Saturday, June 25, 2011

home again

I have to psych myself up a little before tackling the long Alinea dinner post. It's in draft form, with all the pictures in place; I just have to connect the dots now. The problem is that there are a lot of dots... So here is an easier post in the meantime: the 365 weekly roundup for the week after we got home from MI and IL.

Saturday, May 28 was our flight home from Grand Rapids, back through Chicago, to SF. It was a 4pm flight, which gave us the morning to have coffee and get one last lunch at Jersey Giant with Bruce and Bonnie before they needed to drop us off in Grand Rapids. Our flights were on time, thankfully, so we had enough of a break at O'Hare to track down Rick Bayless' new Tortas Frontera for dinner. (Day three in a row of Rick Bayless food, for those keeping track.) We took the long way between concourses, stopping near gate B11 for our tortas (Mexican sandwiches) before finding our own gate in the C concourse. On the way, I stopped for a picture of the cool artsy hallway. It's always so bright and colorful during the day.

148/365 airport art

That weekend happened to be Memorial Day, and we had made Sunday plans with Rob, Traci, Dan, and Carmen to have dinner at Rob and Traci's house in Palo Alto. We were also sort of celebrating Rob and Traci's birthday, which had been earlier in the spring. Dan and Rob worked on Dan's car to get it to stop making noises, we had tasty grilled food in their back "yard," and Rob and Traci opened a few late birthday presents.

149/365 outdoor dining

As with most trips, I came home from Chicago with hundreds of pictures to edit and little desire to take more in the meantime. Sunday had been easy at Rob and Traci's, but the most I could muster for Monday was a picture of flowers on the coffee table and the dining room table. Carmen left them for us when we got home from our vacation, along with a thank-you note for the baby shower and gifts.

150/365 home again

After the dinner on Sunday, Steve and I inherited some rhubarb from Carmen, left over from the strawberry-rhubarb pie that she made. I found an easy recipe for almond brown butter cakelets with rhubarb on Orangette and made a batch on Tuesday afternoon. They were good, but the ones that Steve made the next Sunday with huckleberries were even better.

151/365 rhubarb cakelet

Moving on, Wednesday was June 1, and I ended up going to Target with Carmen that day. Afterward, I took a couple shots in their nursery. That night, Steve and I had dinner at Chez Papa Resto, got coffee at Blue Bottle, and saw Blue Man Group. I took pictures of the dinner and coffee, but I thought the baby's bunny mobile was more fitting, since it was the beginning of the month during which our niece would be born.

152/365 tumbling bunnies

I had no ideas when it came to Thursday, however. The best I could come up with was to have dinner at Pi Bar—Dan and Carmen came with us—and stop at Anthony's Cookies. Of course, none of that actually yielded a winner for picture of the day. Instead, it was the red Vespa that we passed on the way home. Go figure.

153/365 red vespa

Friday wasn't much better in terms of inspiration, but at least I got my picture before it got as late this time. The little bottles that we had ordered for Steve's beer kit had arrived the day before, so I just shot them on my kitchen table with the dying sweet peas in the background.

154/365 bottles & dying flowers

And finally, I caught up with picture posts enough to make my monthly mosaic for May. Better late than never!


Thursday, June 23, 2011

girl & the goat

Our first dinner reservation in Chicago was at Girl & the Goat. It's the restaurant of Chef Stephanie Izard, winner of Top Chef season 4. It was in West Loop, which wasn't very convenient via public transportation from where we were staying in River North, so we ended up taking a cab there. It was chilly outside anyway.

girl & the goat

The decor was somewhat rustic, with lots of warm wood, and it was pleasantly crowded inside—pretty lively for 6pm on a Tuesday night.

One of the interesting things we noticed when we got the menu was that there was a bread section. Most restaurants automatically bring you the obligatory bread, which is good but not terribly exciting. It's really just a filler—fill time before the rest of the food comes out, fill space in your stomach so you're not starving for too long. A few places have an olive tapenade or oil & vinegar, but it's often just good quality butter. Not exactly ground breaking.

The exciting thing here is that the bread isn't an opportunity missed. By offering three creative options for bread with accompaniments, and charging for them, the bread becomes a meaningful course rather than filler. It's also a lot less likely to go to waste. We chose the "Esteban Fresas":

esteban fresas . strawberry butter . strawberry rhubarb agrodolce

esteban fresas

This was a great way to start the meal. The bread was warm and fresh—kind of a dense, wheaty mini-loaf with almonds on top. To go with it, there was strawberry butter and strawberry rhubarb agrodolce. The strawberry butter had only a hint of sweetness, a little salt, and some strawberry flavor. Meanwhile, the agrodolce had the sweetness of the strawberries, as well as the acidity to cut through the butter. If the dessert menu hadn't been so appealing, I might have been tempted to end the meal with this too.

