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