(My) Introduction to Poke

This summer, I've started making poke, the Hawaiian salad of seafood. It's just the perfect dish when it's hot outside, and you don't want to turn on the stove. You just cut up the fish, and mix it with some onion, scallions, soy sauce, sesame oil... maybe some honey and citrus too, if you like.

And with just some salad, dinner is ready! (Oh, and it's paleo-friendly, grain-free, low-carb too, if you're into that sort of thing).

Here's an octopus kimchi poke I made. Octopus poke is super easy to make in Spain, because they sell bags of frozen sliced, cooked octopus. So you can keep a bag in the freezer, and just defrost, mix with the ingredients, and done!

But it wasn't until I came back to California this summer that I went to my. first. poke bar!!

I know! I felt like such a country bumpkin when I stood in front of the menu board bewildered by the myriad of options, not knowing what to choose. Even more of a country bumpkin when I told my cousin to go in front of me to order, telling her that I was a beginner at poke, and she looked at me in shock. Haha!


SF Eats: Dumpling Time

I came to Dumpling Time with mixed feelings.

On the one hand, I was super excited to try a dumpling place whose pictures I've seen posted on my friends' Facebook feeds for months now; on the other, I was apprehensive about the quality of Chinese food which is hipsterized, fusionized, and expensified - usually there's an inverse relation of the first with the last three variables.

On the one hand, I was excited that a dumpling place opened up in Potrero Hill; on the other, I was wistful that my old neighborhood was growing up and I wasn't around to be a part of these new developments.

So on the day of my departure back to Spain, I rushed to the restaurant to meet my sister, two large suitcases in tow in order to leave for the airport directly afterwards. The tables on the terrace aren't placed cheek to jowl, and we were lucky to score a corner table with even more space. The servers were friendly, and even engaged in some chit chat at the end about where I was going.

So how was the food?

San Diego Eats: Koon Thai

Thai is one of the cuisines that's kind of hard to find in Spain. Sure, there are "Thai" restaurants that are fast food joints where you choose the ingredients and sauce and the cooks stir fry everything together. Everything comes out tasting about the same despite your choice in sauce - sweet and very salty -, and are about as Thai as teriyaki chicken is Chinese.

A rare bird is a Thai restaurant that serves your typical green curry, massaman curry, etc. And pretty much nonexistent is any restaurant that goes beyond this selection.

So I was super excited to try Koon Thai on Convoy St., where I was introduced to a menu full of things I'd never encountered before, and where they warn you in advance that when you order mild, it is the equivalent of spicy at other joints!

Rolled Ice Cream: Tale of Two Cities

Thai rolled ice cream has taken the world by storm. No sooner than I read about the rolled ice cream stores popping up around California, than I see not one but THREE! rolled ice cream stores open up in Valencia, Spain.

Valencia! The city where kale is still newfangled.

Given the rapid pace of expansion, I wonder if rolled ice cream will be a trend that has the staying power of frozen yogurt and cupcakes, or will it be as fleeting as cronuts?

Coming in to San Diego, I had an extra-long layover at SFO, so I hopped into town and had dinner with the sister (burrito at Taqueria Cancun of course!), finished off with our first encounter with rolled ice cream at Steep Creamery & Tea in SOMA...

San Diego Eats: Shan Xi Magic Kitchen

San Diego has had a Sichuan restaurant boom, and now perhaps the city is eager for the "next" region of Chinese cuisine to fall in love with. Perhaps it is Shaanxi's turn? (By the way, this province 陕西, whose capitol is Xi'an, is often transliterated as Shaanxi, to differentiate it with 山西 province, which is also spelled Shanxi in pinyin). Last year we had a nice meal at Xi'an Kitchen, where we tried out several new (to us) dishes. That restaurant has since closed.

Shan Xi Magic Kitchen has opened up in the space of Great Wow, a dumpling place we also visited last year, when it was newly opened. There seems to be a lot of turnover in the San Diego restaurant scene! Anyway, the new restaurant seems to have put some thought into the interior arrangement and decoration, because now it has less of an open cafeteria feeling, with partitions giving individual tables more privacy...

