Sea Rocket Bistro- North Park, CA

North Park, an older little neighborhood area near downtown SD, is a funky urban neighborhood filled with eclectic eateries and bars.  It reminds us a bit of LA–or perhaps only specific parts of LA–the houses and businesses older and established, with unique and gritty character–minus the horrendous traffic and impossible parking (for lazy impatient people like me).  So when we are feeling a bit more in an “urban” mood, and want to escape the leisurely, open sea-side suburbia of where we live, then we like to head down to this area and get our fix.

Some places of note include Muzita, an awesome and delicious Ethiopian restaurant located inside a house-converted to restaurant (all recipes are from the owner’s mom, if I remember the conversation with the owner correctly).  We visited there a few years ago–and hope to be back soon.  Another place of note is The Linkery, which again, we haven’t been back to, in several years (speaking again to the laziness of increased age where anywhere more than 15 minutes away becomes a struggle in motivation). We visited this particular place hm…perhaps 5-6 years ago? and back then the use of purely local sustainable ingredients was novel; we had pork cooked rare (unheard of, of course normally, but not so much when the chef knows the Mr. pig and his farm house and what he ate and is located only 20-30 miles away vs. hundreds of miles.)

Cute funky ambiance..

Sea urchin shooters- ginger beer, lemon juice, chili flakes

Mac N’Bleu- Assenti’s pasta, Bechamel, bleu cheese glacie

Grilled Shortrib Flatbread- they had me at shortrib

Mediterranean Fisherman Stew- clams & mussels, fish, piperade, leek & fennel

Local fish burger- nicely crisped light skin and meaty moist

Sea Rocket Grass-fed Burger- Bacon jam, Caramelized onions, Tomato confit, house-made pickles, mustard & blue cheese aioli

And last but not least, and interesting take on dessert: a Beer float (not root beer), with pop rocks! We suggested however that they probably should have used a more creamy smooth beer like Guiness instead of the hoppy one they used…it was a bit bitter tasting with the ice cream.

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The Exotic and Beautiful City of Istanbul, Turkey

Looking back on my trip to Istanbul, Turkey I feel that this was probably one of my most profound, mind-opening and exhilarating travel experiences. At the beginning of the trip, Jenn and I were discussing how indeed each time one travels, an intangible change occurs within oneself–your perspective subconsciously expands and changes–perhaps nothing you can truly put your finger upon or measure out in units–but you feel it. Often times, this realization of your soul’s growth occurs after returning home, which I suppose makes the most sense since the bubble world from which you left, now in the expanded  viewpoint of your travels, seems and feels different.

During our week long trip to Istanbul, (although too short, it was a perfect amount of time that enabled us to gently soak up the vibe and feel of the city) I made mental notes of my realizations or observations which I’ll share in “chunks” or little blurbs (instead of only re-telling our itinerary). This post will cover my “philosophical” thoughts on religion, the people and the beautiful language. My next posts will cover the places we visited, and very important–the FOOD hehe.

Overall though, we are so so thankful—every single thing on our trip went perfectly smoothly, from the weather coordinating perfectly with our activities (though raining and cold on a few days, that enabled us to not have to wait in long lines for the mosques/museums,  yet it cleared beautifully for our cruise along the Bosphorous Sea) to all of the transportation.  Everyone we encountered was so kind and polite.  I felt more safe than our travels to Italy, Spain and France which honestly I had not expected (again going back to my stupid preconceived worries).

RELIGION, ISLAM AND CHRISTIANITY: UNITY

The main reason as to why Istanbul–Turkey in general, felt so exotic and mysterious to me, was that I had never before visited a country or place really, where the majority of the population is Muslim.  We stayed in the old town (Sultanahmet area) close by to the beautiful Sultanahmet Cami or “Blue Mosque” and AyaSofya (“Hagia Sophia”) and with a beautiful view of the Marmara Sea and of the “Asian side” of Istanbul, and the gentle sloping hills of the Princes’ islands.

This is where we had our delicious buffet breakfast each morning and could come up here during the afternoon or evening and bring our own food or have tea.

Everyday, via the speakers posted throughout the area, at set times (4am, 8am, 1pm, 5pm I think)  we heard the haunting and beautiful lulling call to prayer.  Walking on the square-shaped cobble stones, through the narrow streets lined with Turkish carpet stores and restaurants, the melodious call to prayer provided a wonderful mysterious feeling.

It was with this “background music” sitting in the gorgeous marble and ceramic tiled courtyard of the Blue Mosque, staring up to the magnificent round dome surrounded with six majestic minarets piercing the sky that I felt a true sense of reverent awe and feeling of peace.  This reminded me of my first time stepping into St. Peter’s Basilica–where I remember thinking, “Man, even if you are not a religious person, you will feel religious in this amazing space.” This was the moment where I felt my appreciation, admiration and a deep respect towards Islamic religion grow.