The next to arrive was our selection from the vegetable column of the menu:

roasted beets . green beans . white anchovy . avocado creme fraiche

roasted beets

I've come to enjoy beet salads, but a lot of them seem to be pretty similar. This one was a little different, though. It had green beans, white anchovy, avocado creme friache, and bread crumbs instead of greens, citrus, and/or cheese. There was a refreshing summer-like coolness to it all, balanced by the savory white anchovy and the crunchy breadcrumbs.

Goat came soon after. With the restaurant being called Girl & the Goat, I was expecting at least one goat dish on the menu. In fact, it had its own category on the smaller menu with the bread and the oyster preparations. We went with the Goat Carpaccio, which I was curious to try.

goat carpaccio . tongue-olive vinaigrette . smoked roe

goat carpaccio

It wasn't quite as memorable a dish as the previous couple, but it was still very tasty. The things that left the biggest impression were the delicate texture of the goat, sliced paper-thin, and the tangy acid of the vinaigrette. Good stuff.

The other revelation of the meal for me was the fish course:

pan roasted halibut . brandade . grilled asparagus . green garlic . blackberry

pan roasted halibut

I let Steve make our selection from the fish column of the menu. I probably would have chosen the crudo, the calamari with rabbit ravioli or the one with the soft shell crab over the more typical (read: boring) fish fillet. However, Steve chose well in this case. The halibut was complemented really well by the salt cod in the brandade, the slices of asparagus, the tiny potato chips, and the fruity blackberry sauce. This was certainly not lacking in personality.

One more savory course to go:

goat chorizo flatbread . ramp pesto . rhubarb . fresh ricotta

goat chorizo flatbread

More goat, but this one was from the meat column of the menu. It was a good combination for a flatbread. The goat itself wasn't too different from lamb or even beef, although a side by side comparison would probably show otherwise. Either way, it was good. The rhubarb on top was a nice touch too; we wondered if it was pickled, because it was somewhat acidic. The tragic part in all of this was that we couldn't finish it and still have room for dessert. We took the rest back to the hotel with us, but with no fridge in our room, we had to throw it away the next day. At least the kitchen got the message that we liked it.

But dessert was indeed necessary, especially with an option like this:

rhubarb n' lemon . shortcake . buttermilk panna cotta . lemon gelato . salted graham cracker

rhubarb n' lemon

What's not to like about layers of dessert in a Mason jar? Nothing, that's what. I guess it was a little hard to get all the way down to the bottom... But each new layer was a fun surprise in flavor or texture. There was the buttermilk panna cotta on top, the salty graham cracker crumbs, the cold lemon gelato, some spongy shortcake, and tart rhubarb compote, if I remember correctly. I may not have been able to eat all of the flatbread, but I finished this (with a little help from Steve).

Of the meals we had in Chicago, Girl & the Goat was one of my very favorites. It's just the sort of restaurant that Steve and I really like—small plates to share—and every dish was interesting (in a good way). I especially liked the unexpected use of fruit with the bread and the halibut. I don't know if that's a new trend, a Chicago thing or a Stephanie Izard thing, but I approve. Now, if we can just get back to Chicago some day to eat there again...

Sunday, June 19, 2011


The Chicago pictures are all up now! (Phew.) That means it's time to catch up on the weekly 365 blog posts. Let's see if I can do that without writing a book on the subject...

Saturday, May 21, was our last full day in Lansing, and we spent a lot of it with my friend and former college roommate, Jessica. Since she's currently living in Lansing, that made it pretty easy to get together with her. We did brunch at Golden Harvest, went to the East Lansing Art Festival, got bubble tea, and took a photo walk around the MSU campus. It was a beautiful day and a well spent one too, I would say. (I also had dinner with Beth at Cheddar's that night, but I took no pictures of that.)

I had lots of choices for the picture of the day, but I liked the creepy pirate skeleton guy that was hanging outside the door at Golden Harvest. Remember how the Rapture was supposed to happen that day? Yeah...