VLC-FRA-SFO: Last trip on 747 upper deck!

Due to a snafu with United's online rebooking tool, I got to fly a final time on United's 747 upper deck, before they retire the 747 fleet.

I wanted to extend my trip back to California a couple days, and used united.com to make the change. The website is great for seeing all of the rebooking options, change fee, and fare difference. You can change origin, destination, and dates, and price out the implications of changing each variable. It's quite powerful.

I carefully selected only the return flight to change, leaving my outbound flight unchanged. I went all the way to the last step, clicked confirm change, and got an error message. I considered trying again, but saw that my credit card already had a pending charge, so called the reservations line.

To my shock, the reservations agent told me that I cancelled my outbound flight...

Stuttgart-Frankfurt-Valencia: First time with Lufthansa Express Rail

When I was choosing flights coming back to Valencia from Stuttgart, I noticed something interesting: there was a flight around 6:30pm to Zurich, connecting to a flight to Valencia; there was ALSO a train around 6:30pm to Frankfurt, connecting to a flight to Valencia. While the trip time was about the same for both, I would have had to get on an airport train from Hauptbanhof at around 4:30, giving a 2 hour advantage to the train itinerary.

Traveling with "Lufthansa Express Rail" is as similar as possible to boarding a flight as possible. First, there are Lufthansa self check-in kiosks on the ground floor of the train station, in the Deutsche Bahn travel assistance center, the "Reiseservice"...

Architecture Pilgrimage: the Weissenhof Estate in Stuttgart, featuring Le Corbusier

At the Mercedes-Benz Museum, I saw a photo of a housing development that I remembered studying in Design History class: the Weissenhof Estate. I'd forgotten it was in Stuttgart! So I went online to check out the place, called to verify that they were open (since it was Monday, and also the May 1 holiday), and hurried to take the train and bus back over to the west side of town.

The Weissenhof Estate was a model development by the city of Stuttgart planned by Mies van der Rohe, and designed to experiment with new models of housing. It was an image of this townhouse complex designed by J.J.P. Oud that made me suddenly remember the slides in Design History class.

Cars! Cars! Cars...2! A visit to the Mercedes-Benz Museum

After visiting the Porsche Museum, it was time to head back to the Stuttgart Hauptbanhof to catch the S-bahn to Neckar Park - basically clear on the other side of town. I only had time at Hauptbanhof to pick up a sandwich and pastry in the station, to eat while waiting for the next train.

Unlike the Porsche Museum with its advantageous location adjacent to the station, you do have to walk about 15 minutes from the station to the Mercedes-Benz Museum. It's fairly well signposted, though.

On the other hand, like the Porsche Museum, there's a vanity roundabout sculpture next to the museum. While the Porsche Museum had Porsches mounted on top of three tall posts, the Mercedes-Benz version is a more subtle, extruded 3-pointed star.

Cars! Cars! Cars! A visit to the Porsche Museum

When I was looking for a destination around Europe to spend my May 1, International Labor Day, long weekend, I decided to combine Strasbourg, with its charming village feeling, and Stuttgart, known for being the industrial home of Porsche and Mercedes-Benz.

Just after waking up, I hopped on the S-Bahn from Hauptbanhof to Neuwirtshaus/Porscheplatz station. The museum is right there, adjacent to the train tracks.

I was impressed with the service as soon as I walked up to the ticket counter. The attendant proactively asked me if I had taken public transit to the museum. Indeed I had, and upon showing my transit day pass, I learned that I got half-price admission, paying €4 instead of €8! This discount wasn't published anywhere on the website, so it was a very pleasant surprise!

Lodging Review: Hôtel Vendôme, Strasbourg France

Though I was in Strasbourg two days and Stuttgart one, I spent only one night in Strasbourg and two in Stuttgart due to flight and train schedules.

I thought choosing a place near the train station would be handy, to drop bags off upon arrival in the morning, and to leave in storage and pick up again just before boarding the train.

With a rate of just $64 including taxes for one night, the price was right. And as you can see in this photo, it really was right next to the modern, bulbous Strasbourg train terminal.

