A Golden Celebration: CityZen and Brasserie Beck

Two weekends ago, I flew to our nation’s capitol to meet up with my family for our annual gathering. I always look forward to these gatherings but I was especially excited about this one. My brothers and I had planned a surprise 50th Golden Wedding Anniversary celebration for our parents. Our original intentions were to throw them a huge celebration with friends and family, but my parents hinted that they would prefer a small intimate family gathering instead. As I thought about their request I came to the same conclusion that this was definitely the way to go. A celebration of 50 years of marriage is really a personal one. It’s about one couple’s enduring love for one another as they journey through life sharing all the good and the bad times and celebrating the life and family that they built together. My parents were indeed surprised and even though our time together was short, we cherished every minute.

In my opinion, a celebration without exceptional food would definitely not be a celebration. With so many great restaurants to choose from in the DC area, my brothers and I decided to make it a two-day celebration- one evening with the immediate family and another one with extended family. My brother, who lives in the DC area, selected two outstanding restaurants worthy of such an important weekend.

CityZen was our dinner choice for the immediate family. It’s located inside the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. The restaurant has been voted one of the top restaurants in the DC area. The inside of the restaurant is very slick and modern with very high ceilings and clean, chic décor – something I don’t get to see in New Mexico.

My family at Mandarin Hotel after dining at CityZen
My family in the lobby of Mandarin Oriental Hotel

Signing a contract confirming our intention to dine there and having an opportunity to speak to a sommelier about wine selections before arriving for dinner are just two details demonstrating how CityZen is a smooth operation. Interestingly, if your party consists of more than 4 people, CityZen will create a tasting menu for your group consisting of fresh, seasonal and regional ingredients. They were very accommodating for my sister-in-law who is allergic to seafood and presented her with her very own tasting menu. They even offered to change any part of the menu that was not to our liking.

Cityzen- Chef Tasting Menu
Cityzen chef tasting menu

The chef trained at the French Laundry (a place that I hope to visit one day) and so, as expected the food was exceptional. The combination of ingredients was very creative with balanced flavors that work wonderfully together. To match the exceptional food, CityZen had exceptional service. We were never rushed, our every need was met without over attention, and the host offered a detailed explanation of every course before we took our first bite. My favorite was the seared Maine scallops with Asian flavors. I was very impressed with the synchronized serving of our food- every one of us had a personal server who laid the plate of food down in sync with the other servers! What a contrast to my childhood days where family dinners took place in the comforts of our home and cooked by my mother. At least the conversation continues to be just as entertaining!

Cityzen in Washington DC
Roasted spring asparagus and baby mache
Cityzen in Washington DC
Chilled Maine lobster salad
Cityzen in Washington DC
Seared Maine sea scallops
Cityzen in Washington DC
Cityzen carbonara
Cityzen in Washington DC
Herb roasted Elysian Fields farm lamb saddle
Cityzen in Washington DC
Iced mint mocha
Cityzen in Washington DC
after dinner treats

Brasserie Beck Restaurant and Bar was the venue for the big Golden Wedding Anniversary celebration. This Belgium bistro is located on one of Washington’s busiest thoroughfares, K Street, once the home of major lobbying firms but now more known for dining and nightlife. This place, also one of DC’s best restaurants, was picked for its friendly, attentive service, delicious menu offerings, and reasonable prices. Lower ceilings with close quarters provide patrons a place where they can enjoy their food and conversation in an energetic but cozy atmosphere. We had our celebration in the Brabo room perfect for a party of 16 equipped with a large TV for a slideshow and lots of personalized service. Julie, the director of private dining, was a pleasure to work with, always responding to our emails quickly and providing attention to details. Ramon, the general manager, had great wine recommendations and offered me basic guidance in selecting French wines to pair with the meal (BB has an extensive wine list and a huge selection of brews). Being that this was a family gathering, this place allowed us to have the food served family style. Each course consisted of at least 3-4 large plates of food brought out and shared. This was the perfect way for everyone to taste every single item offered on the menu. While Brasserie Beck is well known for its steamed mussels and frites, everything on the menu was done exceptionally well. I was having such a great time dining and celebrating that I forgot to photograph the food- Sorry! Luckily, I remembered to save one of the printed menus to share. I hope that it will spark your imagination and entice your taste buds. There’s more…not included on the menu were the hors d’ oeuvres- caramelized onion apple tartlets, fresh shucked oysters (yum!), shrimp cocktail, North American bison tartar tartines, and artichoke prosciutto ricotta in phyllo. My favorites were the steamed mussels and duck breast and I heard the mango crème brûlée was to die for. As you can imagine, every one left the place well fed and impressed with Brasserie Beck. If I find myself back in DC, I will definitely dine there again!

