Hungry Nomad, a truck that comes to UCLA very often.

I tried out the Za'Atar Feta wrap, a super nomnom veggie dish that combines sesame seeds, mint, tomato, French feta cheese, and thyme within a thick and doughy wrap. I forgot to take a picture, but here's a snapshot from their website!

It wasn't a flavor explosion in my mouth, but it was definitely a light and tasty midday meal. If I was famished, it wouldn't have done the job. But I very much enjoyed it! B+


Monday, July 18, 2011

:) A Korean Delight

So this is more about a dish rather than a particular place. But, if you live near a Koreatown or anywhere in Orange County, finding a place that serves that dish is a piece of cake!

So in Korean, it is phonetically pronounced pat-bing-soo. It's a cold dessert with shaved ice, a scoop of ice cream, and every topping imaginable! The classic kind that your friendly neighborhood Korean person might get has red beans in it, but also popular are fruit-based and cereal-based pat-bing-soos! Basically, anything you can put on froyo you can put in this!


Sunday, June 5, 2011

Chef Michelle's Restaurant

After a crazy day at work and school, I thought it would be a good idea to cook. Somehow, I believed it would help me de-stress.

This usually never happens. I mean, wouldn't it make more sense to just order take out after a long, hard day? My mind doesn't work that way, I suppose. If I've had a difficult day, I like concentrating on something else. So, I put all my energy into cooking a real meal!

I impulsively bought some uncooked shrimp and beef at my local grocery store. After peeling the shrimp and putting them in boiling water to cook, I added olive oil, garlic salt, regular salt, and pepper to give the dead shrimp some zest. That was doable.

Funny enough, the beef was tougher. Rarely have I ever cooked beef in a way I dislike. I eat beef often enough to know how to cook it well for myself. This time, however, I unnecessarily boiled the beef cubes before I cooked them. After draining the water and dousing the meat with the same stuff I used on the shrimp, I realized just how overcooked it might taste.

I still managed, but I'll know better next time! Somehow, I got some tasty au jus out of the whole situation.

-- Michelle

Hungarian Pastry Shop

Check out the cream puff and Russian Coffee at the Hungarian Pastry Shop! The cream puff tasted good, but the coffee makes this place special. There are so many coffees and desserts to choose from, I'm going to sample them one at a time. I would recommend the Russian Coffee to chocolate-lovers.

Good luck finding a spot inside. Chances are, someone has already beaten you to that table and is permanently parked there. That's okay; I prefer studying and eating breakfast outside where I can people-watch and listen to the church bells toll every hour.

-- Michelle


Good friends + good food = happy stomach

That's water, if anyone was wondering. :)

Fruit smoothie!

Sunday brunch and study session

When I don't know what to get, I order a butter and sugar crepe. It has never disappointed me before, and neither does Artopolis.

Waffle station

...Sandwiches, salads, savory crepes, sweet crepes, gelato, cakes, and more! Artopolis has variety. This cafe is one of my favorites! It has a warm vibe all year round.

Halal Food

There are food carts all over New York City. Some sell hotdogs, croissant sandwiches, orange juice, coffee, or ice cream. Others sell something I had never heard of before: Halal food. Before I tried it, I didn't know why people would wait in line for chicken and rice, or gyros from a one-man cart stand.

The guy at the stand cooks the food in front of you. The portions are huge. The price is right. $5 for a full lunch box? I wouldn't have it any other way.

Not only does the food smell amazing and attract hungry people, the cuisine has a religious component as well. I googled the word, "halal" online. According to, halal means "permissable" or "lawful". In terms of food and drink, halal includes anything that follows Islamic dietary guidelines.

I definitely recommend that tourists, especially, try food from a halal cart. It's a new experience that shouldn't be overlooked.

FYI: Ask for the white sauce if you prefer non-spicy food. I tried a plate with white sauce, and it was tasty. I also asked for "everything" during my second halal cart experience and got a flaming red sauce mixed in with the white sauce. If you're brave enough to try the red sauce, make sure you have water with you!



328 Malcolm X Blvd. and West 127th St is the home of an incredible restaurant that every New Yorker has heard of called Sylvia's. It serves delicious soul food! My friends from graduate school asked where I wanted to go for my birthday dinner. I chose Sylvia's because I had never been to this restaurant before, and my cousin kept saying, "You have to eat there!"

Yes, I'm well aware my birthday was months ago...but I wanted to post pictures of Sylvia's!!!!

After our evening class, we waited for a bus to take us to my birthday dinner. Unfortunately, it was sprinkling. Within seconds, we were pelted with hail. (See the white specks in the picture above....)

