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Monday, April 21, 2014

Palo Alto: Day 7 of California

Today was the last day in California... :(

Like a good Asian, we visited the Stanford campus and surrounding area. Breakfast at a local cafe was nice, with plenty of people-watching. I could definitely get used to that. Suddenly, Stanford just became a contender on the list of colleges that I want to apply to. With decent weather and good job prospects in Silicon Valley, why not? The campus itself blew me away, too. The architecture was beautiful, with most of the buildings having a colonial Spanish feel. The church was also amazing, boasting gorgeous stained glass windows and an incredible chapel.

Lunch was lots of fun today. We had Chinese food. We ordered live shrimp, which is much better than it sounds. The shrimp aren't moving or anything, don't worry. But you do have to peel the shrimp and everything before eating the flesh. It's actually a lot of fun to work for your food like that. I beheaded a shrimp! I know, it sounds savage... XD Like I said though, it was fun to work for the food. The shrimp was delicious! The meat was tender and fresh, with a hint of sweetness when eaten with a dab of soy sauce. Slightly sweet seafood is the best. That shows how fresh it is. It was nice to have a lighter Asian meal after a few days. The restaurant was called Mayflower Restaurant, in case you're interested. And order the live shrimp! It's fun AND delicious! Trust me! ^.^

We didn't do much after that. It was off to the airport, ready to leave... The trip was a wonderful experience, and I'd love to come back some time! But for now, I think I'm ready to go back home. (I said, home, not school. :P) Yes, once I get home, I'll get about 3 hours of sleep before going to school. Not to mention that I missed school today, so there's going to be makeup work. Oh, and rehearsal. Tech week, ugh. I'll be half asleep while singing... Speaking of which, I should probably get back to learning my lines... Maybe I'm not ready to go back yet...

Well, what can I do? It's going to be a long rest of the week. Oh well. That's life. At least the trip was awesome! :D So, the night ends now, with me writing another blog post. Until next time, this is Rachel Ma, and, in the words of Alton Brown, I bid you good eating.

Song I'm humming tonight: Frozen Heart from "Frozen"

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Santa Clara: Day 6 of California

Moving day again! This time, it was from Monterey Bay to Santa Clara, with a few stops on the way.

First, we went on the 17 Mile Drive, a path along the coast of California. There, we were lucky enough to experience the intense waves of the sea, and watch the sea lions swim in the crystal clear water. At first, it was foggy and cold, but the weather soon cleared to reveal a beautiful set of scenery. 

Panoramic photo taken courtesy of my iPhone XD

The beaches were gorgeous, with white sand and dark rocks along the shores. The waves crashed on the rocks, splashing white foam. A true display of Mother Nature's power. 

After the 17 Mile Drive, we traveled to Castroville, a small town famous for...  ARTICHOKES! I loove artichokes, so that was a fun time.

That's their welcoming sign! XD

In the town, we passed miles and miles of artichoke fields. The plants had some artichokes growing, with the crown shaped vegetables topping off each bush. We bough a batch of 20 fried artichokes; sounds healthy, right? Maybe not, but they were certainly delicious! Each artichoke was carefully peeled so that only the heart remained. Then, they were fried until a perfect golden crust coated it. The artichoke was meaty and full, an absolute delight. Personally, I'd pick them to French fries any day! 

Aren't they beautiful? :')

The night's plan was very family-oriented. We were having dinner with my mom's cousins, so, of course, Chinese food. Let's just say that it was nice to have so many vegetables for once. I also made a discovery. My mom and her cousin look so much alike! It never struck me until tonight. Then again, that could be because I hadn't seen her cousin in 7 years... I'm not going to dwindle on te meal because it wasn't anything special, but I will dwindle on dessert.

Finally, when dinner was done and we said our goodbyes, we headed to a cafe in the plaza: Snowflake Tea House. The decor reminded me of a very Asian club, except no drinking and partying. Just the decor. We had a lychee bubble tea and red bean/green tea house bread. The tea was a bit sweet, but that could be because I forgot to ask the waitress to make it less sweet than usual. They have that option... There was a lot of lychee flavor though. :D The bubbles were soft and sticky, perfectly cooked. Then, the bread. 

Presentation? 10 out of 10! 

The bottom was a croissant-like bread, topped with green tea ice cream. The chuck of bread was hollowed out to make a pot, filled with red bean. Delicious!! Oh, I almost forgot. The cafe was also playing "Man of Steel" on their TV. (Henry Cavill! 😍) In case you haven't realized, I'm a big fan of Henry Cavill. Could this place get any better? I think not! 

