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Dinner at the French Laundry

So I mentioned before this trip to Napa is our first real vacation in 3 yrs, due mostly to the birth of our son and the ‘living on one income’ thing. It was also about that time when we stopped going to fine dining restaurants. We still manage to go out to plenty of restaurants, but the Michelin starred ones are way out of our budget. So when the opportunity and the funds became available for this trip, you can only imagine how thrilled we were to finally be having dinner at the French Laundry.Dinner at the French Laundry where the service was exceptional and so was the food. Course after course, nine of them, the food was perfect.

 

Dinner at the French Laundry where the service was exceptional and so was the food. Course after course, nine of them, the food was perfect.

Just like our recent visit to Chez Panisse, this was not at all what I expected, in a good way of course. I was taken by surprise by the actual dining room. It really is an old house turned into a restaurant. The service was exceptional as well as the food. Course after course, nine to be exact, the food was perfect.

Dinner at the French Laundry where the service was exceptional and so was the food. Course after course, nine of them, the food was perfect.

When we eat out we usually measure how good a restaurant is with one question: can we make it at home? Trust me when I tell you I couldn’t have made this at home. There was only one problem, the bill, all $1,200.00 of it. Was it worth it? Yes. Was it the best meal of my life? It was one of the best, but maybe it’s because I’m out of practice eating in the fine dining world, but it felt a bit stuffy, almost too formal. I usually enjoy the dance of a multi-course meal, the way the service flows, the wine being poured, etc. But somehow this time it felt too ceremonious, like I was in the church of Thomas Keller and I should consider myself lucky to be there. Let me be clear, this is not a criticism of the food or the service, just my impression of the ambiance.

Dinner at the French Laundry where the service was exceptional and so was the food. Course after course, nine of them, the food was perfect.

[My husband just brought up a good point, we’ve never dined at a 3 star Michelin restaurant before, so maybe I would have to eat at another restaurant of that caliber to be able to make a proper comparison of the service.]

Dinner at the French Laundry where the service was exceptional and so was the food. Course after course, nine of them, the food was perfect.

There’s a dreaded rumor out there that fine dining is on its last legs, that its death is imminent. The never ending recession has changed the face of elegant dining in America. Fine dining restaurants aren’t as popular as they used to be. Tapas bars, gastro-pubs, bistros, pop-ups and food trucks have taken over the dining scene by serving high quality food at a decent price. Also, with the emergence of “foodies”, a select number of people are preparing really good meals in their own homes. Meals that not too long ago they would’ve eaten at restaurants. Furthermore, ingredients that were once available only to restaurants are now available to home cooks, which only makes the preparation of high end meals at home easier and easier. Even so, fine dining shouldn’t die. It is part of the cooking craft, of its history, and future. Maybe fine dining just has to change, and adapt to the current situation and growing knowledge of those once considered amateur diners.

Dinner at the French Laundry where the service was exceptional and so was the food. Course after course, nine of them, the food was perfect.

All in all, it was a wonderful and much needed date night with my husband, but I can’t help thinking that maybe we should have used the money to buy a new computer before this one finally dies. I think I would’ve been just as happy.

Dinner at the French Laundry where the service was exceptional and so was the food. Course after course, nine of them, the food was perfect.

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Lunch at Chez Panisse

Waking up at 3:30 am was not what I had in mind for the start of our vacation, but if we wanted to make our reservation for lunch at Chez Panisse, we had to.

Chez Panisse is a restaurant in Berkeley, CA. It was founded by Alice Waters in 1971. It is said to be the birthplace of the farm to table,-organic-sustainable-California cuisine movement that has now swept the country. But back then it was a small house turned into an improvised restaurant, run by a couple of college graduates with hardly any experience in the industry.

The reason why Chez Panisse is so important and why we wanted to visit, is the fact that it has played such an important role in making American cuisine what it is today and forged a path in establishing a relationship with the farmers that grow our food.

