Tommaso’s Ristorante Italiano + Martuni’s Piano Lounge

Our Memorial Weekend began with a bang. My law school roommate, Jazzgirl, invited us to Martuni’s piano lounge to celebrate her girlfriend DM’s birthday. For dinner beforehand, we visited one of our all-time favorite Italian restaurants in San Francisco – Tommaso’s (AK was really excited that I picked an Italian eatery as opposed the usual East Asian fare). Legend has it that Francis Ford Coppola, director of the Godfather trilogy, used to eat here all the time when his studio was in North Beach (although I normally don’t care about where celebrities eat, I think Mr. Coppola is actually Italian…so I’m giving his opinion some weight).

Tommaso’s is a traditional Italian restaurant with a menu that probably has not changed in decades – one would not find, say, a pizza with prosciutto, asiago, gorgonzola, balsamic reduction and fig preserve here (that would be Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, a different but equally excellent pizza place). What they have on offer, however, is amazing. AK and I shared a pasta dish, the wonderful meatball ravioli combo, and a sausage pepperoni pizza.

Tommasos - Meatball Ravioli

Tommasos - Pizza

Those brick ovens churn out such delicious crusts! My photo doesn’t do it justice. (Also, I’ve been relying on the iPhone camera exclusively recently, but have not been completely satisfied with the quality.)  We devoured our food with relish.

After dinner, we drove over to Martuni’s, located in the part of SoMa that’s closer to the Mission/Lower Haight. We parked right outside of this very cute establishment. Is it an inviting coffee shop? A cozy ethnic restaurant? A hipster vinyl record store?

Ketama

The answer is none of the above. This place is…a medical marijuana dispensary! You would never have known this from the outside. I couldn’t believe how this was just one the side of a busy road, with people just casually strolling in and out of the establishment. I suppose San Francisco doesn’t get its reputation for cannabis-friendliness for nothing!

I loved the concept of Martuni’s. Guests are invited to make song requests, and there is an open mike for people to belt out their favorite tunes (unfortunately, it was too dark and too crowded for pictures). It turned out to be great deal of fun – I had not been to a piano bar in ages! It was certainly more entertaining than just the average dive, and many of the singers sounded professional (I was told that this was a popular hangout for theater people). It was also a very friendly and chatty crowd. After a few hours, however, AK and I started to feel strangely old, even though we were by no means the oldest people there. I guess we were just not accustomed to staying out this late anymore (sadly, any place outside of the home after 10 p.m. feels “late” these days). Shortly after 11 p.m., we bid adieu to the birthday girl and headed back to the Peninsula. It was past midnight by the time we got home, and we quickly rolled into bed. What an wonderful evening it was.

Tommaso’s Ristorante Italiano
1042 Kearny Street
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 398-9696
http://tommasos.com

Martuni’s
4 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 241-0205
http://martunis.ypguides.net

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Mother’s Day Brunch (Newport Beach, CA)

Mothers Day (w Sherry)

For Mother’s Day this year, my extended family gathered at the Palm Terrace Restaurant inside the Island Hotel in swanky Newport Beach. We had forgotten to ask the server for a group photo, so I’m posting two almost identical photos so that both photographers (my sister and my cousin) can be included. I think everyone looked great! I also love how the restaurant seated us at a round table – much easier for socializing and having group conversations.

Mothers Day (w Kalen)

The food was pretty decent too, especially the chicken and waffle dish.

Dish - Chicken+Waffles

AK had only ordered the Belgian waffle and was kicking himself after seeing the delicious fried chicken. At least his dish included some juicy strawberries…

Dish - Waffles

My dish was an interpretation of a Japanese breakfast, which, not surprisingly, was not very authentic. Not only was the rice too hard, but the flavors were bland (I was even forced to pour soy sauce on my rice…that’s how desperate I was).

Dish - Japanese

One of the best dishes was the crab cakes topped with poached eggs and truffle hollendaise sauce. I had serious food envy (why is this photo is so blurry?! I feel like I didn’t take this photo, but maybe in the excitement of the moment, my hands were trembling?).