Brasserie Beck in Washington DC
Brasserie Beck Restaurant and Bar- Golden Wedding Anniversary Dinner

What a whirlwind weekend! It was great to see my family and I’m especially thankful to have such wonderful parents. Together they provided my brothers and I everything we needed to become successful as we traveled down our own paths. For their grandchildren, they share their gifts of love, knowledge and advice and this is truly invaluable. Their legacy is one that my husband and I aspire to achieve with our own family. Fifty years later, it is clear to all that their love for each other remains as strong as ever and continues to grow. Happy 50th Anniversary, Mom and Dad!

Date visited:

CityZen, June 20, 2014

CityZen on Urbanspoon

Brasserie Beck, June 21, 2014

Brasserie Beck on Urbanspoon

Orchidelirium

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For my mother

#ff00ff;">Mother Orchid blooms

#ff00ff;">Lovely face, Joyful color

#ff00ff;">Always giving LOVE

Springtime in New Mexico ushers in the good, the bad and the ugly. Bad is all the wind, dust and allergies; ugly because everyone has bad hair days as a result of the winds; and the good is that this is the time of year my orchids start to bloom! Every year, around January/February, I closely inspect my orchids for signs of flower spikes. They start as little nubs growing from the base of the plants.  I want to catch them so I can direct the growth upwards. However, sometimes I forget or don’t have time to check and find them already several inches long and growing sideways, too late to redirect. No worries though I’m just happy because it means beautiful blooms in the very near future, usually in March and lasting through June.

Blooming orchids

I admit that I had a black thumb. A sad story is that I actually received the Black Thumb patch as a Girl Scout. This adversity continued to plague me into adulthood. When I was living in San Antonio I could never keep an orchid alive. But the “black” streak ended when I moved to New Mexico. I’ve been very successful here- I now have seven orchids with about 86% success rate in annual blooms. Pretty darn good for someone with a black thumb!

Blooming orchids

Recently, I did an Internet search on “orchids in New Mexico.” I was pleasantly surprised to find that there is a New Mexico Orchid Guild as well as a nationally known orchid expert in Santa Fe. I learned that the NM Orchid Guild and the ABQ Bio Park’s Botanical Garden was holding their annual orchid show and sale this month of May. What a great opportunity to learn and see more orchids. I ventured to the BioPark and found myself in an orchid wonderland! I learned that some orchids have a fragrance- one such type is a Cattleya. I saw a miniature orchid with blooms measuring only a few millimeters in size, there were cascading orchids numbering tens of blooms and flowing like a waterfall, and there were many hybridized orchids with very beautiful blooms.

Orchid Show at ABQ BioPark Botanical Gardens

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Orchids are the only indoor plants I maintain in my home. They are the perfect plant for me. I found an ideal location: on a windowsill by the front entrance where they get the right amount of light and temperature fluctuations to induce flowering and all I have to do is water them about every 10 days. We enjoy their beautiful, coloful blooms for several months. A member of the Orchid Guild told me that there are orchids growing in the wild right here in New Mexico. In fact, she said I could find them in the Sandia Mountains. You just might see me up there this summer searching for those orchids!

#ff00ff;">Happy Mother’s Day!

Blooming orchids

#3366ff;">Lazer loves the wind

#3366ff;">Chasing leaves in our backyard

#3366ff;">What a crazy dog!

With Love, From Greece

Again, the same orange blossom fragrance greeted me this time and lead me through the marble streets of Athens. This sweet memory simply reminds me that my last visit was also around late March or early April.

The pace in Athens is laid back and relaxing, like in many other cities in the Mediterranean. Under the glaring spring sunshine, one wears big sun glasses, sipping coffee or enjoying a glass of wine…or like me, fresh orange juice. (BTW, I use orange blossom eau de toilette and put Moroccan orange blossom water in fruit salad.) Here I am, visiting a friend, without any plans, but roaming around, feeling the atmosphere, walking up a couple of hills to enjoy the 360 degree view of the city, or savoring Mediterranean food.

Enjoy the slideshow

Acropolis Museum

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Santorini Island is just spectacular! I was lucky with the weather, sunny and comfortable during the day, but cold once the sun went down. Many villas, hotels or restaurants were closed because the season starts in June. I have been told the best month to visit Santorini is May, when the weather is stable and not too hot yet, and hotel rate lower than peak season. As usual, I explored the island by public transportation (and on foot).

