Rustic Canyon

We spent Christmas last year in Los Angeles visiting Jack’s family. We opted to stay at Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel which is located across the street from the beach near the Santa Monica Pier.  When we weren’t eating delicious Lebanese food prepared by my mother-in-law, we had the chance to explore some of the restaurants in the area surrounding our hotel. A friend of ours had previously recommended Rustic Canyon, so we decided to check it out one evening.

Rustic Canyon is a “Wine Bar and Seasonal Kitchen” owned by husband-and-wife team Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan. This is the first restaurant opened by the couple, who went on to open several other popular spots in LA, including Cassia and Milo and Olive. Rustic Canyon prides itself on sourcing local ingredients to make up its creative, seasonal menu. Our waiter informed us that Executive Chef Jeremy Fox has an obsession with making broths and stocks bursting with rich, umami flavor, and these are incorporated into several of the dishes.

We arrived at Rustic Canyon on a rare rainy evening in LA. We each started with a seasonal cocktail to warm us up from the inside out. Jack ordered the Apple Jack Rose (apple infused bourbon, Germain Robin apple brandy, fresh lemon, honey, housemade grenadine) and I had the Gone with the Gin (Four Pillers Gin, tangerine & rosemary syrup, lime, club soda). Both cocktails were delicious and balanced, not too sweet.

Seasonal cocktails
Seasonal cocktails

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Sonoma

Over the past few years Jack and I have rung in the New Year just the two of us in one of our favorite nearby towns. We’ve reached the age where many of our friends are home with little ones or doing family trips to Tahoe, so we’re generally not missing any parties by leaving the city. Plus, the holidays are always so hectic and busy that it’s really nice to quietly mark the New Year as part of a romantic getaway.

This year we chose to visit Sonoma for two nights over New Year’s weekend. We compared hotels in Sonoma, Healdsburg, and Carmel, and the prices in Sonoma were significantly more affordable. In addition, we hadn’t stayed there in several years and there were a couple of new restaurants and wine tasting rooms that we were eager to try.

Sonoma Plaza
Sonoma Plaza

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Coqueta

I love downtown San Francisco during the holidays. I have such fond memories of coming to the city with my family as a kid – ice skating at Embarcadero Center, gazing at the tree at Union Square, then grabbing a bite to eat at The Rotunda at Neiman Marcus after a day of holiday shopping. Now that I call San Francisco my home, I find I am less amused by the large crowds of tourists and holiday shoppers; however, I still get a warm fuzzy feeling when I see the festive decorations downtown, so Jack and I try to make a visit at least once every December.

This year we started our downtown visit with a couple of seasonal cocktails at Clock Bar in the Westin St Francis at Union Square (be sure to use your Starwood card for double points!) There were a lot of tourists admiring the giant gingerbread houses in the lobby, but we had no trouble grabbing a table for two inside the bar. Afterward, we walked past Union Square to get a quick glimpse of the Christmas tree, then continued on to Embarcadero along a less crowded street. The four buildings that make up Embarcadero Center are outlined in white lights this time of year, and they look like Christmas presents. We walked past the ice skating rink at Justin Herman Plaza and admired the beautiful view of the Ferry Building and the Bay Bridge in the background.

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Ice rink at Embarcadero Center

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Bologna and Modena

Jack and I have learned over the years that when we travel, we don’t like to change locations too frequently. I feel like we really learned this about ourselves when we traveled to Costa Rica in 2011; we tried to see too many places in a short amount of time, and I felt like we were constantly packing and unpacking our suitcases and trying to get from point A to point B. From that point forward, we started to plan our trips differently: rather than try to squeeze in as many sites as we could, we would spend more time (typically four nights or more) in fewer locations overall, so we could really get a feel for a place and not be rushed. We followed this rule during our honeymoon in Bali in 2012, as well as our trip to Spain in 2013, with great results. I believe everyone has their own  traveling “style,” and we found ours (luckily Jack and I have a similar styles!)