141/365 come the rapture

On Sunday, we borrowed a vehicle from Bruce and Bonnie and drove down to IL to visit my family. We got there around 2:30 and spent a little time chatting with my Aunt Mary before walking down to the gardens and woods with her. Uncle Scott was there, working on the weeds. It had been years since I had visited the family farm in the summer, so we were finally able to see his ongoing garden projects as they were intended to be, rather than in the dead of winter. The picture of the day: Scott riding back up toward the houses, past the barn.

142/365 on the farm

I took a whole lot of pictures on Monday. It was a gorgeous day, and we saw a lot of family. That morning, we went for coffee in tiny downtown Oswego—at the house where my Great Grandma Grate used to live—and then walked around the park next to the Fox River. It was really lovely. Then, we joined my parents for lunch at their house. Later, I walked around the farm and back down to the gardens for more pictures. My sister Christine arrived with her kids in the afternoon, and I got to take yet more pictures, including some of the kids playing in the treehouse that Scott built in the woods.

143/365 enjoy treehouse life

My dad took us to the train station in Aurora on Tuesday morning, and we were off to Chicago for the rest of the week. Upon arriving at Union Station, Steve and I stowed our suitcase in a locker and walked to Blackbird for lunch. It was very nice—kind of fancy and modern—but I thought some of the proteins were over salted. After that, we collected our suitcase and took a taxi to our hotel to check in. The plan was to go to the John Hancock Observatory, but we also decided to visit Millennium Park after that, since it was supposed to be stormy the next day. If nothing else, at least we saw "The Bean" on this trip. For dinner that night, we had a fabulous meal at Girl & the Goat. That meal probably deserves its own blog post, though.

144/365 the bean

Wednesday did not start off well. It did indeed thunderstorm that morning, and we still went to Shedd Aquarium as planned. Unfortunately, by the time we got there to look at the fish, we were soaked ourselves from the knees down. The walk from the Red Line in the rain—complete with lightning as we were walking through the museum campus—was pretty miserable. (I remember the view of the Chicago skyline from outside Shedd being pretty cool, but it was so foggy that we couldn't see much of anything.) We got to the aquarium early enough to avoid a line for Will Call, but there was nothing to be done about the various school groups that were on field trips at the time. It was really crowded, and the fact that the light sucked for pictures didn't help my mood. By the end, I was just so done with it all and kind of disappointed with Shedd in general. It was nowhere near as good as Monterey Bay Aquarium. The one redeeming factor was the Jellyfish exhibit, which was definitely worth the extra $3 each. Too bad it wasn't a permanent exhibit.

The rain had stopped by the time we left the aquarium, and we were going to walk up through Grant Park next. But I was getting blisters from my wet shoes and socks, and we needed to eat lunch before it got too late. We made a quick stop at Lou Malnati's for some deep dish pizza (as quick as deep dish can be), and then we headed up State Street. I assumed we'd take the subway up a couple stops, but we ended up walking the whole way instead. Things were looking up a little by the time we got to Intelligentsia for some coffee, but we went back to the hotel to decompress after that.

Finally, it was time for dinner. This was the big one: Alinea. It's the 6th best restaurant in the world—at least on some lists—and the best in the United States. We had something like 18 courses, and it was all very fancy. (And amazing.) Instead of a tablecloth, our clean silverware was presented on little pillows. I could write much more about the whole experience, and I mean to... another day.

145/365 alinea

By Thursday, I was getting pretty good at ignoring my carefully planned itineraries. It was chilly and rainy again, so we scrapped plans for Navy Pier and the Lincoln Park Zoo. Instead, we took the L to the Lincoln Park (the neighborhood) and walked around a bit. We had a nice breakfast at Floriole Cafe and Bakery, and then we looked at some cute stores. Walking down the brownstone-lined neighborhood streets was actually quite enjoyable, at least until it started raining again. Lunch was at Sable in the Hotel Palomar, although I wasn't really hungry for it after Floriole, and then we had very fancy Mexican food for dinner at Rick Bayless' Topolobampo.

146/365 the L

We were back to Rick Bayless land for more the next morning. Churros and chocolate were consumed at Xoco for breakfast, and then we caught the train back to Aurora to gather the rest of our things and say goodbye to my family. We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening in the car, trying to get through the traffic and back to Lansing. It took a couple extra hours, because the construction and traffic through Joliet was a nightmare, but we finally made it back to Bruce and Bonnie's house for the night. The picture of the day is from happier times: our breakfast that morning.

