Saturday, February 25, 2012

Best Sign Ever -- Seen in Brooklyn


I'm the biggest offender when it comes to walking and texting or reading emails. I took notes on this years ago when Finland folks were doing it as a matter of course, and no one else had cell phones. Now, everyone stands the risk of getting hurt. Did you see Glee this week? Don't text and walk, don't text and drive. Look at your surroundings, instead. That's what travel is about.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Just a Little over a Month to MAD MEN: TV (and your iPod) Keeps Getting Better and Better

There have been some amazing TV shows of late: Homeland (insightful and intriguing), the Private Practice-Grey's Anatomy crossover (for medical-romance junkies), Shameless (dysfunctionality at its best), Alcatraz (history and suspense buffs), but it's Don Draper debauchery that I'm drooling for now. All of these shows are perfect for downloading on your iPod when you travel. I purchase the full season on iTunes and wait for alerts when a new episode is ready for downloading. The smaller-screen format is much better than trying to watch a movie on a plane.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

San Francisco Dining: the Best for Winter Warm-ups






Cioppino at Anchor Oyster Bar; Garcon! San Francisco

Travel and Food Notes welcomes fellow foodie, David Andrusia. David is a writer and career consultant in San Francisco. The author of BRAND YOURSELF (Random House) and THE PERFECT PITCH (Time-Warner), he helps folks realize their career potential even in these tough times.

A weird winter by the Bay to be sure: one day we're chilled to the bone, the next we're in shirtsleeves. Much as we'd like to think otherwise, there are still plenty of cold and rainy days ahead of here in San Fran; whether you're a local or visitor, you'll want some stick-to-the-ribs fare on blustery days. These are the places we head to when a nip is in in the air:

Garcon! 1101 Valencia Street
Fab food, a hugely talented chef, and gorgeous French waiters don’t exactly have us heading for the hills. Mais non! Garcon!, a deservedly long-running star in the trendy constellation of upper Valencia Street , is deservedly packed; when all the fads have come and gone, its French bistro fare that keeps us in thrall. Chef Arthur Wall is a New Orleans native who kisses Gallic classics lightly yet masterfully with Southern touches. Case in point: his Rabbit &Biscuits starter, with braised rabbit gravy and pearl onions, a starter for the ages that takes the wind of the traditional chicken dish’s sails. The 38 North Duck Breast & Confit is an organic, locally raised bird whose breast is perfectly pink and leg is confit-crisp; the heart and liver “dirty rice” is a Southern mainstay gone mod. Craving Steak Frites? Don’t resist: the marinated and grilled hanger steak is adorned with truffle butter and perfect fries. The seasonal sorbets are tad less tart than we like, but the deep-fried burros—a culturally correct nod to the Mission milieu—leave the beignets of Chef Wall’s hometown in the dust. A full bar, spirited scene, and cozy décor in Bordeaux hues on a blustery night? Oh, yes: Garcon! had us at bonjour.

Anchor Oyster Bar, 579 Castro Street
Full disclosure: this is the first dish I head for when I get off the plane, regardless of the season. But especially in winter, the cioppino at the long-running (32 years!) Anchor Oyster Bar has few peers. This San Francisco-originated dish is at its best at the convivial Anchor, whose bar is the perfect spot for solo diners. The cioppino here: a piping-hot bowl of tomato-based broth, kissed by star anise (the only secret ingredient I can share) and well-nigh overboard with fish of all stripes: market-fresh white fish (cod, halibut, or sea bass), Manila clams, green lip and Mediterranean mussels, prawns, and crab. Enough for two? You bet, unless I’m the other diner, in which case it’s all hands on your own deck. Dr. Atkins frowns, but we can’t resist the garlic bread—crusty on the outside and drowning in roasted garlic butter, parmesan cheese, and herbs. Traveler’s advisory: go early, as this is the first dish to leave the chalkboard menu of this very popular spot.

Alexander’s Steak House, 448 Brannan Street
The ever-burgeoning China Basin district has, against all odds, become a gastronomic haven—and Alexander’s has helped lead the charge. The post-industrial space is large but not unwieldy; its exposed brick side wall imparts a cozy air amid the chic. (Kudos to the sound designer who keeps things lively but not past easy conversation level.) Kindai sashimi as starter comprises oh-so-fresh bluefin, trout roe, and sudachi, a perfect light starter; we also couldn’t bypass the charred octopus in a neo-Asian sauce or the seared Hudson Valley foie gras—cooked just past pink—with chanterelles in yuzu buttermilk foam. The “not steak” section includes Maine lobster with Hokkaido uni risotto and Katsuo sushi: a smallish portion, but masterful as cultural counterpoint. Oddly, the much-ballyhooed “Perfect Porterhouse” wasn’t: it had been left to cool a bit too long (to room temperature, really) so that the black garlic persillade cloyed. Similarly tepid were the otherwise successful truffled French fries; an iceberg salad with Point Reyes blue cheese, smoked bacon, eggs, and Fuji apple was as sublime as it sounds. Cheese? A must, especially the Brie Royal aux Truffes from France. Pricey, yes, but peachy: despite a few missteps, Alexander’s astounds.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Lobster for Lovers for Valentine's Day -- Straight to Your Door



I'm a lobster fanatic, a true New Englander at heart. And when it’s wintertime, I start feeling the pangs of Maine lobster withdrawal (combined with dreams of Bar Harbor, Ogunquit and my favorite ocean towns).