That being said, we bent this rule a bit when we went to Italy in June of last year.  We had originally planned on spending five nights in Positano, five nights in Florence, and five nights in Rome, with occasional day trips from these spots. However, we really wanted to eat at Massimo Battura’s acclaimed restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena (pronounced MO-dee-nah), which at the time held the Number 2 spot on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. We had also heard that Bologna, Modena’s neighbor, was a great city for foodies. So, we decided to steal two nights from our stay in Florence to do a quick jaunt to Bologna, which conveniently was only an hourlong train ride from Florence. This ended up being just the right amount of time to see, do, and taste much of what we wanted to in this region.

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The Two Towers: Garisenda and Asinelli (both of them leaning)

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Blogiversary!

Happy Blogiversary to me! I wrote my first blog post one year ago today, and I can’t believe a whole year has gone by already. As I reflect on the last year, I am immensely grateful that my life has allowed for so many fabulous vacations and memorable meals with those I care about. It’s also been really fun for me to look back and see how my writing has evolved over the last year, and to relive so many great meals and adventures.

Healdsburg countryside
Healdsburg countryside

My original motivation for writing Dish & Room was to have a place to share my travel experiences and recommendations with friends and family. I’ve enjoyed having a quick way to share these suggestions when someone mentions, “I’m going to Rome – do you have any recs?” I’ve also learned that the blog serves as a kind of photo album and travel journal as well, and it’s been especially fun to read through old posts and relive these experiences all over again.

Celebrating New Year's Eve at Scopa in Healdsburg
Celebrating New Year’s Eve at Scopa in Healdsburg

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Lima

When Jack and I first started planning our trip to Peru, the one obvious must-see on our list was Machu Picchu. This breathtaking site of Incan ruins draws over a million visitors annually, and for good reason – it is like no other place in the world, full of rich history and incredible beauty. Many of these visitors do a quick stopover in the capital city of Lima to check some old churches off their list, then continue on to Cusco, the closest major city to the ruins. But Jack and I had heard great things about the food scene in Lima, and we quickly discovered that we would need several days there to eat our way through what is often described as “The Culinary Capital of South America.”

We planned our visit for July, which is the ideal time to visit Machu Picchu: drier/cooler weather, lower chance of rainy day park closures. However, Lima is on the west coast of the continent and has drastically different weather than the mountains; it is sunny and warm during the summer (December-March), and cool and foggy the rest of the year. When we were there the daytime high was ~65°F, and we were in sweatshirts/jackets the whole time. The fog wasn’t as chilly as in San Francisco, but it also didn’t lift at all (we saw no sun the entire time we were in Lima). One interesting fact about Lima is that it is the second driest capital in the world after Cairo (average rainfall is 0.3 inches/year). You will hear people say “it doesn’t rain in Lima;” this isn’t entirely true, as the heavy fog resulted in some drizzles while we were there, but you don’t have to worry about a downpour. The cool, foggy weather didn’t prevent us from doing the activities we wanted to do on this trip, but I would love to return to Lima some day in the summer months (I want to stay at the Miraflores Park Hotel and swim in the rooftop infinity pool!)

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View of San Isidro from our room at the Westin Lima Hotel

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In Situ at SFMOMA

Over Labor Day weekend Jack and I spent a fabulous afternoon at the recently revamped  San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), followed by a delicious lunch at In Situ, the museum’s highly acclaimed new restaurant. In Situ’s head chef Corey Lee knows a thing or two about fine dining: he is chef/owner of three star Michelin restaurant Benu, and was previously the head chef at The French Laundry. The concept behind In Situ is as follows: “Like SFMOMA brings together a dynamic collection of artists, we have assembled a display of dishes from chefs and restaurants around the world.” The menu includes standout dishes from some of the best restaurants across the globe; it truly feels like a museum for food. It’s no wonder that a recent New York Times article described In Situ as “America’s Most Original New Restaurant.”

