Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Cafe des Amis - Dixie Restaurant

Had a great time at Cafe des Amis Brasserie on Union Street in the Marina/Cow Hollow section of San Francisco. We enjoyed some drinks and light snacks with a couple of friends before heading over to the new Dixie Restaurant in the Presidio. Both restaurants are quite enjoyable for different reasons.

Oysters by the Dozen
Moscow Mule
At the Brasserie we started out with a dozen of fresh plump oysters which were quite delicious. Added to that we had strong, and I mean strong vodka gimlets up with cheese stuffed olives. We also had a couple of Moscow Mules. Kinda sweet but strong.

Brasserie tables
We started by sitting at the bar and since the day was a rare beautiful sunny day in SF, we then moved to a sidewalk table and watched the parade of pretty people move down Union Street. Beautiful cars too, we counted just about as many Ferraris as we had seen parading in London near Harrod's. It was a happening afternoon in Cow Hollow.

Dixie Entrance
After tearing ourselves away from our sidewalk table we headed over to the new Dixie Restaurant in the old Letterman Hospital building. The Dixie is on the ground floor with beautiful views of the old presidio grounds and the Palace of Fine arts in the Marina. They’re really doing a fine, high quality job with the Presidio rehab.

Pork Belly
The Dixie has the trappings of a Southern plantation and its menu is a complete success, marrying meat-and-starch with fresh produce and a light, artistic touch... Mmm. 
Quail and Waffles

Roast Duck
We loved the duck course and especially liked the deep fried pork belly. Also liked the fried quail and roasted garlic waffles. Crispy roast duck too.
Choclate Olive Oil Cake
For dessert the Chocolate Olive Oil Cake w/Chocolate Mousse and Lemon Ice Cream was unbelievable. Very tasty.

Both the Cafe des Amis in Cow Hollow and Dixie in the Presidio are quite good, San Francisco style.

 We shall Return, highly recommended!

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Friday, July 27, 2012

Burma (Myanmar)

Got a chance to stop in Tachileik, Burma (Myanmar) for the day. Here’s some of what we saw…

We went into town across the Thai-Burma friendship bridge. We were somewhat surprised when entering Burma they didn’t just stamp our passports, they took them and threw ‘em in a pile. They told us not to worry; just use the paper ID tags they gave us and we’ll get our passports back when we leave Burma. Sounded dangerous but hopefully they’ll be there when we leave.

Burma is part of the Golden Triangle, or Sop Ruak.
According to the CIA Factbook, It’s the “world’s second largest producer of opium”  behind only  Afghanistan. 

Stopped by the Wat Phra Yok for a little serenity. The monks had a Burmese style white jade buddha which was quite serene in its own right.

We hiked up the tallest hill in the village to visit the Shwedagon Pagoda, a golden pagoda that was built to replicate the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon, the former capital of Burma, The Rangoon Shwedagon Pagoda is considered the most sacred in Burma. Good views of the village from the hill top.

Back in town, there were people from the hill tribes everywhere, each one distinctive in their tribal clothing; we went on to the village of Tai Yai, home of the Shan hill people who plied us with cobra whiskey. Cobra whiskey seems extra strong, with that cobra just sitting there on the bottom of the bottle staring at you after each sip.

The day ended, and when we stopped for our passports, sure enough, there they were in the same pile as we left them. We picked them up and headed for Chiang Rai. Good time in Burma. I mean Myanmar.

Cafe Tortoni, Buenos Aires

If you want to experience the oldest café in Buenos Aires, the Gran Café Tortoni is it. With high ceilings, art nouveau design, it’s a classic Porteño café dating from 1858. High profile visitors have included Albert Einstein, the King of Spain and Hillary Clinton among others. Don’t miss their specialty, Chocolate con Churros- thick, creamy chocolate with fresh donuts.

The Café is a historic tango scene and every evening they present a different show and you must have reservations. And for that small fee and the cost of a drink, you can sit in their historical basement salon and enjoy lively tango music and dancing.

Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

While we were in Buenos aires we decided to take a ferry across the Rio de la Plata and visit Uruguay, and it’s preserved historic river town, Colonia del Sacramento. An easy one day trip.
Colonia is served by three ferryboat lines from Buenos Aires: Buquebus, Seacat Colonia and Colonia Express. We took the fastest Buquebus Catamaran and it took about an hour; the slow boats take 3. Great trip across the river to Uruguay. The high speed ferry left about 9:00 and got back around 5:00 and was comfortable and smooth.
Colonia del Sacramento (Nova Colonia do Santissimo Sacramento) was founded in 1680 by the Portuguese (Manuel Lobo). Its strategic position and use as a smuggling port meant that its sovereignty was hotly contested and the city changed hands several times between Spain and Portugal.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is renowned for it’s original Barrio Histórico, which retains its irregular street plan contrasting with the wider streets in the newer Spanish area.

The Barrio Histórico has many nice outdoor restaurants to people watch and spend some time at. 
We walked all over Colonia. The Barrio Historico is only about 10 blocks square and the town is very walkable and charming. A lot of the  the streets are lined with beautiful sycamore trees. The old Barrio still has cobblestone streets and i was like stepping back in time, The town is very peaceful and unhurried with very few cars driving on the streets. There are quite a few classic old Cars parked around town however, which adds to the fun.
It is a charming and interesting little town to explore along the River. It would have been very easy to bring an overnight bag on the Buquebus and stay the weekend. A few hours time isn’t really enough to fully enjoy this beautiful place. We plan to return in the future and explore Colonia a little longer and maybe go to Montevideo. Highly recommended!

Buenos Aires, Argentina

We were lucky enough to visit Buenos Aires recently and really enjoyed the complex, energetic port city that stretches along the Rio de la Plata. It has been the gateway to Argentina for centuries and porteños, as the people of Buenos Aires are known, possess a rich cultural life and identity. They value their European heritage highly--Italian and German names outnumber Spanish. It’s a fantastic city.
The city's neighborhoods are small, each with its own characteristic colors and forms. In the San Telmo district, the city's multinational heritage is embodied in a varied and cosmopolitan architecture - Spanish Colonial design with Italian detailing and graceful French Classics. La Boca's pressed tin houses are painted a many colors, and muralists have turned the district's side streets into avenues of color.
The spirit of Argentina as a country is present everywhere in Buenos Aires. The Tango, The national dance, is the best expression of that spirit--performed in dance halls, parks, open plazas, and ballrooms; it’s a dance of intimate separation and rhythm, combining both an elegant reserve and passion.

Four Seasons Pool
We stayed in the Recoleta area at the Four Seasons and it was quite nice with excellent service and a very convenient location. Close to downtown but not extremely far from areas like Palermo. The food, both at the restaurants and for room service is really good. If you go for business reasons, stay on the Executive Floor. They have a nice living room with a very handy Nespresso machine; tea and cold beverages are also available. The bed was very comfortable and the wifi worked well. All in all, the Four Seasons was a great choice.

We also had a chance to have dinner and see a Tango show at The Faena + Universe hotel in the Puerto Madera area on the La Plata River. Philippe Stark designed the hotel in old historic mills that add a unique porteño ambiance to the place. Have heard both good and bad about staying in the hotel itself, but the dinner and tango show were great.

We had an excellent time in Buenos Aires and had a lot to see and do. Wonderful experience. Highly recommended!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Le Colonial

Le Colonial is a true find! It's located in an alley in downtown SF and this weekend we experienced the excellent French-Vietnamese food they’re famous for. Le Colonial is in the building that used to be the famed Trader Vic’s Restaurant on Cosmo Alley. The inner courtyard, which once housed legendary Trader Vic’s, has been transformed into an oasis featuring mosaic-like tile flooring, a vaulted, pressed-tin ceiling, tropical plants and plush rattan furniture accented by extensive candlelight. It’s an exotic beautiful space.

Upstairs Lounge
We began upstairs in the lounge that over looks Cosmo Alley. It has beautiful seating, whirling fans and strong, tasty drinks. We had the signature Le Colonial, a vodka-passionfruit puree, and a Viet Gimlet, a strong vodka-cucumber gimlet. Good drinks in wonderful surroundings.

Le Colonial advertises itself as French-Vietnamese and that it is. The tastes, preparation, and ingredients are all Vietnamese but the way in which the items are combined and put together has a new style with a modern french touch. This food is exceptional.

