Archive for the 'Scenes' Category

Journey to Blue Hill at Stone Barns

NEW YORK CITY - SEPTEMBER 2009

Located 45 minutes outside of Manhattan, Blue Hill at Stone Barns is a working farm, an educational center, and a restaurant, all with a shared mission: to celebrate year-round farm-to-table agriculture and promote the connection between farming and eating. Of all the restaurants on my New York City itinerary, this meal was the one I was looking forward to the most.

Half the fun of dining at Chef Dan Barber’s locavore temple is the journey. Well, maybe an eighth of the fun is more accurate. After our breakfast at Russ and Daughters and a light snack at Momofuku Ssäm Bar, The Astronomer and I trekked forty blocks to Grand Central Station.

NEW YORK CITY - SEPTEMBER 2009

After purchasing tickets, we boarded the express train to Tarrytown. The 30-minute ride offered beautiful views of the Hudson River. Unlike our dear friend the Los Angeles River, this one was whooshing with water and free of graffiti. From the Tarrytown train station, we flagged a taxi that dropped us off steps away from the restaurant.

THE FARM AT BLUE HILL AT STONE BARNS

Before getting our farmers feast on, The Astronomer and I strolled around the farm to see the sights and greet the animals whose relatives we would soon be eating.

THE FARM AT BLUE HILL AT STONE BARNS

The first creature we sought out was the Stone Barns sheep dog. According to Wikipedia, humans first trained sheep dogs to herd and guard their flocks thousands of years ago. These dogs are very active and intelligent. My brother absolutely adores the Stone Barns sheep dog, and after meeting him myself, I am smitten as well.

THE FARM AT BLUE HILL AT STONE BARNS

After watching the herd of sheep tirelessly munch on grass, The Astronomer and I walked over to the massive greenhouse.

THE FARM AT BLUE HILL AT STONE BARNS

The greenhouse covers 22,000 square feet (a full half acre) of year-round growing space for dozens of crop varieties and uses only a minimal amount of added heat.

THE FARM AT BLUE HILL AT STONE BARNS

Every inch of space, every seedling, every clump of soil is intensely managed 365 days a year. The greenhouse has two unusual features: retracting roof panels that allow plants to “go outside” on nice days, and natural and cultivatable dirt “floors.”

THE FARM AT BLUE HILL AT STONE BARNS

There are a plethora of colorful signs around the farm to educate visitors on various operations. Click on the photo to learn how composting works at Stone Barns.

THE FARM AT BLUE HILL AT STONE BARNS

Lettuces.

THE FARM AT BLUE HILL AT STONE BARNS

Bees pollinating a bushy pink flower.

BLUE HILL AT STONE BARNS

After meandering around the grounds and taking in the farm’s beauty, it was time for us to dine.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns
630 Bedford Road
Pocantico Hills, NY 10591
Phone: 914-366-9600

The French Laundry Garden & Young Inglewood Wineries

Did you know that the town of Yountville has a Michelin star for every 580 residents?

After The Astronomer and I brunched on the greatest steak and eggs ever at Ad Hoc, we took a relaxing stroll down Washington Street to The French Laundry‘s meticulously groomed garden. The three-acre garden, which is located across the street from the famed eatery, provides all three of Thomas Keller’s Yountville restaurants with fresh vegetables, herbs, and inspiration. In fact, the frisée that we devoured at Ad Hoc was picked fresh from here earlier in the morning.

Meandering along the neat rows of beets, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts on a Sunday afternoon was idyllic and calming.

Everywhere I looked were heads of happy lettuces and sprouts. Everyone who makes the trip out to Yountville must stop by this amazing green space, if just for a moment, to take in the peace and beauty.

Before driving back to Los Angeles, we made one last stop at our friend Scott’s house—Young Inglewood Wineries—in the town of St. Helena.

Sadly, Scott was out of town, but he left The Astronomer and me a special surprise wrapped in a brown paper bag on his front porch. The wine he gifted us was bottled a week prior, so labels hadn’t been printed yet. We’re going to enjoy the bottle of ’07 red (60% Cab Sauv, 30% Merlot, 10% Cab Franc), French oak (~50% new) with grilled steaks or bucatinni and meatballs. Thanks, Scott!

The Astronomer gets a big smooch for planning a spectacular weekend in Wine Country.

Hanoi Highlights II

Whereas our first couple of days in Hanoi were spent leisurely walking around town and eating in the Old Quarter, our final day in the capital city was crammed with a bevy of tourist activities. We started our day with a bowl of wonton noodles (mi hoang thanh) on Mai Hac De Street, which was touted by Rough Guide as having excellent local fare. The street had a handful of restaurants, but I definitely wouldn’t classify it as a culinary hot spot. In addition to wontons and noodles, the soup contained slices of barbecued pork, fried wonton skins, chives and a quarter of a hard boiled egg. Overall, a good soup, but it lacked the oomph of its southern counterpart. I say, more fish sauce and more black pepper.

Unsatisfied with our bland bowl of wontons, we headed a few doors down to a bun rieu establishment. Our zesty bowl of vermicelli noodles with tomatoes and crab was solid, and dare I say, nearly as good as Saigon’s beloved Thanh Hai. Fried tofu is the greatest flavor soaker there ever was.