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Jack admiring the art at SFMOMA

It’s pretty tough to snag a dinner reservation at In Situ these days, but our 1pm lunch reservation worked perfectly with our first visit to the SFMOMA since it reopened in May (the museum was closed for three years while it was expanded to roughly double its size). In preparation for our visit, I reached out to a friend who works at the museum to see if she had any tips. I really appreciated her advice to not try to see everything in one visit; she explained that the new SFMOMA is huge, and if you try to get through each show, you will likely shortchange your experience.

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Otium at The Broad

Last weekend Jack and I attended his 20 year high school reunion at the Angeles National Golf Club in Los Angeles. We had a really great time – Jack enjoyed catching up with old friends, while I got to make new ones. We typically stay in west L.A., but given the location of the reunion, we decided to explore an area of Los Angeles that neither of us have visited much: Downtown L.A.

Once we booked our hotel (the Westin Bonaventure – such a strange and dated hotel that apparently was in True Lies?), I went ahead and made a dinner reservation for us at Otium, which  was recommended to us by a friend when we were visiting Lala Land over Christmas. We received so many great dining tips at that time and I’m glad I had the foresight to organize them by neighborhood in my blog post “L.A.’s Best Restaurants.”

Otium is located adjacent to The Broad (pronounced “brode”), the contemporary art museum founded by philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad. It was a short walk from our hotel – once we figured out how to use the footbridges to get up the hill and around various freeway off ramps (hint: don’t rely on Google maps – ask your hotel concierge for directions).

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New York City

I remember watching an interview with Sarah Jessica Parker years ago, at the height of her Sex and the City fame. She was discussing the show, and she said something to the effect of “Manhattan is the fifth cast member.” Her point was that the city itself has so much life and energy, that it was more than just a backdrop for the show – it acted as another lead character with its own spirit and personality.

There’s just something about this city. I, like so many others around the world, always dreamed of living in New York City. As I wrote in my blog post “Kid-Friendly NYC in the Winter,” I grew up a theater kid who hoped to be on Broadway one day, until I headed off to college and chose a much more “practical” (and less exciting) career. But my chosen career path eventually brought me to NYC for graduate school in my early twenties, and I am forever grateful for the time I got to spend in The City That Never Sleeps.

My husband Jack loves New York just as much as I do, and he surprised me with a four-day jaunt to Manhattan a few weeks ago for my belated birthday (I’m squeezing all the celebrations I can out of my big 3-5!) We flew out on a red-eye on a Wednesday night and came back the following Monday in the early evening. I definitely could have stayed longer, but this was just the right amount of time to see and taste all of the top items on our list.

Me and Jack, happy as clams at dinner on the Lower East Side with old friends
Me and Jack, happy as clams at dinner with friends on the Lower East Side

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Petit Crenn

Jack and I celebrated my 35th birthday at Petit Crenn last Saturday and we thoroughly enjoyed our meal. Petit Crenn (pronounced with a silent “T” at the end of “Petit”) is described as a “neighborhood restaurants inspired by Chef Dominique Crenn’s mother, grandmother, and her home in Brittany, France.” Brittany is surrounded by the sea, so Petit Crenn is a pescatarian’s dream – the menu is teaming with fresh fish, seafood, and local produce.

In 2012, Dominique became the first female chef in the United State to earn two Michelin stars. If you are interested in learning more about her life as a chef and artist, I highly recommend watching the Netflix miniseries Chef’s Table – she is featured in Season 2, Episode 3.

Petit Crenn is the less formal sister restaurant of Atelier Crenn, also located in San Francisco. Jack and I ate at Atelier Crenn a few years ago – I remember it being very good, but I can’t remember anything specific about the meal other than that is was tasty, very formal, and the menu was a poem written by Dominique. This likely says more about my memory than the meal, but I do think our dining experience at Petit Crenn was more memorable. The space is bright and inviting, located in the heart of Hayes Valley (in the old Bar Jules location). The set 5-course prix fixe menu is more affordable and approachable than Atelier Crenn. There is also the option of sitting at the counter and ordering  menu items à la carte, if you prefer.

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Daily prix fixe menu at Petit Crenn

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