Sunday, August 28, 2011

Eat Around the World - Burma

Over a year ago, Jason and I headed out to Alameda for an evening out. Neither one of us had really been to Alameda, and we had heard that it was a cute little town. Someone had recommended an Italian restaurant to eat at, but we wanted to walk the town before dinner. As we were walking around, we stumbled across Burma Superstar! (Yelp Review here) and saw a big crowd hanging around outside the restaurant. We took mental note of the restaurant, so when we came back a few months later, we were all excited to try Burmese food. However, the wait was super long...and we were hungry, so we settled for a restaurant serving New Zealand cuisine.

We were determined to make it back to Alameda though so we could eat at Burmese Superstar. Well, it took us a year to get back there, but in May of 2011, we had our first taste of Burmese food, and it did not disappoint! On our first visit, we ordered their signature salad: the tea leaf salad filled with "urmese tea leaves, tomatoes, lettuce, dried shrimp (or vegetarian), fried garlic, sesame seeds, peanuts, and split yellow peas.” They bring out the salad with all the ingredients separated and then mix it together at your table. Delicious!

For our entrees we ordered garlic noodles, pork curry with potatoes, and the fiery beef. The fiery beef (pictured below) was by far the best entree we ordered. Don't let the tofu freak you out (or order it without), but I don't even remember the tofu.

After our first week of being back at school, Jason and I wanted to treat ourselves to a meal out. We talked about going somewhere, and in my head I was thinking Burma Superstar...and then Jason suggested it. I love it when that happens...we are finding stuff like this happening more and more often. The two really do become one upon being wed!

So last Friday we headed back out to Alameda for take two of Burmese food. We made sure that we didn't get any repeat items from our first go. Instead of the tea leaf salad we got the rainbow salad: 22 ingredients, including four kinds of noodles, crispy fried garlic, diced potatoes, tofu, dried shrimp, fried onions, green papaya, roasted chilies, crushed yellow beans, cilantro, won ton chips, cabbage and a tamarind dressing.

As our server said, every bite tastes a little different, and she sure was right! Our entrees were sesame beef (strips of beef lightly fried with a sweet and tangy sauce. Topped with sesame seeds) and spicy & crispy chicken (deep fried chicken breast in a sweet, tangy, and spicy sauce with chili and garlic...and they don't go easy on the garlic!).

Sesame Beef (Above)
Spicy & Crispy Chicken (Below)

Winner of the night was the sesame beef. Delicious! We can't wait to go back (we were already talking about what our visit #3 picks will be). We give Burma Superstar a 10 out of 10!

Friday, August 26, 2011

New Beginnings

Phew! I made it through the first week back at school. I always forget how exhausting this week is - even with it having been a short week, it still sucks everything out of you! It's quite the adjustment to go from 10 weeks of summer, no work, and sleeping in, to dealing with 185 eleven year olds, talking for 6 hours straight, and getting up at 6am.

But, I must say that it was a great first week back! I was definitely ready to go back to work this year. Summer was great, but because it was a mellow one, I was ready to get back into a routine. Anyone else love routine like me? I thrive off of it. Love having a schedule and feel so much more productive when I have one.

I love the start of the school year. It's like a new beginning, a fresh start. Any frustrations and difficulties from the previous year are behind you. It's a brand new group of students, who I think, also see the new school year as a new beginning. They have new teachers, new classes, a new schedule...they are relaxed, rested, and ready to go! I love my little 6th graders at the beginning of the school year. They are like perfect little angels. Part of it is that they are scared to death, but the other part is they are so excited for their new beginning - starting middle school. They are enthusiastic, polite, and eager to learn. And...they do exactly what I say. But, it's always fun to see their personalities come out during the school (well, most of the time...)

This school year is also really exciting for me because I have TONS of siblings from former students. The past two years there, I have had a handful of siblings. But, because this is now our fourth year as a school, we are seeing lots of siblings come through. In every class I have at least 5-6 (or more) siblings of former students. So much fun!

800 plus students pouring out of campus

Not only was this week a new beginning for me, but it was for Jason, too. While I went back to being a teacher this week, Jason went back to being a student. That's right, Jason started grad school on Monday through Liberty University. He is getting his Masters in Public Policy and is really excited about his program. However, it was definitely a week of reading, writing papers, and re-learning how to format a paper in APA. Oh, the joys of being a student again...

We are both really excited about where we are at right now and what is to come. So, Year 5 of Teaching and Year 1 of Grad School...we're ready!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Eat Around the World - Poland

On Saturday, Jason and I went to a Polish restaurant in Walnut Creek called Chopin Cafe & Restaurant (click here for the Yelp review). We're all about trying to find places with good reviews, but you often have to go into San Francisco to get some of the better ones, but we were excited when Chopin Cafe & Restaurant came up.