Dish - Crab Cake

The restaurant was not at full capacity (I believe everyone else was at the $94 special brunch next door), so even after we finished our meal, we had plenty of time to catch up leisurely. Thanks to the high ceilings, which helped muffle the loud chatter coming from our table, we didn’t attract any sidelong glances or unwanted attention from other guests.

After lunch, the whole group wandered over to nearby Fashion Island shopping center, where pet dogs were out in force (it was a glorious, sunny day, perfect for outdoor shopping). We all enjoyed some old-fashioned people- and dog-watching, and most of the group ended up taking a very long detour at an expansive pet store with tons of animals (the usual cats and dogs, but also rabbits, parrots, hamsters, and many others). I bowed out early, since I had to take AK to the airport. Wonder how much longer everyone else stuck around to pet the animals?

Palm Terrace Restaurant
Island Hotel
690 Newport Center Drive
Newport Beach, CA 92660
(949) 760-4920
http://www.islandhotel.com/Dining/PalmTerraceRestaurant.aspx

A New Home

Part of our mission driving down to LA is to deliver a dining set to my mom, who had recently purchased a new home in a retirement community in Riverside County.  I thought it would be great if she could make use of my old dining set from Scandinavian Designs, which I had used for only a few short years before moving out of my first apartment after law school. Before you think that I’m offloading some shoddy used furniture, keep in mind that since I was working extremely long hours at the law firm back then and barely cooked, this dining set is practically new and in great condition.

To the surprise of AK and me, the entire table (with expandable, retractable hidden leaves) and all four chairs fit into my small Acura RSX! Love how the backseats fold down in this little hatchback, my trusty companion for more than ten years. It took us almost two hours to drive to the new house from Cerritos, where we had begun the caravan with my mom and my 3rd aunt, and another half an hour or so to unload and reassemble. The result is quite fantastic – the new dining set fits well into its new home and looks like it’s always belonged there. It gave me great joy to help furnish the new place!

Dining Set

My mom had done extensive renovations throughout the house, and she proudly showed us every detail. Her crew had done a really great job. I especially loved the choice of hardwood floor – it’s hard to see in this picture (the color is not quite that dark), but the hand-scraped wood texture is gorgeous.

After a late lunch at Chipotle Mexican Grill (one of our favorite quickie eateries back home, and we introduced my mom and my aunt to this great healthy option), AK drove us around to look at some houses for sale in the neighboring cities. Unfortunately, we were only able to look at the exteriors of the houses, but what we saw was impressive – certainly better bang for the buck when you go outside of the Greater LA area (times like this always make me question the wisdom in living in such an expensive region as the San Francisco Bay Area). We didn’t get back to Cerritos until close to 9 p.m. (when we promptly wolfed down some bento boxes my brother had purchased for us), but it was a very productive day.

A Trip to the East Bay

AK and I spend very little time in the East Bay as a couple. I meet up with K or the MoFo girls in Oakland on occasion (always with a side trip to my favorite bakery, La Farine), or he goes to Cal football games as a season ticket holder with his friends.  On the occasion of the first birthday celebration of JK’s youngest son, however, we headed out to San Ramon, a quiet residential community a little less than an hour away.

Although I sometimes dread kids’ birthday parties at which I don’t know anyone, this party turned out to be really fun. JK, his lovely wife and their three children all dressed up in traditional Korean hanbok, and the overall atmosphere was warm and festive. Most of the guests were the hosts’ friends from church, and at least in my experience, that generally means an extra level of friendliness and inclusiveness. We ended up talking to a couple from LA and found out that the wife used to teach at Whitney High School in Cerritos (my rival high school)! Talk about a small world. It was really great to see her passion and enthusiasm for teaching – makes me feel grateful for the amazing teachers I have had in my own life.

The most exciting part of the party was probably when the bouncy house collapsed due to the motor shorting out the electric fuse. There was immediately a mad scramble to rescue all the kids trapped inside, and when all the young ones were finally accounted for (not an easy feat given the large number), all the parents breathed a sigh of relief. Thankfully, no one was hurt. After the commotion, we got a chance to spend a little time with JK and get a tour of the house – it was absolutely beautiful and spacious. We were especially impressed with the huge den that doubles as an amazing playroom, with storage benches that lined the wall and beautiful mahogany built-in closets (that even includes Murphy bed!).

