Tuesday, September 21, 2010

San Francisco and the Drive Back

Daria Souvorova, Sweet Daria's, San FranciscoWe only had one day in San Francisco, but we made the best of it. The first stop of the day was San Francisco Orchid Society's yearly Orchid Show and Sale. Since receiving my first grocery store Phalaenopsis orchid in high school, I have nurtured a fond obsession with orchids. Since that first plant, which I subsequently killed through over watering, I have not been able to keep myself from buying more and more, and killing them from one mistake or another. I have tried Cymidiums and Vandas, Cattleya and Paphiopedilum Orchids. Some I have not been able to provide enough light for and others needed too frequent watering.

Daria Souvorova, Sweet Daria's, San FranciscoYears later, after sacrificing dozens of plants, I stumbled on keeping orchids in terrariums. After this realization, I started researching smaller orchid species that required low light situations and high moisture levels. Looking through countless blogs and articles, I found Andy's Orchids, a nursery in California, that specializes in miniature orchids and "orchids on a stick" (mounted orchids). Although I have ordered several plants from their website, I have longed to visit the nursery and meet all of their plants in person.

Daria Souvorova, Sweet Daria's, San FranciscoThe nursery is located an hour and a half outside of Los Angeles, and since I missed the opportunity to go there during my first visit to Los Angeles, I was determined to get there on my second. Looking up the address, I discovered that Andy's Orchids would be exhibiting at the San Francisco Orchid Show right in Golden Gate Park, on the two days that were going to be in the city. Perfection.

Daria Souvorova, Sweet Daria's, San FranciscoWe got up early and drove our little red bug to the show. I was so excited! Looking for parking, I was the one yelling at cars ahead of us and calling after pedestrians to "find their automated vehicles since it was my turn to procure botanic excitement."

Daria Souvorova, Sweet Daria's, San FranciscoI will admit it, I am fairly simple, and many things get me excited from the gravitational movement of water to the embroidery on a piece of lace, but I can hardly depict how out of my mind I was to walk into a stadium full of orchid booths. Left and right were dark green formations of leaves with silky caterpillar like exposed roots. I couldn't pick a direction, everything seemed wonderful. I needed to center myself before I could make a logical walk through and find the wonderful plants that would come home with me.

Daria Souvorova, Sweet Daria's, San FranciscoAfter the show, we made our way to the Golden Gate Bridge for a customary tourist photo-up in the gusty wind. We dropped off our car, and headed out to explore the city. We visited the Castro, the gay district, and walked by Castro Theatre and through all of the cute shops marveling at names like Los Flamingos, Does Your Father Know?, The Pendulum and Moby Dick. The neighborhood, as well as the city in general is also host to an incredible collection of unique homes. Almost every house we passed by, and they crowd each other on every block of the city, was unique and adorable. I found myself planning out my life and decor as the future owner of every second house I passed.

Daria Souvorova, Sweet Daria's, San FranciscoThe main event in San Francisco was our dinner plan: Rafael made reservations at La Mar, which I was told prepared the best Peruvian cuisine in the world. Our reservation was for eight -o-clock so we headed at a leisurely pace towards the Embarcadero, where the restaurant was located. It was a fairly long walk down Market Street from the Castro and we had the opportunity to explore the length of the city and visit many shops along the way.

Daria Souvorova, Sweet Daria's, San FranciscoPeruvian food takes advantage of the huge fish market of the country and the landmark dish is Cebiche. La Mar cebicheria has made its mission to expose the rest of the world to the traditions and flavors of Peru's fresh fish and delicate spices.

To prove to me that Peruvian cebiche is like no other, and better than any other, in the world, we decided to go with the sampler which included Mixto, Chifa, Nikei and Clásico cebiches. Each one was unique and wonderful: The Mixto combined mahi mahi, calamari and octopus with a traditional aji leche de tigre sauce. The Clásico featured halibut and red onions in the same amazing leche de tigre sauce with sweet yam and Peruvian corn. The Clásico and Mixto are the more traditional dishes, but Peru is incredibly influenced by Asian flavors which were evident in the Chifa and Nikei cebiches: Chifa is a mahi mahi with scallions, peanuts, ginger and pickled carrots with strips of seaweed in a sesame and cilantro leche de tigre, this was my favorite. The quartet was rounded off with Nikei, a concoction of ahi tuna, cucumber, avocado in a tamarind sauce.

All four dishes were incredible! I have always loved fresh seafood and have often gravitated towards sushi and other formats of raw fish. This may be one of my favorite new dishes.

Daria Souvorova, Sweet Daria's, San FranciscoFollowing the cebiche, we had another traditional dish which Rafael's wonderful mother has made for us before and I already had a passion for, the causa limeña. This dish is an aji flavored potato puree topped with dungeness crab, quail egg, tomato and an avocado puree. The dish was great in its own right, but I think it lacked a bit in lime and avocado and I missed the strong flavor hints of our homemade causa. We finished the dinner off with an anticucho de corazón which is a skewer of beef heart with corn, roasted potatoes and a spicy rocoto sauce.

Since I was already in a cheating mood, I decided to cheat on my diet some more and we both ordered a dessert. Rafael ordered the traditional suspiro limeño which consisted of a martini glass of dulce de leche mousse with port wine meringue. It was incredibly sweet and strong, but wonderful. I had the crocante de maize: a sandwich of praline contained a lemon mousse which was served with chocolate ice cream and raspberry sauce. The flavors were light and refreshing, neither too strong but all unforgettable and almost Parisian.

We had an incredible meal and talked about it often on our drive back to Los Angeles the next morning.


Daria Souvorova, Sweet Daria's, San FranciscoWe made it to Los Angeles in great time on Monday afternoon and made our way to fulfill yet another of my obsessions. I have a great passion for European culinary arts and pastry making. My current favorite pastry is the Parisian macaron cookie. It is an incredibly simple and delightful cookie which has only recently caught attention in the American pastry market. Wonderfully colored almond flour meringue domes shelter a variety of flavors of buttercream, ganache and jam making for a rainbow of flavor possibilities in a light and chewy cookie.

Daria Souvorova, Sweet Daria's, San FranciscoFew American bakeries specialize in macarons, while in Paris, pastry chef's pride their ingenuity and skills as bakers by their intricate macaron displays. I first tried the intricate pastry at François Payard's FC Chocolate Bar, my replacement for his recently closed down restaurant and cafe on the Upper East Side. Since that time, I have purchased macarons at any venue I could find them for comparison and have attempted to make them myself with fair results.

Daria Souvorova, Sweet Daria's, San FranciscoSince the beginning of my obsession, I have frequently heard the name Paulette Macarons in San Francisco and Beverly Hills and decided that this was my chance to try Paulette Koumetz and Christophe Michalak's miniature creations. I picked out a box of twelve of the most enticing flavors for us (mostly me) to try and ordered some gift boxes for friends. Sitting outside the Beverly Hills shop we tried our first two Paulette macarons, the passion fruit and sweet wedding almond, both of which were delightful.

Daria Souvorova, Sweet Daria's, San FranciscoOur trip coming to an end, I felt the need to visit In and Out Burger which I was introduced to on my first trip to the city. The local chain has an incredible following and sports a secret menu through which you could get your burger "Animal Style", with sauteed onions, or "Protein Style" where the bun is replaced by a leaf of lettuce. A fun way to end a great vacation.

Overall, I had an incredible trip on the West Coast with my best friend, and came home feeling like I had an experience I would never forget.