Again, like a lot of these places, the outside was nothing grand and looked more like a coffee shop or small cafe (which I guess it technically is a cafe). I was even more surprised when I walked in and saw how small it was. A handful of tables to sit two people, and then a few more of those squished together to hold up to four. When a party of seven came in shortly after us, they practically had to turn the restaurant upside down to accommodate them. The entire restaurant held probably 30 people, and boy did they quickly occupy all of those seats. This place was hopping, which is always a good sign!

We read on Yelp that the herring was amazing for an appetizer. To be honest, I didn't even know what herring was and didn't read the description on the menu, but just let Jason go ahead and order it since we both had read that it was good. So, I must say I was quite surprised to see raw fish come out all fancied up with tomatoes, pickles, and onions.

Jason took a bite before I was able to, and the first thing he said was, "You're not going to like this." I am a huge texture person, and he said that it was even a bit difficult for him. I am trying to be braver and bolder though, so I made myself try it. I had a piece and wow - it was not good. I mean, it's raw fish. It was slimy, mushy, and so odd tasting (and odd is my polite way of saying nasty). I wouldn't attribute this to the restaurant, I'm pretty sure this is just what herring tastes like no matter where you get it. (Upon trying it, I went back and read the reviews on yelp about the herring, and most of them agreed with my description - guess we read the wrong review...)

For our entrees we wanted to make sure we went classic Polish. Entree number 1 was pierogi, which are stuffed dumplings. We had half ours filled with potato and cheese, while the other half was beef. They were then topped with caramelized onions.

The dumplings were great, especially with the caramelized onions (however, expect to burp them up for the rest of your evening...not fun). They were extremely flavorful, but also very heavy. Two or three of them about did me in. I'm not a huge ground beef fan though, so I liked the potato and cheese better than the beef.

Entree number 2 (which Jason ate 95% of) was Beef Roulade - rolled slices of tender beef stuffed with onions and peppers with gravy and potato dumplings on the side. Huge portion size!

Jason was in love with this entree. The beef was so tender and extremely flavorful. Again, I'm particular about my beef, so the slow-cooked way is not my favorite. The potato dumplings and gravy were delicious, and I might even say I liked the plain potato dumplings the best.

We had planned on getting blintzes for dessert (with raspberry and whipped cream), but we were way too stuffed from the hearty Polish meal.

However, our server did give us a free piece of pineapple cake to take home (which I am eating right now as I write this...of course with some Open Nature's vanilla bean ice cream...yummy). Some people have complained about the service at Chopin, but we had no complaints. It is a family run restaurant, and there was one server for the entire night. He did such a great job considering the crowd. He was a great host and very friendly. There was a 3-year-old girl at the table next to us, and he was so sweet to her, calling her princess all night.

Overall, we gave the restaurant a 7.5 - rating it as good. I think I'm just not into the hearty cuisine that the Polish eat, so it lowered my rating a bit. Plus the herring was a huge mistake that somewhat tainted the experience. I would definitely recommend this restaurant if you like this sort of food, though. Plus, they serve breakfast Friday - Sunday, which looks quite good.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Eat Around the World - Turkey

While our summer kick-off event was trying Brazilian cuisine, our end of summer splurge was a Giant's game in San Francisco, followed by some Turkish food! (Unfortunately, the Giants got spanked by the Pirates, 2-9. Painful). Nonetheless, we still had a great time (I got to see the Giants play...and Jason got to see the Giants lose. Dodger fan...).

Since we were in the city for the day, we wanted to take advantage of the wide variety of cuisines offered in San Francisco. We took BART into the city, so we wanted to find something within walking distance from the park. We were originally thinking Russian food, but nothing was close by (we really want to color in Russia on our map - huge country!) We then thought maybe German, but we wanted to eat a sausage at the game, and we figured German food for dinner after would be overkill. After doing some research on Yelp, we found a review for a Turkish restaurant, and everyone said it was great. It was only about 2.5 miles from the park, so we figured we'd give it a go!

Conveniently, half-way there, we walked by Coffee Bean for 'happy hour' and then did some shopping around Union Square.

After our coffee and shopping fix, we made the trek up Geary into the Tenderlion area of San Francisco and arrived at A La Turca Restaurant (click here for Yelp review).

While it sure didn't look too promising from the outside, things got better upon entering. It was really cute inside, with a mural on one of the side walls and rock all along the back wall.

For an appetizer we ordered Ispanakli Borek. Say what? Basically it is pastry dough filled with spinach and feta cheese. The pastry dough was crispy and flaky - melted in your mouth.

For the main course, I ordered flat bread grilled and filled with chicken, feta, mozzarella, and bell peppers. (I am notorious for ordering the 'safest' item on the menu, and afterwards told Jason he needs to start ordering for me because I 'chicken' out every time and end up ordering something with chicken in it). It came out looking like a quesadilla. It was really good, but rich (which I am also notorious for ordering). Probably would order something different next time.