A satisfying end to a satisfying day. I just realized that I have to go to school in two days. School should be starting tomorrow, but I'm still going to be on vacation. School starting means that I have to learn my lines for the musical. Shoot, the musical... I'll get to that later. (Procrastination! :D) So the night ends now, with me writing another blog post. Until next time, this is Rachel Ma, and, in the words of Alton Brown, I bid you good eating. 

Song I'm humming tonight: A Very Nice Prince from "Into the Woods" 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Big Sur/Monterey Bay: Day 5 of California

Today, we went on a mountain drive in Big Sur!

We stopped at Carmel for breakfast at a small cafe. Nothing special there. Then came the actual drive. Three hours of winding roads and beautiful views! The cliffs are rocky and jagged, while the grass is green and clean. The white sand contrasts with the pristine blue sea, making a picturesque scene. 

Gorgeous, right? :D 

We stopped at a waterfall called McWay, which turned out to not really be a waterfall. At least, not a decent one. McWay was VERY small for a waterfall; nonetheless, it was still quite pretty. 

The waterfall was our turning point, and so, we journeyed back. On the way, we stopped at Coastal Gallery, a gallery/cafe with a view to kill for. The food wasn't the important part. The important part was getting the view at all. There isn't much room on the balcony, so you have to wait. My mom and I waited patiently on the deck for a table to open up, and luckily, something became open! :D sp, we ate and looked out to the ocean and the cliffs and the waves crashing on the rocks. 

When we got back, we walked around in downtown Carmel for a while and made a reservation at L'Escargot, a small French restaurant. Also, a very good French restaurant. For appetizer, we had mussels and, of course, escargot. The mussels were in a creamy white wine sauce, making it perfect for dipping bread. The mussels were tender and well-cooked. The escargot was delicious, with herb butter. There was a cool little contraption to eat it with, shown below. 

I had never seen it before, but it was awesome! I had a cassoulette for main course, while my mom had frog legs. Frog legs literally taste like chicken. The sauce was lemony with olive oil, and the legs were delicious. The cassoulette was a wonderful, hearty stew. The duck confit was perfect, cooked with duck fat to make an amazing bit of meat. Finally, we had a flour less chocolate truffle cake with a hint of orange. It was thick and sweet, a great end to the meal. 

Tomorrow, we're continuing on our journey. To where? I have no idea. Oh well. So the night ends now, with me writing another blog post. Until next time, this is Rachel Ma, and, in the words of Alton Brown, I bid you good eating. 

Song I'm humming tonight: It Takes Two from "Into the Woods"

Friday, April 18, 2014

Monterey Bay: Day 4 of California

Today, we moved from Santa Barbara to Monterey Bay, a 5.5 hour long drive. Oh joy... :P

Actually, it wasn't all that bad. Breakfast first thing in the morning was at Coffee Cat, a small cafe in the town. It was a cute little place, with a menu featuring a variety of cats. 

If you can't read it, basically every heading is something with cats. Then began the long drive.

Along the way, we visited Heart Castle. Well, sort of. The tours for the mansion itself were all sold out, so we just looked at the exhibit in the main building. Based on the pictures though, it looked like a gorgeous place. 

Other than that, it was just lots of driving in the mountains. The view was amazing, overlooking the clear blue Pacific Ocean. We passed through Big Sur, which we're traveling to tomorrow, apparently. The views should totally be worth it! Unfortunately, there's no cell service ANYWHERE, which means no music from Spotify, which means no learning songs for the musical. Oh well. I should really get to that sometime though. 

I've been to Monterey Bay/Carmel once before. That was a few years ago, when we went to San Francisco and Sunnyvale to visit my friend who had recently moved. Walking around in Carmel gave a sense of déjà vu as I remembered the experiences from that previous vacation. 

We had dinner at Mundaka, a Spanish restaurant in Carmel. I LOVE Spanish food, especially paella, so I was excited from the start. Outside, there was a paella station, complete with the huge signature flat pan. 

That picture was taken on our way out. Just looked at the rice in the pan (yes, that's rice. It's just cooked with squid ink.)! Beautiful! Though we didn't get to taste the paella from the pan, what we did have was also delicious. We had fried garbanzo beans, which tasted like little beads soaked in oil and topped with truffle salt. When I say "soaked in oil", I don't mean it grossly. I mean that it was dripping with the flavor of the oils that it was cooked it. The Crudo salad that we had was quite good, too, cutting through and cleaning the palate. The second best dish was the fidéua, a pasta dish with squid ink and clams. The ink had a creamy feel to it, though still light, making it smooth and enjoyable. The highlight of the night was definitely the paella. The saffron rice soaked up all of the seafood flavor, giving it a delightful briny taste. Since it was served right from the pan, the edges were still slightly crispy. It was the second best paella I've ever had, second only to the paella from Barcelona, Spain! 

