The view from LIC's old freight yards, now a park
Four weeks ago we sat in an airline lounge in Singapore bitching about Americans. The source of our ire was a fellow American, a businessman wrapping up a several-week work trip around the region. He sat halfway to the other end of the lounge, but we could hear his every word, a roll-your-eyes exposition on where he'd been, what he'd done, who he knew.
"Ugh, Americans. Are we really that obnoxious?" we asked each other.
Then we flew to America. It was our first trip back in 2 1/2 years. Maybe Dave I have become more sentimental with age. Maybe that much time away from "home" (the longest for both of us), even if it's not really home, has for us softened America's rough edges. Maybe we were half zonked out the whole trip, wrapped in a warm, fuzzy jetlag fog. Maybe we were rebounding off of the things about our adopted home that can, and occasionally do, bug us.
But you know what? We Americans are alright.
I know, I know -- there's the vitriolic backdrop, especially now that we're heavy into a presidential election cycle. It's everywhere, and hard to ignore. But day to day we Americans are generally pretty nice folks. We smile, we say "hi", we hold doors open for each other and yes, we queue ("line up" in Americanese). We are welcoming. We help strangers. We offer sympathy and aid to people in trouble even if we don't know them. We're curious about others and we chit-chat, exchange pleasantries and make small talk with just about anyone.
Not a bad way to spend our first evening in the USofA: a stroll on Manhattan Beach
Granted, we benefited from the kindness of strangers to an almost freakish degree on this trip. A few days before we were scheduled to leave for New York our booked accomodations fell through. Hours wasted on vacation rental sites turned up nothing. My last-ditch plea on Facebook for leads on apartment rentals elicited aid from a generous clan in Long Island City (you know who you are), and for the cost of about a tenth of what a studio in midtown might have cost we had a spacious, comfortable waterfront condo with a view to beat (and a kitchen I wish I'd had time to really put to use!).
One afternoon at a cafe in Midtown, after I'd ordered coffee and been rung up, I realized I was short of cash. "No problem," said the young woman behind the counter, dipping into the tip jar to make up my difference (I later found some coins in the bottom of my purse and returned her tip money!) Three days later I left my wallet in a taxi right after a stop at an ATM. It was returned to me by a local four hours later, still stuffed with bills.
Wedding photos at Manhattan Beach
That's pretty much how the nine days we spent in the city pounding the pavement, meeting editors and taking time out for a few great meals went. It put a glow on the rest of our trip, as Dave zigzagged to Washington DC for work,
and then to Michigan,
while I flew straight to New Mexico where he joined me a few days later.
These bits of our cross-country journey were about family so food took a back seat, though we did manage some tasty bites. (See the end of this post for culinary highlights from the trip.) We also stole some outdoor time under the American southwest's big blue skies, breathing deep its clean, clean air.
We finished with a whirlwind 48 hours in Los Angeles, a city I've long wanted to visit and plan to spend more time in on future trips. Confession: when we moved to Bangkok in 2002 we left our hearts (and a stuffed 20-foot storage container) in San Francisco, but were we to move back to the west coast we might aim further south.
The famous Hollywood sign is straight ahead
In between unpleasant last-minute, pre-return-to-Asia tasks (shopping, mostly) we climbed LA's hills
and strolled the canals of Venice.
LA's Venice canals have a great backstory. Unfortunately no one we asked knew it.
We also met up with colleagues from Zester Daily, a website that we have been contributing to for a while. Zester's veteran journalist founder Corie Brown is trying to build something that will enable folks like us to make a viable living reporting on food and wine around the world. (The site is up now but will relaunch with a great new design in May.) Whether that is possible is still up in the air, but we sure hope it happens. If you value what Dave and I do we ask that you support the site by visiting, reading stories, clicking ads and subscribing to the newsblast.
Hey America, you know what? You're way better than many make you out to be. You're certainly too big, too varied, and too interesting to support generalizations.
It won't be another 2 1/2 years till we meet again.
Believe it or not Dave took not a single photograph of FOOD while we were in the States. But we did have some memorable meals:
In New York we ate our first dinner at La Lunchonette, which offered just what we needed in our still jet-lagged, craving-western-flavors state: minimal scene, maximal comfort food. Like dining at mom's house if your mom is French.
A few days later I met Art of Eating editor Winnie Yang at The John Dory Oyster Bar. We ate fresh oysters, of course, and each had a bowl of the oyster pan roast, a heavenly concoction of cream, butter, briny oysters and something with a tart note -- sherry vinegar, perhaps. Accompanying Parker House rolls were unbelievably delicious (I should note I'm really not a roll person), with beautifully browned, crispy domed tops and a fine flavor balance of rich butter and salt. The meal was so good I took Dave back two days later. We repeated my meal and added a lemony salad of endive dressed with mashed anchovies and olive oil. We'd go back in a heartbeat.
We absolutely loved Il Buco Alimentare, a restaurant/cafe/bar and deli/charcuterie. Highlights: fresh ricotta with teeny fava beans, crisp-charred grilled octopus, and pull-apart tender porchetta. Casual, friendly, fun and not break-the-bank expensive with food that transported us to Italy. Our kind of place.
We spent our last night in town at a great low-key bar in Long Island City (one stop from Grand Central Station) called Dominie's Hoek. I loved the friendly bartender's rye Manhattans -- maybe a little too much.
We had little time in Los Angeles to think about food (though we did benefit from pot-lucking with Zester Daily colleagues) but our last meal Stateside, at Osteria Mozza, was a stunner. Everything we ate -- an over-the top salumi plate with rosemary-scented lardo to stuff into delicate fried dough pillows, squid ink pasta with sea urchin, mozzarella with roasted artichoke, and many more dishes -- was fabulous, not a clunker in the bunch (there were four of us, so we were able to sample many plates). Isuspect everything we didn't order is too.