Jason always goes for the boldest item on the menu...with the most meat in it. Jason order the Combo Donor (donor is Turkish for gyro meat). It came with chicken, beef, and lamb gyro meat, salad, and rice. The meat was so flavorful, with tons of spices and seasoning. I wish I got something with more spunk to it since it tasted so good.

We were so full after our meal that we didn't have room for dessert. We decided to get something go to and were going to order their baklava, but our server talked us into getting kadayif, which is their shredded phyllo dough with pistachios.

They looked really yummy, but we were both a little disappointed when we went to eat them the next day. Both of us took one bit, looked at each other, and agreed that it wasn't worth eating the rest. We then resorted to our summer dessert...Open Nature's Vanilla Bean Ice Cream (found at Safeway...seriously, the best vanilla ice cream from the carton) with mashed up blackberries. We are loving this dessert...and eat it almost every night!

Overall, we gave A La Turca an 8 out of 10. Our appetizer was for sure a 10, along with Jason's meal, but I would rate mine a little lower, along with our disappointing dessert. If you're looking to try Turkish food, we recommend A La Turca.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Eat Around the World - Brazil

For our summer kick-off meal on June 11th, Jason and I went to Brazil Cafe in Berkeley (click here for Yelp review). We had driven by this place many times and had been wanting to try it out for quite awhile. Brazil Cafe has two locations: one is an actual restaurant on University Ave, the other is this...

So, of course we visited this location for the great ambiance of sitting on the street corner of University. We were immediately greeted by the owner, who was coming around handing out samples. Awesome!

I ordered the staple item: the tri-tip sandwich. But this is no ordinary tri-tip sandwich. This is a tri-tip sandwich Brazilian style. I love bbq sauce, so I was pretty sure that it couldn't get much better than the American tri-tip sandwich. And then I bit into the Brazilian tri-tip...filled with grilled onions, tomatoes, lettuce, and the clincher: cilantro garlic sauce. So good! And, to go along it, I ordered a mango smoothie. Delicious. I had no complaints about my experience at Brazil Cafe.

Jason and I never order the same item at a restaurant because we want to maximize our experience by trying as much variety as we can! So, Jason ordered the tri-tip Mediterranean plate: hummus, salad, and tri-tip over rice with grilled onions and pita bread. It was very similar to mine, but you lose out on the yummy cilantro garlic sauce. However, in place of it, you get hummus and pita bread, which was a good exchange. However, we both agreed that the tri-tip sandwich was the better option.

We highly recommend Brazil Cafe. Overall, we rated it as excellent, giving the restaurant a 10 out of 10. There was not one thing to complain about. We can't wait to go back again ourselves!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Eat Around the World

On our first 'date' (which was actually what I call a fake date), Jason and I discovered a potential problem that would continue into our soon-to-be relationship. It was November of 2009, and we had just spent a few hours helping out with an organization called Trade As One. While we were driving home, Jason asked if he could take me to dinner. I said sure, and then we faced the problem...where to eat. We hummed and hawed and didn't know where to go, until finally Jason suggested a restaurant. Well, the same routine occurred over the next few months every time we wanted to eat out.

Then, one night in January when trying to figure out where to eat, Jason suggested we try something 'exotic', something we have never eaten before. I had heard that Ethiopian food was good, so decided to give that a go. We headed out to Berkeley to a restaurant called
Addis, and we ate their combination platter of Ethiopian meats and vegetables. We loved the 'cultural' experience of eating with our hands, along with an African ambiance in the restaurant.

Since we had such a great experience, we decided to try and 'eat our way around the world' by trying exotic cuisines we had never experienced from different countries. And...(this was when I really began to think that Jason was 'the one') we decided to color in a map for each country whose cuisine we ate, along with the date and restaurant we dined at. So began our adventure!

Well, I neglected to bring along my camera until recently. So, here is an update of where we have been so far, along with our rating out of 10...