The first day here at Monterey Bay has been a lot of fun! Hopefully tomorrow can be just as amazing! So the night ends now, with me writing another blog post. Until next time, this is Rachel Ma, and, in the words of Alton Brown, I bid you good eating.

Song I'm humming tonight: Not a Bad Thing by Justin Timberlake

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Santa Barbara: Day 3 of California

Today, we moved from LA to Santa Barbara, a small beach town. I'll admit, it doesn't have the same glamour, but it is still just as enjoyable.

First, however, we stopped by in Beverly Hills! We roamed on Rodeo Drive, California's version of 5th Ave. All shopping was window shopping, without so much as a glance at price tags. Breakfast was at a small French café called Chaumont Bakery and Cafe. That was a wonderful little shop, complete with coffee and pastries. The brioche was soft and sweet, while the croissant was like eating a stick of butter. The almond cake was most impressive, sweet, buttery, soft and garnished with crunchy almonds. To add on to the delicious food, we also happened to see actor John Lithgow! Lithgow is an Emmy winner, though most of us in the younger generation know him for being Lord Farquaad in Shrek. That was the closest brush I'll ever get to stardom! XD

We also stopped by at the Reagan National Library. The museum contained the old Air Force One, which was surprisingly small. I must say, President Reagan was a VERY charismatic man. I guess that's what comes with being an actor... He did a lot of great things for our country, especially with fixing up relations with the Soviet Union. :D 

There isn't much to do here. By the time we settled down, it was around 4 already. We stopped at St. Barbara's Mission, which was beautiful. The chapel was huge, painted with the classic Spanish pink tint. The buildings all had that Spanish style, which made it seem like a small colonial town. We were a little late to get a tour of the mission's inside, so the visit was fairly short. Luckily, the garden outside was still open, so we got to enjoy the multitude of flowers. 

I'm afraid there wasn't much good food to blog about. We went to a restaurant called Toma for dinner. The food was alright, though not exceptionally good. The fried artichokes were seasoned well, but there was a little too much cornmeal coating for my liking. The grilled octopus was quite good, cooked and garnished nicely. I had the gnocchi, which was alright. The shrimp was tender, and the favs beans (I'm a sucker for those) were flavorful with the truffle butter sauce. The pasta, however, was mushy and sticky, with no texture. Oh well. Their bread was delicious, homemade and paired nicely with butter and Hawaiian salt. 

After all that long drive, it's time to sleep. So the night ends now, with me writing another blog post. Until next time, this is Rachel Ma, and, in the words if Alton Brown, I bid you good eating. 

Song I'm humming tonight: Maybe They're Really Magic from "Into the Woods"

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Los Angeles: Days 1 and 2 of California

The past two days have been travels in none other than LA!

So I can't say much about Tuesday. It was just long and tiring, considering the fact that we just arrived and unpacked and had jetlag and stuff. Basically, no food to blog about. :( However, I can blog  about the tour at Warner Bros. Yay! Warner Bros. is home to huge entertainment such as "Friends", "Ellen", "Big Bang Theory", and, my personal favorite, "Harry Potter". The tour brought us around the studios, with some of the sets and props from a variety of TV shows. There was a whole floor of props from "Harry Potter", which was pretty great. A whole floor of awesomeness. :D It included costumes, wands, and props from all of the movies; in short, it was a Potterhead's paradise. On the first floor, there was also costumes from some of the biggest movies. There was the suit that Leonardo DiCaprio wore in "The Great Gatsby", costumes worn by Christian Bale and Anne Hathaway in "The Dark Knight Rises", and Henry Cavill's (😍) suit from "Man of Steel". We also visited the Central Perk set from "Friends", where we could sit on the couch that was actually used in the show. In addition, there were all of the vehicles from "The Dark Knight Rises" and the blue Ford from "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets". We got very lucky that day; we got the LAST tickets of the day! Whoo! 

Wednesday was more movie madness. We went right to the heart of Hollywood! The Chinese Theater featured a whole bunch of the acclaimed stones with handprints and shoeprints of celebrities. There were stars like Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman, Tom Cruise, and the "Harry Potter" trio. Can we please acknowledge the fact that the stone for the "Harry Potter" trio is bigger than the stone for the "Twilight" trio? Just saying... On another note, I was lucky enough to receive an Oscar! Well sort of... 