At Chez Panisse the menu changes daily with the seasons and the ingredients are local and organic. We are fortunate enough that spring is in full bloom right now, so the menu included tender peas, buttery fava beans, and baby artichokes. The food was simple, unpretentious, and well executed, oh, and did I mention delicious. The ambiance and the decor was not what I expected. I though we were going to literally walk into an old house filled with a couple of tables, but instead we walked into a rustic house decorated with elegant and modern touches.

I didn’t take any pictures of the food because I find it to be an interruption to the dining experience as a whole, so sorry if you were expecting a detailed description of our lunch. The next stop on our vacation is Napa, Yountville, St. Helena, and a lot more wine drinking. Thankfully, after lunch at Chez Panisse waking up so early doesn’t seem like it was a hardship at all.

Lunch at Chez Panisse, the food was simple, unpretentious, and well executed, oh, and did I mention delicious.

Lunch at Chez Panisse, the food was simple, unpretentious, and well executed, oh, and did I mention delicious.

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Missing Ciudad Acuña

I’ve been back in Cali for a couple of days now, we’re back on our old schedule and getting on with our everyday lives. Yet, something happens every time I come back from a trip home,(Ciudad Acuña) my heart starts to ache. It aches for my family, for myself, for how life without them can be isolating and lonely. This is why I want to do one more post about Mexico before the fleeting images disappear into my memory. Wow! I didn’t mean to start this post so depressingly.

Why don’t we start over again. I just got back from spending 3 weeks with my family in Mexico, and it seemed like I could stay forever. However, I do have a husband, so we’re back in good old Orange County. Besides the inevitable sadness that results from returning from a long trip home, I also came back with an extra 3 pounds. That would be because I spent the last week touring my town a la Anthony Bourdain. We visited all our favorite food spots, ate, and took pictures. A lot of the vendors asked me quite excitedly if I was going to put the pictures up on “el facebuk“.

My parents live in a small town-city on the border with Texas. This is where I grew up. Below is a picture of the Rio Grande and the bridge that acts as a connection between Mexico and the US. As you can see, that part of the river is not very wide, but I don’t really know how difficult it would be to cross. One of the unique advantages of living in a border town is the possibility of getting a border crossing card, which allows Mexicans to visit the “other side” for recreational purposes. This means that you can go to the movies, grocery shop, eat out, or just do what you want. It’s the best of both worlds in one place.

We are missing Ciudad Acuña so much now that we are back in OC, Here is a list of places you have to visit if you happen to be there.

We are missing Ciudad Acuña so much now that we are back in OC, Here is a list of places you have to visit if you happen to be there.

We are missing Ciudad Acuña so much now that we are back in OC, Here is a list of places you have to visit if you happen to be there.

We are missing Ciudad Acuña so much now that we are back in OC, Here is a list of places you have to visit if you happen to be there.

The super nacho is from my dad’s restaurant, but it is very typical of the area. Allegedly the nacho was invented in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, which is an hour away from Acuña. As you can see they have nothing to do with the big gloppy mess most people call nachos. The chips are fried at the restaurant and each one is smeared with refried beans and topped with cheddar cheese. They’re place under the broiler in order to melt the cheese, and afterwards they’re topped with guacamole. In the center is grilled skirt steak.

We are missing Ciudad Acuña so much now that we are back in OC, Here is a list of places you have to visit if you happen to be there.

Aguas con Chabelo sells refreshing fruit drinks, usually made with water, sugar, and your fruit of choice. That particular day they had lime, melon, and pineapple available.

We are missing Ciudad Acuña so much now that we are back in OC, Here is a list of places you have to visit if you happen to be there.

Lake Amistad is known as one of the best bass fishing destinations in the US. The lake extends across the border, so there is an American and Mexican side. We spent the day on the Mexican side.

We are missing Ciudad Acuña so much now that we are back in OC, Here is a list of places you have to visit if you happen to be there.

We had lunch at the Plaza Tlaloc restaurant, where we chose our own fish from the catch of the day. There was only bass and catfish left, so we ordered both. They only serve it one way, fried. It is seasoned with a spice mix, served on a bed of lettuce, and topped with french fries.