...Happy birthday to me!

What's more amazing is that these girls hopped on the bus in spite of the crazy weather. That was one of the best birthday presents ever.

Check out our feast:

-- Michelle

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Jazz Reggae Festival at UCLA

I wish I remembered the name of this restaurant. I truly do. It was a stall at UCLA's 25th Jazz Reggae Festival, and surprisingly one with a short line. But boy...did it serve up a mean catfish sandwich. DELICIOUS. And I got to eat it while listening to Lupe Fiasco, live.


Also, my friend Amrik tried a jamaican dinner plate with jerk chicken and rice. :) His review is in the video. He's new to this.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Griddle Cafe

How does one ever explain The Griddle Cafe? It's a kitschy, but necessary L.A. favorite. My first time there, I ran into LMFAO. Located right on the Sunset Strip (at Fairfax, I believe), its almost too easy to miss this tiny, breakfast-sugar establishment. But you never will, because the wait is always an hour long with a hungry crowd outside to prove it.

You have to approach the Griddle as a blood sugar challenge. If you are healthy, one meal there will bump you up to pre-diabetic. If you are pre-diabetic, you may not survive. For example, a famous dish at the Griddle is the red velvet pancake. You are given a single pancake made of red velvet (as in for cupcakes, yes), the size of a dinner plate and just over an inch deep. They then top that with CREAM CHEESE frosting and powdered sugar.

I give it a B+, because I was sincerely overwhelmed. It's a LOT to handle for a serious breakfast. But it's a must-do. :)

Paper or Plastik

I can't believe I missed blogging about Paper or Plastik!

:) WHAT A GREAT PLACE! In my vision of searching for that great cafe, PoP fits the bill to a tee. Fun crowd. Great coffee. Sexy baristas (I's run by three 20-or-30-something male models). Industrial space. Great windows. Middle-of-the-room iron staircase. Wifi. And it's attached to AND overlooks a dance studio. It's like the coffee gods took a snapshot of all my hopes and desires, and manifested them as a coffee institution. And, to make it even cooler, there's no real sign out front saying that you've found PoP. It just says..."CAFE." How hip.

Great for dates, studying, impressing people with your knowledge of cool places!!!

Planet Earth Eco Cafe

This one is special to my heart, as it was the recommendation of one of my campers from UCLA Unicamp, Razy! For our reunion in Hermosa Beach, we grabbed some coffee at Planet Earth Eco Cafe!

If you're looking to read a book, impress a date, or play hippie for a day, this cute coffee spot is the perfect place to be! The floor-to-ceiling windows gives it a bright and cheerful atmosphere, and the clientele is a fun mix of locals, families, and studiers.'s just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the beach!

Mas Malo

* This is Steph's first post in several weeks. As a result, you'll get a lot of scrumptious pictures and summative remarks, as the memory of specific dishes have long since walked the desolate halls of my mind. :)


We went to MAS MALO as a part of a great friend's 22nd birthday (BUTTERCUP!). What I was told was that it was a Mexican restaurant downtown. What I wasn't told was that it was a super hip, clubby BCBG-ype cocina. The food is AMAZING. Apparently it's the second phase of the mothership restaurant, MALO.

What it's known for: hipster Mexican food. Get the chips especial...which are soggy chips. So warm. So good. MM is great if you're vying for a clubby atmosphere with friends before a night of dancing and drinks. And it's downtown! How can you beat that?!


Housewarming Party!

Portuguese coffee is tiny like Cuban coffee. It's adorable!

Why are we posing with orange juice at a dinner get-together? Cuz we're awesome...

Some Portuguese delicacies: dates wrapped in bacon...

...and bread with ham, turkey, and chorizo.

-- Michelle

Max Caffe -- Upper West Side

One of the perks of summer in New York City is that the weather warms up super fast and lasts all day long. From the moment I step outside of my air-conditioned lobby, the humidity, car exhaust, and grime of America's most frequented city sticks to me in the same way that a dog attaches itself to a fire hydrant without fail.

On a Friday night, I invited a friend to not study. Instead, we decided to make the most of our mind-bogglingly academic "summer vacation". So, we parked ourselves at a table outside and people-watched until the sun went down.

May I just say there are some really cute guys at this cafe???? Like the one sitting next to us all by himself....

I digress. This is a food blog, so I should talk about food, yes? Eh....maybe next time. This time, the things that mattered were good friends and conversation, enjoying the city, and boy-scouting, apparently!