After lunch, we hopped on our rented motorbike and went on a drive by greeting (similar to a drive by shooting, but more peaceful) to Uncle Ho’s mausoleum. One of these days I’m gonna wait in line and see Ho’s mummified body.

The Hanoi Opera House.

After site seeing on the motorbike for twenty minutes, The Astronomer and I were ready for a snack, so we stopped at a shack near the Opera House that sold ice cream and small bites. I ordered sweet sticky rice topped with French vanilla ice cream and toasted coconut (kem xoi). I give it three snaps in “Z” formation.

The always-savory Astronomer ordered a portion of nem ngot ran—slightly spicy meat that’s breaded and fried.

Properly fueled, we zoomed to check out the One Pillar Pagoda—Chùa Một Cột—an iconic Buddhist temple.

While in the neighborhood, we briefly considered going to the Ho Chi Minh Museum. Pros—air conditioning, cons—shame. The Astronomer was shaking in his boots posing outside the museum. After deliberating, we decided to put our dong to good use elsewhere.

Although the Ethnography Museum was not air conditioned, it was definitely an educationally stimulating and guilt-free way to spend the afternoon.

The multi-story museum contained all sorts of colorful and interactive displays featuring Vietnamese minorities. Exploring all of the exhibits got me really excited about heading to the mountainous town of Sapa. Plaid neon-colored do-rags are awesome.

We also saw a plethora of ancient carvings. One part Home Alone, one part The Thinker.

Outside the museum are a number of life-sized models of minority dwellings.

This one was our favorite.

Here’s another shot of the ancient Mccaulley Caulkin / Auguste Rodin hybrid.

After a couple hours in the museum, we headed back to the Old Quarter.

A trip to Hanoi wouldn’t be complete without a water puppet performance.

A water fairy prancing about.

The cast and crew take their bows. Farewell, Hanoi!

Halong Hype

If I were given a penny for every time I read the words “Halong Bay: Seventh Wonder of the Natural World”  while in Vietnam, I’d have at least 10 bucks in my wallet. I visited this “wonder” back in 2000 with my mom and Ong Ty and thought it pretty, but no prettier than La Jolla Shores. The memory that sticks out the most from that first trip to Halong Bay was my idealistic, 18-year-old self being pissed that my Vietnamese shipmates were throwing their garbage into the The Bay. I’m no hardcore environmentalist, but geez, plastic bags floating in the water is unacceptable.

I would’ve been perfectly content to see Halong Bay once, but The Astronomer would have be devastated  if he left Vietnam without visiting the hype that is Halong. Halong Bay, or Vịnh Hạ Long as the Vietnamese call it, is a UNESCO World Heritage site located in Quảng Ninh Province in the city of Haiphong. The bay features thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various sizes and shapes.

We booked a one-day tour from our hotel in Hanoi after shopping around in the Old Quarter, which is chock full of tour companies (most of which are unoriginally named Sinh Cafe). Not looking for a historic junk to cruise around in, a sleepover under the stars or a one-of-a-kind adventure, we went with a basic package that scooped us up in the morning, showed us around Halong Bay, fed us lunch and dropped us off in the evening.

The ride from Hanoi to Haiphong was long, but expected. We boarded our simple junk at around 11 am and set off to cruise and explore The Bay. Feeling especially festive, The Astronomer kicked off his Halong experience with a cold can of Halida beer. Woot.

Halong Bay looked just how I remembered it, but maybe a bit more crowded.

Hey look, it’s a boat and a tour group just like the one we’re on! Similar to our experience in the Mekong Delta, most tours of Halong Bay travel the same beaten path. Whereas this crowdedness may bother some folks, we’re cool with enjoying nature with others.

More tour groups! Tour groups are definitely not for those seeking intimate experiences. The Astronomer and I have signed on for many tours in our Vietnam days because it’s logistically easier and the company of strangers doesn’t diminish our personal experience.

Now, if this isn’t a karst limestone tower, I don’t know what is.

More limestone, more karst.

And before we knew it, it was time for almuerzo. Idle sightseeing sure does work up an appetite. Although these cha gio were of the frozen variety, The Astronomer said they were pretty decent. The taste of Ba Sau’s homemade cha gio was fresh in my memory so I couldn’t bring myself to eat a lesser version yet.

Crinkle cut fries.

Fresh skinless cucumbers and carrots.

Fresh but bland clams.

My favorite—fluffy scallion omelet.

Whole fried fish with tomatoes and scallions.

Squid. Not Phu-Quoc tender.

This cutie from Japan (and her mom and aunt) sat at our table during lunch. She was an AMAZING eater. I love kids that aren’t picky about their diet. She was also a big fan of the omelet so we had to duke it out for the last bit.

After lunch, we boarded a small boat to explore a secluded isle, which was supposedly the setting of a scene from the James Bond movie “Tomorrow Never Dies.”

We sailed into this small inlet.

This little excursion was the most peaceful part of our tour.

Halong Bay residents.

Our last stop on the Halong Bay express was the Thien Cung grotto.

Thien Cung grotto is a fabulous cave filled with stalactites and stalagmites. I could have done without the rainbow glow, but Vietnam just wouldn’t be Vietnam without the constant abuse of neon lights.

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