In the lovely courtyard of the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet)
Front view of the Blue Mosque–blue bird skies
All six minarets of the Blue Mosque
The AyaSofya (Hagia Sophia)- Built originally by Justinius (during Byzantium period) then in the 1400s or so, converted to Mosque by Ottoman empire)–Beautiful mix of both religions inside)

Cliche, but honestly too often in America, we are exposed to harsh stereotypes of idiots proclaiming to be Muslim, yet acting out in ignorant blind violence. I was surprised by my own surprise (hah does that make sense?) at how much I enjoyed being steeped in this predominantly Muslim culture (although, true, Turkey is definitely a more “liberal” Islamic country–the only one with a secular government.)

I think Istanbul offers the perfect balance of exposing/introducing one to an Islamic country, without feeling worried about (as a woman) not covering your hair etc.

Turkish Carpets– I put this in the religious section because I was really touched by some of the symbols on the carpets.  Basically, a quick run down– Turkish carpets are distinctive due to their double-knot technique (vs. single-knot used in Persian, Chinese etc. rugs).  They use wool on wool, wool on cotton and silk on silk materials.  Each carpet is like a fingerprint: unique and is filled with symbols, patterns and colors unique to specific region.

The double staircase symbolizing Islam and Christianity religions leading to the same heaven.

So the symbol that I found to be very beautiful to me was two “stair cases” leading up to a single point–maybe marked by a diamond shape–but basically the highest point.  This point represents Heaven.  The two staircases represent BOTH Islam and Christianity religions.

This resonated very deeply with me because though baptized Catholic, and growing up in a Christian environment, in adulthood I made my own conclusions and I believe that the concept of God is complex–more than we mere humans can comprehend–and hence, it makes sense to have many pathways to God; from Buddhism to Sufism to Christianity to Judaism. Everyone is different. Why would God be a narrow-minded being to create us all so beautifully unique and only allow one way to comprehend? (I believe if that were the case, then we would all speak the same exact language and all look completely identical.)  Anyways haha that can be saved for another entry–but bottom line, that concept of having more ways than one to Heaven/Enlightenment, just filled me with much admiration and respect for the culture. (Again perhaps another breaking of my subconscious stereotype that a Muslim-dominated country would not entertain such a “liberal” view.)

YOU LOOK TURKISH 

Usually when first arriving to a new country, I like to try and observe how the people look like–their physical features.  We were confused because some people appeared with dark jet black hair and eyes, strong features more fitting in our minds to the description of Arabic peoples or even Persians—yet still others had more western European features, light blue eyes, pale skin.  After discussing with our tour guide (we took a day trip to Ephesus and had a lovely guide person Begun (spelling?))–she enlightened us that Turkish people were nomadic, traveled everywhere–and especially during the Ottoman empire, which extended up to Russia, then eastwards to Persian countries (Iran, Iraq) and even south (Arabic) inevitably, the features of the people become more mixed reflective of their mixed blood.

This called to mind how in two weekends in a row, we met people from Kazakhstan — One set we met in Los Angeles, at a Russian restaurant (review will be posted after I finish Istanbul 😉 and the second a couple from Kazakhstan, we met during our first night in Istanbul.  Both sets of people looked COMPLETELY Asian! To be honest you would never have ever guessed they’d be from there—if you’re from the U.S.  However in this part of the world, it really isn’t surprising…and that made me realize how in most of the places I’ve visited, or at least in my limited perspective of these places, I just assume or expect people to look similar (for example in Korea, Japan and Taiwan, people look like how I expect them to look like–dark hair etc. People from Spain, Italy England–they look a certain way). I was surprised at myself and how tied I was subconsciously, to set stereotypes of how people should physically appear.

(Sorry for the blurry photo) Our first night in Istanbul, at a Nargile (water pipe) place, we meet a couple from Kazahkstan. The man begins to play on the guitar and sing a beautiful song with a rich baritone–reminiscent of gypsy kings with a middle eastern twist heh

It was an epiphany moment for myself--a realization of my own limited perspectives due to my Western upbringing.  European history sure sure, I know a bit…Asian history (Chinese, Taiwan, Korea Japan) sure sure I know a bit too–but this area? A mystery—I had only heard of tidbits here and there.  And that is a main reason why I felt this trip to be one of the most mind opening trips–An air of mystery, of the exotic, I did not have a frame of reference–I could only focus on absorbing the culture without lazily and subconsciously relying on pre-determined definitions.

Kurdish Peoples – Also, I had never met anyone who was Kurdish–and courtesy of a brief explanation from our waiter, they have their own separate written language (usually a strong basis of a completely separate ethnicity/culture vs. those that have the same written language) and culture, yet do not have land of their own.  I had faintly heard or suspected of perhaps some tension between Turkish and Kurdish people–and sure enough after looking through my guidebook, there exists an extremist Kurdish group, the PKK who have launched a few terrorist attacks against Turks (and I’m sure vice versa).