Fortunately, I’ve found a way to satisfy my cravings and give my sweetie a wonderful gift at the same time. I can order GetMaineLobster.com’s selection of New England specialties and Atlantic seafood, delivered to my door in time for Valentine’s Day. The overnight seafood delivery company does all the work, so I don’t have to get a live lobster and deal with how to cook it at home, or find a decent lobster restaurant (not that easy outside of Maine) where the price is affordable and the ambiance is romantic. GetMaineLobster.com takes care of the prep work so all I need to do is grab the lobster crackers and dig in.

Oysters as an aphrodisiac? Not for me – it’s lobster on Valentine’s Day. Add a bottle of wine, or a six-pack of Allagash beer (the better New England choice), melt up some butter, and the lobster dinner is a bit of Maine brought home.

The Maine Lobster Feast for Two ($115, +$20 overnight shipping) is a great catch this V-Day and includes two pounds of fresh live mussels, two 1 ¼ lb. live Maine lobsters and two homemade whoopee pies (another nostalgic New England treat). Purists can buy the lobster only, for $95.95 plus $20 overnight shipping. Ifyour honey likes steak as well, there’s also have the Surf and Turf for Two ($135.95, +$20 shipping), with filet mignon, lobster tails and Maine’s famous clam chow-dah. Other goodies like crab cakes and lobster pie are also available for shipping. You can see the full delivery menu and order your Valentine’s Day special dinner at www.getmainelobster.com.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Go Pats! But if Not, Go Paint!


I’ll have my red vintage Patriots jacket on today and will be tempting fate at an undisclosed bar/resto in Manhattan, but if you’re not a football fan or simply not insane like me, here’s a cool thing to do if you’re avoiding rabid Giants fans in NYC: Paint Along’s BYOB class in the Flatiron District. Each two-hour workshop focuses on replicating one work of art on a 16x20” canvas and Super Bowl Sunday’s painting is entitled “Red Sunset.” Bring your non-football fan friends and a bottle of wine and indulge your inner artist. All skill levels are welcome so it doesn’t matter if you haven’t painted since third grade. The instructors give step-by-step guidance for completing each part of the painting and they’re more than happy to give one-on-one assistance.

Tickets are $45 per person, and the two-hour workshop starts at 2:30pm. It's suggested that you arrive a bit earlier, however, to get those wine-induced creative juices flowing. 928 Broadway, Suite 803; 917-474-5587.

I did this in Jacksonville last year at Yes You Canvas at the super-cool Sweet Pete's candy store, and I have a gorgeous painting of a sunflower as proof that anyone can paint.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Midtown Food Trucks Move to World Financial Center




NYC Food Truck lovers, there’s a new location for all of those trucks now displaced from Midtown because of parking hassles: World Financial Center Food Truck Court.

Starting Monday, February 6, a new lunchtime food market with 21 participating trucks will set up near Four World Financial Center on North End Avenue and Vesey Street. There’ll be a rotating line-up of up to five of our favorite trucks each day from 11am – 3pm, including dessert and main meal choices.

Look for our sweet favorites, Andy’s Italian Ice, Coolhaus (love those architectural ice cream sandwiches!), Cupcake Crew, The Treats Truck, La Belle Torte and Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream. Plus a striking variety of ethnic and savory cuisine from Big D’s Grub Truck, Bongo Brothers Cuban Food Truck, Eddie’s Pizza, Frites ‘n’ Meats (fully recovered after their disastrous fire), Gorilla Cheese NYC, Kimchi Taco, México Blvd. (brand new truck), Mexicue, Mike ‘n’ Willie’s (love their tacos and sliders), Milk Truck Grilled Cheese, Red Hook Lobster Pound (try both the Maine and Connecticut lobster rolls), Rickshaw Dumpling Truck, Schnitzel & Things, Taïm Mobile and Valducci’s Original Pizza.

Visit www.worldfinancialcenter.com/foodtrucks for the daily schedule – there’s always at least one dessert truck each day.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Latin Jazz Festival at Symphony Space on Saturday:

Just read about one of my favorite pianists, Fernando Otero, performing this weekend with his new quintet. Here's a clip of one of his performances:



The month-long Composers Now Festival, led by Tania León, kicks off with the third annual Music of Now Marathon, an eight-hour event that includes performances by the Fernando Otero Quintet, saxophonist Miguel Zenón, the Quintet of the Americas, and Laura Andrea Leguia and her quartet, as well as works by composer Gabriela Ortiz. At Symphony Space, Broadway at 95th St., 4 p.m. to midnight, $15.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

More Finnish Foolery




Finland has a reputation for its rather wacky events:mobile phone throwing competitions, wife carrying contests and icebreaker cruise swimming among others. And, if you think that "taking sauna" and rolling around in the snow (or jumping into an ice hole) is sane, think again!

So, why would having talking trash cans surprise anyone? When you throw your garbage in them, they happily say thank you (in seven languages). They might even play music for you, depending on their mood. Can you image what the reaction would be if these showed up in New York City?

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