JoeK

JK had a photographer friend take candids from the party, but unfortunately my double chin shows through in all but one of the photos of me (it’s time to start running regularly again!). So, though it’s a bit serious, here’s a only one that I’m including just for the sake of documenting the day. Wonder what the topic was for us to be all so deep in conversation?

My 40th Birthday!

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My dear friends insisted on taking me out to dinner for this milestone birthday a couple of weeks ago. It was quite a generous gesture, especially since I had already celebrated with AK at Atelier Crenn, itself quite the splurge (it was a surprise location to me). We chose AQ in San Francisco, which has won much critical acclaim since its opening in 2011 (voted by Esquire magazine as one of the 5 best new restaurants in SF; nominated for a James Beard award). The food was quite tasty, if expensive, and the presentation was beautiful and exquisite. But my favorite part was the decor, which changes with the seasons. In this photo, I’m standing under cherry blossoms created from paper that are part of the “spring” theme. Reminds me of being back in Washington DC!

2011 Holiday Card

This year Alex and I finally got our act together to design a holiday photocard!  Although it was not created in time for Christmas, we were happy nonetheless to be able to send our friends and family our best wishes for the new year.  Websites like Tiny Prints also make the whole design process effortless and fun (when was the last time you had to “design” something?).  Here is the end result:

2011 Holiday Card (Front)

2011 Holiday Card (Back)

 

I have always wondered why photocards seem to be the exclusive domain of families with children.  Is it because couples and single people tend to feel too self-conscious or self-indulgent?  (I certainly hope that none of our recipients thought so.)  Somehow, parading adorable photos of your kids is socially acceptable, even encouraged in some circles, but sending around your vacation photos from that cool trip to Argentina can be considered showing off.  Seems to me that there is a bit of a double standard in perception.  I would think that if done with the right tone and editorial acumen, anyone should be able to send out interesting photocards that are met with enthusiastic reception.  After all, I have know my friends for much longer than I’ve know anyone’s kids, right?

Inauguration 2009 (1.16.2009 Friday) – Welcome to DC!

cm-photos-inauguration-2009-038
(Photo:  A timely window display adorned with umbrellas)

Nothing screams power like Washington D.C. during Inauguration Weekend.  On our flight to DC from San Francisco, I sat next to a lovely, slightly older woman who is probably in her early forties.  Let’s call her M. Butterfly – no relation to Puccini or David Henry Hwang – for her über social skills.  We struck up a friendly conversation about the inauguration (“this flight is like the ‘Inauguration Shuttle,’ ha ha”), airline food (she was eating her Boudin chili bread bowl, and I a bento box from the forgettable Japanese restaurant at SFO), traveling (we both loved Turkey) and cultural issues (neither of us married someone of the same ethnic background).

Then, the following events transpired:

1.  M. Butterfly reveals that she is actually a state judge.  Immediately, I slide my copy of US Weekly behind my other magazines, and for the rest of the flight resigned myself to reading the marginally more respectable Esquire with Shepard Fairey’s portrait of President-Elect Obama on the cover.  shepard-fairey-obama-portraitI’m sure you’ve seen this mix-media stenciled collage of Barack Obama, but here it is to the right, lending a modicum of legitimacy to my reading material.  Worse, I had not realized that Esquire was a men’s magazine (ah, the depths of my occasional ignorance).  Thankfully, M. Butterfly gives me her copy of the New York Times, required reading for any “elitist” (you know, people like Obama).

2.  M. Butterfly chats with Older Bearded Man three aisles down, then introduces him to us.  After OBM (Old Bearded Man) leaves, she remarked, “He is so nice and down to earth considering he is married to a Congresswoman.”  AK and I are surprised.

3.  After 5 hours in the air, our plane makes an emergency landing at Chicago’s O’Hare airport.  Apparently a passenger had a cardiac arrest (hope he is okay – luckily for him there were 3 or 4 doctors/nurses on board).  We were now scheduled to land at 3:00 a.m. East Coast time (been on the plane since 4:30 pm – argh!).  M. Butterfly and I have more time to chat.  I find out that her husband has been commuting to DC for work.