Just so you know, Anthony Bourdain did happen to visit my town on Season 2 of No Reservations, episode 4. Sadly he only visits the Corona Club, where the movie El Mariachi and Desperado were filmed. He doesn’t even go to the lake or eat anywhere for that matter. Anyway, I know it may not seem like it, but I am glad to back.

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The Beauty of Mexico

I can’t seem to find the right words or pictures to share. I want to show you the beauty of Mexico, but I’m not talking about the beautiful Mexican resorts, beach or even the natural resources of Oaxaca. I’m talking about the raw beauty of a small border town, so different from the manicured lawns and pristine streets of Orange County.

I want to show you the beauty of Mexico, but I'm not talking about the beautiful resorts, beaches or natural resources. The real beauty

I want to show you the beauty of Mexico, but I'm not talking about the beautiful resorts, beaches or natural resources. The real beauty

I want to show you the beauty of Mexico, but I'm not talking about the beautiful resorts, beaches or natural resources. The real beauty

I want to show you the beauty of Mexico, but I'm not talking about the beautiful resorts, beaches or natural resources. The real beauty

I want to show you the beauty of Mexico, but I'm not talking about the beautiful resorts, beaches or natural resources. The real beauty

I’ve been here for about a week now and I’ve been enjoying it so much, but somehow it´s always bittersweet. I delight in the fact that my parents have lived in the same house for over thirty years, so I can literally come home. I love that I can eat my favorite foods at our family restaurant, and that there´s people around me who actually want to take care of the munchkin for a little while. Oh and that he actually has someone to play with!

I want to show you the beauty of Mexico, but I'm not talking about the beautiful resorts, beaches or natural resources. The real beauty

I want to show you the beauty of Mexico, but I'm not talking about the beautiful resorts, beaches or natural resources. The real beauty

I want to show you the beauty of Mexico, but I'm not talking about the beautiful resorts, beaches or natural resources. The real beauty

I want to show you the beauty of Mexico, but I'm not talking about the beautiful resorts, beaches or natural resources. The real beauty

I want to show you the beauty of Mexico, but I'm not talking about the beautiful resorts, beaches or natural resources. The real beauty

At the same time ever since this “drug war” started, Acuña has gone from one of the fastest growing cities in Mexico to almost a ghost town. Businesses are closing because Americans have stopped crossing the border to eat and drink, and the fees imposed by the cartels are too large. In the past two years there has been an increase in poverty in Mexico, with the numbers climbing to 46.2% of the entire population. This means that there´s practically no middle class, just disgustingly rich, poor and extremely poor. All of these things remind me why many Mexicans have chosen to leave their home country legally or illegally.

I want to show you the beauty of Mexico, but I'm not talking about the beautiful resorts, beaches or natural resources. The real beauty

I want to show you the beauty of Mexico, but I'm not talking about the beautiful resorts, beaches or natural resources. The real beauty

I guess what I should be telling you are the little details that make Mexico unique. For example, at the movies we don´t pour butter on our popcorn, there´s hot sauce readily available in a dispenser. Also, Mexicans are not afraid of color and it shows in store displays, houses, and even the supermarket. The food here is so good, usually not processed, and full flavor. Honestly, I think blandness doesn´t exist here. One of the best features of Mexico are the people, the people are warm,  honest, joyful, well most of them are. They certainly know how to throw a party and enjoy one, but most of all they know how to make the best out of what they have.

I want to show you the beauty of Mexico, but I'm not talking about the beautiful resorts, beaches or natural resources. The real beauty

I want to show you the beauty of Mexico, but I'm not talking about the beautiful resorts, beaches or natural resources. The real beauty

I want to show you the beauty of Mexico, but I'm not talking about the beautiful resorts, beaches or natural resources. The real beauty

I will be here for two more weeks, so there will be more to tell. In the mean time have a Happy New Year!