  • Ethiopia: Addis in Berkeley (1.29.10) Rating = Excellent (9)
  • Greece: Simply Greek in Pleasanton (reoccurring) Rating = Good (8)
  • El Salvador: La Pupusa House in Livermore (1.30.10) Rating = Good (7)
  • Singapore: Old Town Cafe in Dublin (2.13.10) Rating = Excellent (9) *closed
  • Peru: Cholas in Concord (2.25.10) Rating = Poor (3) *closed
  • Tibet: Cafe Tibet in Berkeley (3.2.10) Rating = Awful (1)
  • Thailand: Sri Thai in Dublin (4.24.10) Rating = Good (8)
  • New Zealand: The New Zealander in Alameda (5.15.10) Rating = Poor (4) *closed
  • Japan: Yoshis Jazz Club in Oakland (5.28.10) Rating = Good (7)
  • Iran: Shiraz in San Ramon (6.19.10) Rating = Average (6)
  • Korea: Sam Won BBQ House in Oakland (8.13.10) Rating = Good (8)
  • England: The Crown in Danville (1.7.11) Rating = Average (6)
  • Vietnam: 19 Market in San Jose (2.11.11) Rating = Average (5)
  • India: Cafe Tandoor in San Ramon (4.29.11) Rating = Average (5) (I recommend Sansar in Livermore)
  • Afghanistan: Pamir in Dublin (5.7.11) Rating = Good (8)
  • Burma/Yemen: Burma Superstar in Alameda (5.20.11) Rating = Excellent (10)
  • Brazil: Cafe Brazil in Berkeley (6.11.11) Rating = Excellent (10)
  • Israel: The Holy Land in Oakland (7.12.11) Rating = Good (8)
  • Turkey: A La Turca in San Francisco (8.10.11) Rating = Good (8)
With the exception of a few restaurants, most of the food we've tried has been great! I plan to give you a more in depth update of some of the last few restaurants we've been to and then hope to keep you updated as we go from here. My goal is to eat 30 new cuisines that I have never had before I am 30. From the list above, I had eaten a few of the listed cuisines before Jason and I started our journey. Take Greece, Thailand, Japan, Korea, England, and India off that list, and I have had 13 new cuisines so far...leaving me with 17 more to go! You might think that's a lot of additional cuisines to come up with, but we've done our research and you'd be amazed at some of the cuisines that are out there. We're loving this adventure so far!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tahoe 2011

Compared to last summer, I did not have very many trips planned for this summer. Since Jason and I took our big trip in April to Maui for our honeymoon, we were left with some small trips to take over summer. Two of those trips were to Tahoe! I love Tahoe. I think it is the most beautiful place in California. When I was younger, my family would go to Tahoe every summer for vacation. Then, as we got older, my sister and I played competitive soccer, which required us to travel a lot. So, our summer vacations began to revolve around the locations of our soccer tournaments. But, the last five summers, my family has started back up with summer vacations to Tahoe! It is great!

However, the first trip to Tahoe this summer was with all my high school friends - or more like elementary school friends. (Remember my 'Austin 2010' post about how we are all still great friends). One of my closest friends growing up (and neighbor since I was two), Kirsten, is getting married in Maui this December. Because they are only having family at the wedding, she decided to throw an engagement party in Tahoe with a bunch of her closest friends. Her parents have a house there right on the water, and it is incredible! There were five of us from growing up that went, and we each brought our significant others. The five of us have all known each other from some point in elementary school. And...four out of the five of us got engaged within a four month period (last August, September, November, and December), and then the fifth just got engaged this 4th of July! I love how stuff like that happens!

We had a great weekend celebrating Kirsten and Andy. We spent Saturday hiking along Lake Tahoe to Emerald Bay. It was one of the most gorgeous hikes I have done because you are literally hiking right along the water. Then, Saturday night we had such a fun dinner at Sunnyside, toasting Kirsten and Andy and sharing memories from the twenty plus years we have been friends (crazy that Kirsten and I have been friends for 25 years)! Congrats to Kirst and Andy!

Then, this past week, I went to Tahoe with my family for eight days! For the past four summers we have gone to South Shore because my dad's company has a house there. However, they rented out the house this year, so instead we went to my brother-in-law's family cabin in North Shore. It was fun to switch it up this year. We definitely beached it up everyday! We spent most of our time at Tahoe Donner, which I had never been to. It's a great little beach area, especially if you have young kids because they have a shallow area for them to play in the water.

Kate digging away

Claire Bear

We also went to King's Beach one day in North Shore, and then made the drive to South Shore another day for old time's sake. I love Jameson Beach on South Shore. Nothing beats the view of Lake Tahoe there, plus there is tons going on with the Beacon Bar and Grill right there, which has a live band on most days. And, let's not forget about their yummy rum runners (which we failed to enjoy this year). The beach was super crowded (as usual), but even more so this year because the beach line is so small from all the rain/snow this winter...spring...oh, and summer. I love the activity though because I am such a people watcher. It's constant entertainment :)

King's Beach (note the two feet of beach)

Jameson Beach - my all time favorite!

Can you say, Rum Runner!

Emerald Bay

I had a great time with my family, but about half way through the trip I was ready to go home. Jason wasn't able to come because he took so much time off in April for our wedding and honeymoon. We're clearly still in the newlywed stage, and eight days apart was too much for us to take. (He even slept on our couch half the time because he didn't want to sleep in our bed alone). While I love vacations with my family, I might have to cut next summers a little short.