3.  At baggage claim, M. Butterfly introduces us to her husband, who gives off a Rahm Emanuel presence (smart, intense, workaholic) without the gangster vibe (no dead fishes here), plus a few of their other friends.  One of their friends comments to Mr. Butterfly that “you only have 4 days left – are you guys ready?”  AK and I decide that he must work for the new administration, which is why he has been in DC the past couple of months.

4.  OBM introduces us to his wife, the Congresswoman (they don’t know that we know).  She’s nice enough.  We ask about where they live.  They mention that they have a house in the Bay Area and on “the Hill” and laughs about paying two sets of bills (don’t taxpayers pay one set?).  AK and I feel out of place.

5.  Mr. Butterfly runs into his favorite professor from Yale Law School.  Introduces us to the professor.  She jokes about “we need to get M. Butterfly a judgeship in DC.”  AK and I have difficulty following their conversation.  Mr. Butterfly then introduces OBM to the professor as “the most prominent trusts and estates lawyer in California.”  AK and I continue to feel out of place.

6.  AK and I slowly slither away from this informal gathering of the power elite.  We bid adieu to the group.

This is the interesting thing about the nation’s capital – status and power is palpable here, even if you care very little for it.  I always know when I’m back in in this town, even if I had forgotten its quintessence.  Welcome to DC!

2009: New Year’s Resolutions

Wow, 2009.  Can’t believe it’s finally here.  I know it’s cliché to have New Year’s resolutions, but it’s kinda fun to take the opportunity to really think about what you want the next year to be.  My goals are simple:

(1) Get Organized.  6+ years of working law firm hours has really disintegrated the order in my life.  This resolution is actually multi-faceted:  I hope to have a clean house (where anyone can drop by at any time with short notice. . . my model is Ms. Escape – that’s you ESC – whose place appears to be the cover of a Pottery Barn catalog at all times), pristine files (I used to be able to locate a phone bill from 3 years ago within minutes!) and send out more thank-you cards.  This also includes having a more active social calendar to see my friends and family.  Of course, better time management should also mean that I have more time to write for this little pet project.

(2) Get Fit/Lose Weight.  Talk about overused – this is probably top on many people’s list.  I was able to lose about 10 pounds in the last 4-6 months through a combo of exercise (started boot camp right before our Peru trip) and diet (thanks Hui for the inspiration and the food journal idea).  Although this is nowhere near the amount of weight I had gained since graduating from law school, I am happy to have gotten back on the right path.  Hope to continue in 2009 (holiday pounds, be gone!).

(3) Get Involved.  I think I did way more community service and charity work when I was in high school.  This has got to change.  I have some ideas, including volunteering to feed Koko the gorilla (did you know that Koko lives in the Bay Area?!).  Let me know if you have any good suggestions.

Here is a little poll about resolutions – let me know where you stand!

New Year’s Eve

 logo_knifespork

A definite sign of getting old is that I no longer have any desire to attend those fancy New Year’s Eve parties.  Been there, done that.  You pay $75-100 to get at most 2-3 drinks (the lines at the bar usually snake around the room), deafening dance music and an uncomfortably high number of really drunk people breathing down your neck (they can’t help it – the venue is usually insanely hot and crowded and most people are too drunk to notice that their sweat is being wiped on your favorite little black dress. . . oh yes, good times.)

We actually had no plans for tonight until about 2:00 p.m. today, when we checked OpenTable.com.  Shockingly, there were a ton of well-reviewed restaurants that still had openings.  Damn, this recession is for real!  After some research, AK and I decided on this new restaurant in the Mission called Spork (yes, as in the plastic spoon/fork combo that is a school cafeteria staple of yore), which has received high Yelp ratings and had been written up by the SF Chronicle.  It was actually the perfect choice – great comfort food in a casual space (we both had to work today and were too tired to go home and change into something more fancy).  