It's just a souvenir... I wish it was real. XD

Wednesday was also the more successful culinary day. Dinner was at Drago Centro, an Italian bistro. It served some of the best Italian food ever, right up to the last bite! For appetizer, I had a baby beet salad, complete with pistachio purée and goat cheese. The purée was strong, though not overpowering the sweetness of the beets and the creamy cheese. Whoever decided to pair beets and goat cheese is a genius. Seriously. The grilled octopus at Drago Centro is also very well done, grilled to perfection and garnished with olive oil pearls (who knew they made those?) and green beans. Main course was pappardelle pasta with roasted pheasant and mushrooms. The pasta was a little gamey because of the pheasant, but it was still flavorful and delicious. The tagilioni is also notable, wade with squid ink pasta and a sea urchin cream. For dessert, we had a nice cream trio and a bowl of fresh berries. The trio included pistachio, marscapone, and honey lavender. The pistachio had an earthy feel to it, while the marscapone was sweet and creamy. As for the honey lavender, I'm not really sure what to say. It's... Interesting. In a good way though. Meanwhile, the berries were sweet and juicy, with some ginger granite, which added an icy kick. Overall, HIGHLY HIGHLY recommended. 

That's about everything from Los Angeles. With the rest of the week ahead, I can't wait to see what else California has in store! So the nigh ends now, with me writing another blog post. Until next time, this is Rachel Ma, and, in the words of Alton Brown, I big you good eating.

Song I'm humming tonight: For the First Time in Forever from "Frozen" 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Undici 11

Another restaurant review, because why not? :D

Tonight, we went to Undici, an Italian restaurant in Rumson, NJ. It's one of my favorites, and their food is spot-on. Being that it's Restaurant Week, I had to go. 

Restaurant Week features pre-priced three-course meal, usually with 3-4 choices for each course, appetizer, main course, and dinner. Therefore, I was only naturally pleased when Undici presented 6 choices for appetizer and entree. Good Impression #1. 

I decided on a pizzetta (a tiny pizza), pork chop, and chocolate tart. So healthy... :P Surprisingly enough, out of all of the times I've been here over the years, I've never ordered pizza. Never ordered pizza at an Italian restaurant??? BLASPHEMY. That drought was ended today. The pizzetta was very simple, with only mozzerella cheese and roasted peppers. However, its simplicity only made it more enjoyable. The cheese was creamy and fragrant, while the peppers were soft and flavorful, but not burnt. There wasn't a lot of tomato sauce, which was a relief. Too much sauce ends up in the pizza being overwhelmed. The best part, however, was the crust, which was light, crispy, and fluffy. That pizza was better than the one that I had in Naples! Good Impression #2. 

Main course was a Berkshire pork chop. The chop was substantially smaller and thinner than the chop on the usual menu, but no less delicious. It was garnished with olive oil and roasted peppers, another example of delicious simplicity. The meat itself wasn't the most juicy, but it was certainly one of the most tender. The meal was spicy, as some of the roasted peppers were not the usual sweet ones. That actually enhanced the dish, cutting through the fat of the chop. During the course, I was deceived by the dish. Rather than nibbling the pepper (because that would be the smart thing to do), I ate a whole piece of pepper. I figured that the red peppers were just bell peppers, right? WRONG. Instead, the flow of spicy juices filled my mouth, along with a bad word. Later, my dad was also deceived when he ate a bean in his dish. The said "bean" ended up being a clove of garlic. Shortly after that, my mom tried to nibble on the bone of my chop, only to have her shirt squirted by juice. Karma. All the same, the dishes were very satisfying. Good Impression #3. 

That's a picture of dessert. The bottom left is a chocolate tart with a polenta crust and vanilla gelato. On the right of that is a pear tart with a dollop of whipped cream. Above that is a cappuccino, which is next to the biscotties with cannoli cream. On the other side of the biscotties is a cup of coffee. The pear cake was light and fruit, and the whipped cream was not very sweet. I didn't have the biscotties, but the cannoli cream was also not too sweet. I ordered the chocolate tart, which was definitely my favorite. The chocolate was bittersweet, and the polenta crust was crispy and light. The vanilla gelato was creamy and cold, accompanying the tart very nicely. I almost always get a cappuccino, which is well-brewed and never burnt. I'm always SUPER careful with cappuccinos. I'm terrified that I'll burn my tongue. Usually, I end up burning it anyway. -_- Overall, dessert was a success. Good Impression #4. 

If you have time, you should definitely check out Undici. It's one of the best Italian restaurants around!!! :D So the night ends now, with my writing another blog post. (Actually, dinner was at 4:45, so it's not really night yet.) Until next time, this is Rachel Ma, and, in the wise words of Alton Brown, I bid you good eating.

Song I'm humming tonight: Let It Go from "Frozen" (probably because of seeing the movie yesterday... :P)