Patio Dining
From the lounge, we moved down to the the beautifully decorated outdoor patio and experienced fabulous service! Patient, quick, always-watching, they knew when to refill our water glasses and when we were ready for the main course instantaneously. The servers were nice, friendly, and patient.

The sommelier recommended a light french Pinot Noir which went perfectly with the French Vietnamese food. It turned out to be a nice change compared to the Reisling
we usually have with asian food.

Thit Kho Chien
For starters we began with Thit Kho Chien, a wonderful twice baked pork belly, savory pear, truffle oil and and quail egg on top. Another starter was Banh Xeo,a crispy crepe filled with lobster and shrimp. Hmm good!

Banh Xeo

Bo Luc Lac
Moving on to main dish, we had Bo Luc Lac. A wok seared Filet Mignon with garlic-soy sauce, pickled red onions and shoestring potatoes. Steak so tender you can cut it with a fork. 
Side dishes were Xu Bruxelles, sweet chili Nuoc Cham glazed brussels sprouts and portobello mushrooms that tasted great along with Com Dua, coconut rice which hit the spot too.

Xu Bruxelles with sweet chili Nuoc Cham glaze
Le Colonial is a favorite. The food is out of this world, a fantastic blend of French and Vietnamese. The mixed drinks decadently delicious and not skimped on in the least. There’s also an extensive wine list filled with top choices that will pair perfectly with your meal. You get what you pay for here… top notch French Vietnamese cuisine served with flair in an atmosphere that captures the essence of French colonized Vietnam and the modern world… 

Highly recommended!

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Monday, July 2, 2012

San Juan Bautista

Mission San Juan Bautista

We had a great trip to the town of San Juan Bautista near Monterey, CA. It’s an old town built around the Mission that was begun June 24, 1797 by Franciscan Father Fermin Lasuen. The mission was the 15th of 21 built by missionaries in the untamed new frontier of Alto California. Mission San Juan Bautista still serves as a local catholic church for the surrounding area. We were there Sunday and it was packed with local people.
Mission Bapistry
The mission was built along the El Camino Real or the King’s highway, which ran from Mission San Diego all the way to Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma. The mission settlements were approximately 30 miles (48 kilometers) apart, so that they were separated by one long day's ride on horseback along the 600-mile (966-kilometer) long El Camino Real.
Fault Scarp to the left of Original El Camino Real Roadway
Mission San Juan Bautista was built next to the famed San Andreas Fault. It's only about 100 feet from the mission walls. There’s a 15 foot cliff (fault scarp) that is visable and where the Pacific tectonic plate piles up against the North American plate. This old section of the original El Camino Real follows the fault itself, close to the mission. Very interesting.
Castro/Breen Adobe
There are many old buildings in San Juan Bautista including the Castro/Breen Adobe which originally was built as an adobe home in 1838 for Mexican General Jose Castro. The adobe then became a home for the Breen family who had survived 111 days in the Sierra Nevada Mountains as members of the Donner Party. The sixteen year old Breen son, John, set out for the gold fields in 1848 and returned with over $10,000.00 in gold dust. The Gold dust was used by the Breens to buy the adobe from the Castros and 400 acres of prime farmland nearby. 
Plaza Hotel
There’s also the Plaza hotel which was begun in 1814 as a one-story adobe barrack for the spanish soldiers who protected the mission. In 1865 Italian immigrant Angelo Zanetta leased the building and added a redwood second story that became the Plaza Hotel, opening in 1859. The Plaza was well known for it's fine dining and popular saloon.
Plaza Hall
Angelo Zanetta later remodeled an earlier mission building into Plaza Hall which became the large elegant Zanetta home. Many elegant events were held in the grand ballroom upstairs.
The Plaza Stable serviced the busy stagecoach and wagon traffic through San Juan Batista when it was a transpotation hub on the El Camino Real. There were up to 11 stage coaches a day that passed through San Juan Bautista on The Royal Road. Eventually the railroad bypassed the town and San Juan Bautista declined in importance.
San Juan Baptista Main Alter
The old mission itself has a peaceful, very restful kind of atmosphere. San Juan Bautista is a must see. Highly Recommended!
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