Gluttony at Gurtlerhoft Restaurant

For lunch the next day, I chose Gurtlerhoft Restaurant. It's situated right next to the Cathedral, and seemed quite popular with tourist groups. But I had read some convincing reviews from locals who praised the food here, so had decided to give it a try.

You go down a flight of stairs and enter this "cave." All of Strasbourg is so atmospheric!

Impressions: Strasbourg, France

Strasbourg is fairy tale charming. It's probably one of the things that compelled me to visit - it just seemed so "European!"

You imagine Beauty and the Beast taking place in a town like this; in fact, it's said that the town from which the Disney animators drew inspiration is just south of Strasbourg.

I think there are probably a few American apartment developments or subdivisions inspired by the Alsace region!

Lodging Review: Motel One Stuttgart

 I had stayed at a Motel One a few years ago in Munich, and thought the concept was quite attractive: modern rooms with just what you need at a reasonable cost. One of the Motel Ones in Stuttgart (there are a few) was just a block from the Hauptbanhof (train station), and given that I had late evening/early arrivals in Stuttgart both times I was passing through, this hotel was a logical choice.

VLC-ZRH-STR: making a 10-minute connection!

So much for "Swiss punctuality."

Posters on a certain frequent flyer message board often like to say how efficient, punctual, and reliable SWISS is, along with their partner Lufthansa. I guess it's the national reputations of Switzerland and Germany influencing the perception of the national airlines. Though if you look at the statistics, Iberia has been the most punctual airline in the world the past few years, the stereotype of Spanish people being lazy and tardy notwithstanding.

So I had confidently booked a 45 minute connection in Zurich Airport, for my flight from Valencia to Stuttgart. It was a way to maximize my work day, yet still arrive in Stuttgart the same evening.

When I got to the airport, however, I found out that the flight was delayed 35 minutes! And the check-in agents refused to look for alternate possibilities, telling me that I had to go to Zurich to be rebooked. How does this make sense? What if it became so delayed that I would be stranded in Zurich while in Valencia I could just go home?

So I was left with little choice but to head through security and cross my fingers that it would all be resolved in Zurich.

Lounge Review: Sala Cap des Falcó Ibiza

Ibiza is a small airport, so the chances of spending a lot of time here are probably not great. Still, they have an Aena-operated lounge called Sala Cap des Falcó, which is accessible by Priority Pass!

It's located at one of the ends of the terminal, near gate 1. So after coming through security, make a U-turn. Don't make the mistake that I did and walk to the opposite end of the terminal!

All About Bullit: Ibiza's fish-boil-paella multi-course meal

Separated by only 100 miles, Ibiza and Valencia share some food customs, naturally. Typical Ibicenco foods include the sausages botifarra and sobrasada, which can also be found on the mainland. Surprisingly to me, a lot of the typical products and dishes involve meat, when I had thought that seafood would play more of a starring role.

One dish that does highlight seafood is the dish "bullit." It's a cool concept of featuring the same produce in different forms, akin to Peking Duck, where first you eat the skin, then the meat inside of buns, then a broth with the duck bones.

We tried bullit at the restaurant Es Calo, in Es Calo ;) , on the island of Formentera.

Formentera Day Trip Itinerary

Formentera is an island quite close to Ibiza, and popular for day-trippers. Here's an outline for an itinerary to get a taste of Formentera in one day.

First, there are a couple different ferry companies that go between Ibiza and Formentera. They're comparable in cost and all advertise a 30-minute "fast ferry" ride. Our trip time was more like 45-50 minutes! I can't imagine how long the 1-hour "slow ferry" would take... 

Our first stop was Ses Illetes, a narrow spit of land going into the sea. I just couldn't get over how clear and blue the waters were here!

Impressions: Ibiza

Before visiting Ibiza, I used to think of beaches and partying when I thought of the island.

I'm sure the partying is quite spectacular - the road from the airport to town was plastered with billboards promoting parties and clubs - and the beaches for sure are among the most picturesque in the world.

But I was surprised by what a charming the old town Ibiza was.