The interior basically looked like a diner (previously a Kentucky Fried Chicken – you get the idea), with extra-friendly staff.  The food was really delicious, and you can tell quality ingredients were used.  The amuse-bouche was a dollop of Ostera caviar on a potato chip (haha).  I then started with “Fondue Fritter,” or fried cheese in layman’s terms, followed by “Cornucopia,” which is a white truffle risotto on roasted acorn squash – super delish!  Alex had the crab salad (so-so) and a succulent filet mignon with freshly made gnocchi, which he loved.  The highlight was definitely the dessert though – warm beignet with homemade ice cream and chocolate sauce.  Sounds so simple, yet executed so well.  You even get a very nice metal spork as your utensil!  Although it was decadent, we licked our bowls clean (but the guilt is just overwhelming, so I think you’ll find us both on the elliptical machine tomorrow).

As I mentioned in a previous post, I can’t post photos for a while.  So, I’ll just have to refer you to this website here.  Enjoy!

The Americanization of My Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving
(Snapshot of the Thanksgiving dinner table – and it’s only partially full!)

After spending close to a week in China for work, followed by a brief but wondrous 3 1/2 days in Taiwan (alas, a trip too short), I finally landed back on U.S. soil on Tuesday of Thanksgiving week. I barely had time to unpack before having to pack again the next day to fly out to DC to join AK’s family for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Although AK’s parents are immigrants, the second generation kids (AK and his sister CK) have fully adopted this American tradition.  Thanksgiving dinner typically entails the family (mostly CK) cooking all day and night, churning out dish after dish of old favorites.  CK really is a fiend in the kitchen, and this year, over the course of just one day (she had the stomach flu the days prior and could not get an earlier start), she served up delicious turkey and stuffing, accompanied by homemade gravy and cranberry sauce, as well as mashed potatoes, sweet potato mash, sweet potato biscuits, hominy (a Southern corn-based dish similar to polenta/grits – I had to look it up too so feel free to click on the Wikipedia link I provided) and pumpkin pies (note the plural).  AK also contributed a tasty beef stew with “lardon” (French-style bacon) and macaroni & cheese (topped with homemade bread crumbs).  Side note:  Homemade mac & cheese should not be mentioned in the same breadth as that from a Kraft box.  It’s like comparing In-N-Out to McDonald’s, or the grocery-store Hostess powdered “donettes” to Krispy Kreme or the mochi donuts at Mister Donut (the one in Taiwan or Japan, not the US franchise).  Oh, but I digress…

Thanks to Hui, I also was able to add to this bonanza our token vegetable dish – green bean casserole – and my personal favorite, candied yam (forgot to take a photo – although I may have stuck an extra stick of butter into it due to miscalculation, so perhaps it’s better not to document the surfacing and hardening of the butter).  I think my green bean casserole turned out pretty well, although I may have been a little heavy-handed with the crispy French onions:

Green Bean Casserole
(My first attempt at green bean casserole)

The funny thing is, before marrying into AK’s family, I have never had a fully “American” Thanksgiving dinner.  Thanksgiving means Chinese food or, very often, hot pot (seriously, what’s better than cooking food in piping hot broth on a wintery day?)  In fact, I remember one year when I made cranberry sauce for the first time to accompany the turkey (or was it chicken?) from 99 Ranch – which conveniently offers an annual “Thanksgiving Package” of turkey, sticky rice and other Chinese delicacies – Small N questioned my “whiteness” (he is not the most PC, to say the least) and declared that no one in the family would eat it.  And he was right.  Did I also mention that JL famously declared that he would never move to an area without a 99 Ranch store?  (He has since moved to Taiwan, so I guess that proclamation is moot.)  You get the idea about my family.

All these dishes were prepared for a family of only FIVE.  Of course we could not finish, although we ate until our hands were tired from lifting our forks.  No wonder the average American gains 8 pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I better start my work-out regimen again soon…

It was once again a great Thanksgiving, full of wonderful food and good family time.  We even ventured out to Lebanese Taverna in Bethesday (delish!) and saw the movie “Australia” with AK’s parents (not bad, but too slow and too long…though no question Hugh Jackman is a sexy beast – “sexiest man alive” according to People Magazine).  The only bit of misfortune was that I came down with the cold right after Thanksgiving – between the extreme cold weather, the general lack of sleep and the international jet lag, my body finally broke down in protest.  But with many things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, I suppose this is just a small setback.  Hope I recover soon so I can start working off the extra weight I am certain I have gained from China/Taiwan/Thanksgiving!