147/365 xoco

So the Chicago trip had its ups and downs. The weather at my parents' place had been perfect; the weather in Chicago was terrible. It was raining half the time, and it was windy and unseasonably cold. That meant less time outside, a lot of places skipped, and fewer pictures all around. I did find that I was happier with the images I had taken after going through them all, but the Seattle trip last year was definitely better for pictures. On the plus side, the food in Chicago was wonderful. Girl & the Goat, and Alinea especially, made up for a whole lot. Posts on those next.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

pure michigan

June has come already, and it's time to catch up a little. I'm still way behind in posting photos of our trip, but at least all the ones I need for this post are up on Flickr. I left off last time at the end of week 19. Week 20 began in San Francisco and ended in Michigan.

That Saturday was the day of the performances for the cabaret class. During my last 365, that day was represented by a picture of the show program and a centerpiece sitting on the piano. This time, I barely took any pictures at the studio. Instead, my picture of the day was taken in nearby Burlingame while I was killing time between shows. I had just been to the Anthropologie in downtown SF the day before, but I went to the Burlingame one anyway to look around. The decor is slightly different, and they tend to get more light in there. I liked the bottles they had hanging in the window, and it was a fitting choice for at least part of the day, since we watched some of the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie when I got home that night (before the power went out).

134/365 drink up me hearties, yo ho

Sunday was another work day—my last with the Broadway Bound classes for the school year—so Steve and I picked out another new dish to make for lunch that day. This time, it was a fava bean & pea salad with feta, pine nuts, mint, coriander (cilantro), and lime dressing, from What Katie Ate. Steve was able to find all the ingredients at the farmers market the day before, so we could finally check it off of our list. It would have been a fabulous side salad, but it also made a nice light lunch.

135/365 fava & pea salad

Monday was devoted to errands and laundry, before we left for our trip the next day. I took my camera with me to Noe Valley, but I drove there, since it was raining. I did notice when I got back that the painted chair down the alley from our house was still outside. I had seen it before Easter (sitting nex to an unattractive chest of drawers) and tried to take a few pictures, but I hadn't liked them very much. Now it was in a better spot, so I took some more shots that turned out better.

136/365 the painted chair

We left for Michigan on Tuesday, and I assumed that my picture of the day would be of something in the Cleveland airport during our 1-hour layover. Feeling antsy before we left SFO, I shot a couple pictures through the terminal window—planes on the tarmac, with the hills and a bit of fog in the background—but they weren't anything special. Still, it felt better to get something in the camera early. As it turned out, our 1-hour between flights turned into a 2-minute brisk walk between flights... Our plane out of SF was late in arriving, and therefore late in taking off, putting us nearly an hour behind. We were rather doubtful about the prospect of getting to our connecting flight in time, but we managed to hurry off the plane in Cleveland, and it turned out that they were holding our flight to Grand Rapids anyway, for us and a few others. When we finally got to Grand Rapids, we met up with Steve's parents, and I managed to snap one more picture as we were walking to the car. The Grand Rapids airport has gotten somewhat fancier than I remember.

137/365 gateway to the midwest

Wednesday's main activity was seeing Steve's grandmother—Bruce's mother. We picked her up for lunch and went to a restaurant/bar that she enjoys. It wasn't the kind of place you'd expect to see a woman who is 103 1/2 years old, but we had a good lunch. Then, we went back to her house for a look at her gardens and a chat.

138/365 soggy tulips

Thursday was mostly devoted to errands in the area of the Lansing Mall, followed by dinner in East Lansing with our friends, Jill and Eric. In between, I took a few pictures around Bruce and Bonnie's yard, mostly of their lilacs. Lilacs don't seem to grow in SF like they do in MI, so I appreciate them more now. I also took a few pictures at Jill and Eric's new house before dinner, but I thought this lilac picture turned out better.

139/365 lilacs

On Friday, we drove up to Harrison to see Bonnie's parents (and some of her siblings). There was a stop at Uncle John's Cider Mill for some buttermilk donuts; however, our walk in the woods that afternoon was the more memorable part of the day. I had never been back there, since I had only ever visited in the winter. Bonnie and her siblings—and later, Steve and Dan—grew up playing in the woods, so it was cool to walk back there. We didn't see any of the morel mushrooms that I've heard so much about, but we did find wintergreen and eat some of the berries. The huckleberry plants that were starting to flower—too early for the actual berries—and the trees were really pretty, with a surprising amount of color variation for spring.

140/365 woodsy walk

It was nice to spend some time outdoors in Michigan, after several years of living in the city in San Francisco. I grew up in Lansing, as did Steve, so I enjoyed the change of visiting during the pleasant, warmer months that I preferred as a kid. A lot more road construction, but no snow this time!