A NEW ROMANCE LANGUAGE: TURKISH

Listening to Turkish is beautiful–and in my opinion more romantic sounding than the typically considered French.  Upon listening, there are many “shh”  and “ch” sounds that tie together vowels, soft and thick like honey and without any glutteral or throaty nasal sounds (from a pure sound perspective, in my humble opinion, those sounds do not seem romantic to me.)  Again this was another one of those surprise realizations of the many that I experienced on this trip, where certain pre-conceived notions differ from conclusions derived from my actual experience.

Foodie Update! Twist Restaurant, Las Vegas, NV

TWIST

So a couple of weekends ago, we went to Vegas for Fwet’s work meeting staying at the Red Rock Resort then moved on over to the lovely Mandarin Oriental Hotel (highly recommend staying there if you want an oasis and peaceful retreat from the loud, smoke-filled debauchery known as Vegas;) We went to the restaurant Twist, by French chef Pierre Gagnaire (has a 3 Michelin star restaurant in Paris and a sprinkling of other high end places throughout the world).  Lucky for us, he happened to be in town and actually prepared our meal (he only comes 3 times a year!) The ambiance is amazing—our favorite, modern décor, along with a nice view of the strip (or in our particular case, the world-renown Polo Towers—ahem sarcasm) But when the sun set the lights twinkled nicely, washing out the gritty details of the strip and transforming it to a glitzy wonderland.

May I highly suggest for all traveling couples to higher end resorts or restaurants, to let them know when making a reservation that it is your anniversary. When we arrived at the Mandarin Oriental (on a side note I thought it was kind of a funny name for a hotel if you think of it..its like saying the…Dobe Ju Wanse African…hehe…and on a further side note, I thought well at least Vegas has an asian themed hotel a wee bit more classy than good ole Imperial Palace) Okay! So I digress, back to the perks of letting them know its our anniversary–when we arrived, we were greeted by the valet/bellman and he asked the name on our reservation. When provided, he immediately replied “Welcome and Happy 2nd year anniversary”–we were very impressed. Then later, they brought a delicious cupcake with the words Happy Anniversary written in dark chocolate on the plate to our room. And last but not least, at our dinner they finished the meal with a complimentary “Anniversary Cocktail.” 🙂

So back to dinner!

We started with delicious bread and a bright yellow butter (salted and unsalted rounds) direct from…Northern France! Yes, the colder climate must make for more rich butter and the grass that the cow eats, due to the soil and weather characteristics, impart a mineral earthy richness (pure B.S. heheh but…perhaps the weather might have something to do with the flavor!)

An overall note: When eating here, remove your traditional thinking of one dish, or one main dish—everything comes in components—meant to build up to an overall experience of flavor…or rather maybe he took the overall flavor and just deconstructed it into smaller components.

Although we greatly appreciated the delicate care put into the dishes, we might have liked it more if it were a different menu theme. The flavors of the spring menu were a bit asian fusion, which, for some odd reason for Fwet and I, is a turn-off (when we crave asian food, we want the native asian food—and are not too fond of asian fusion flavors.  But despite that nuance, of course, everything was delicious—not “OMG I’ve never tasted this in my life amazing” but really darn good.

SO! Without further ado, see below our meal. Enjoy!

I had the 3 course tasting which included:

Surf N Turf (Santa Barbara Shrimps, Red miso water, Spring onion, Mango, Kiwi, Snow peas, Cilantro// Maine Lobster Tail and Consomme, Paris Mushroom & Coconut cream, Caramelized Nuts// Tartar of Prime Beef, Ahi Tuna, Clams and Cuttlefish, Campari Marinated “Shitao” Daikon)

Mediterranean John Dory (Seared Fillet, Pink Pepper & Esplette Butter, Potato Paille “Colette”// Banyulu Leaf, Beurre Blanc and Chive

Dessert Sampling (A-E below)

A-Chestnut Veloute (Clementine Marmalade, Sicilian Pistachios, Fresh Blackberries)

B-Vanilla Bean Parfait (Exotic Fruit Salad, Passion Fruit Jelly)—My Favorite!

C-Prune Paste-Good for your digestive system! Hahah (Red wine, Kahulua Granite, Coffee Gelee Cubes)

D-Saffron Red Pepper Confite (Tangarine Sorbet, Crème Anglaise)

E-Chocolate Balsamic Gateau (Apricot Marmalade, Chocolate Cremeux)

Fwet started with a oyster appetizer that had a delicious ginger (I’m a ginger monster—I’ll eat it raw—Fwet, not so much) granite to top on the oyster which was a refreshing change from my usual oyster toppings (horseradish, vinegar, hot sauce etc.)

He then had the main course of stuffed rabbit which came in two parts—the thigh cooked with Persian-esque herbs and the breast stuffed with a pesto-like sauce. I gotta say though, I’ve never had such a juicy meaty rabbit (usually my recollection of rabbit is boney dry meat).