Enjoy the slideshow

Beautiful Aegean Sea

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Q&A:

Ann: How did you prepare the artichokes that you bought from the market?

Lin-shu: My friend cooked it. She cleaned it (cut off the spiky tip, the heart, and bottom, cut in halves) and boiled in salty water. After it cooled off, just ate it with olive oil. She calls it “à la grecque,” Greek style. BTW, I just sent you one photo from my iPhone- a dish of young raw zucchini salad with chopped dill, salt and olive oil. The other is a kind of artichoke ragout, with potatoes and carrots, of course, cooked with olive oil.

A: Can you describe your most memorable meal on the trip?

L: Actually, they were all delicious and healthy. None of the ordered dishes came with cream or heavy sauce; closer to original taste. Of course, Greek food is famous for using olive oil, and Greeks eat a lot of vegetables. Now, back in Vienna, I eat Greek yogurt, and cook zucchini à la Grecque.

A: Looks like you visited several places on Santorini- where?

L: The place I stayed was in Imerovigli [Merovigliosso Apartments], which is about 30 minutes walking distance to Fira (the capital of Santorini), and everyday I walked to Fira, passing by Firostefani. Fira is where I took the bus. Actually, I visited: Fira, Oia, Imerovigli, Akrotiri and Perissa (black beach).

A: I didn’t see any boats docked along the coast- where are they? Do people have boats? Do they go sailing in the Aegean?

L: Santorini is actually a part of an erupted volcano crater (dead). Oia and Fira are on the western part, where the cliffs are, as the eastern part of Santorini is flatter. All the nicer hotels are in Oia and Fira, because they are on cliffs and have gorgeous views. All cruise ships stop at the bottom of Fira, where my photos of the steps down to the old seaport shows. I did not pay attention to boats.

A: Which place on Santorini did you like the best and why?

L: Fira and Oia are the best, may be Oia a little better. They are made of little villas/hotels built on cliffs, staggered one on top of the other, all very cute and cozy, as you can see from my photos. And one walks among them in tiny paths. One has to visit Oia and Fira on foot.

A: Thank you for sharing your beautiful photos of Greece. I look forward to seeing more of your travels around the world!

Date Lin-shu visited Athens and Santorini: March 2014

#000000;">About the photographer: Lin-shu loves traveling and has lived in many places around the world- NYC, Kenya, Switzerland, China, Taiwan, Thailand- just to name a few. Her photos are stunning and I always look forward to seeing where she traveled to and hearing about what she did there. In addition to traveling, she also enjoys snow shoeing, skiing, and staying active. She currently lives in Vienna, Austria.

Izanami: Sake and Spa

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The most important alcoholic beverage in Japan is SAKE. It’s called “the drink of the gods” and has a long history dating back for centuries. This fermented rice and water drink is used in religious ceremonies and is enjoyed by many in the social setting among friends and family. Interestingly, sake is believed to possess health benefits and promote youthful, smooth skin. At Hakone Kowakien Yunessun Hot Springs Amusement Park and Spa Resort in Japan patrons can soak in a sake bath and look beautiful from head to toe! Now, that’s a lot of sake!

While the idea of soaking in a sake bath might be appealing to some, foodies will find the following sake experience more appealing: Ten Thousand Waves, a Japanese inspired spa resort/oasis in Santa Fe, opened a sake restaurant called IZANAMI. In fact, the James Beard Foundation recently named it a semifinalist for “Best New Restaurant.”

What a brilliant idea to pair spa treatments with sake tasting! The Turquoise Table decided a visit to Ten Thousand Waves would be a perfect girlfriend day trip to get away, relax and educate our palates!

Izanami

The high desert oasis is located just 10 minutes north of Santa Fe away from the busy, touristy part of town. Two oxygen facials, a salt glow treatment and a therapeutic massage later, we were feeling pampered and ready for lunch at Izanami. The restaurant resembles a modern day Japanese farmhouse set among the evergreens. The setting is spiritual and zen-like. The main dining area has a very high ceiling with large hanging paper lanterns, an open kitchen on one end, booth seating in the middle, and a room with traditional Japanese zashiki style floor seating on the other end (perfect for playing footsie if you’re on a date :) ). The restaurant serves izkaya dining which is the perfect way to enjoy sake tasting with small plates of food shared among friends.

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Izanami

 

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Lantern translations: I♥生油 I♥namazake (unpasteurized sake),
七味 shimichi (7 spice seasonings on each table),
萬波 Thousand Waves,
一期一会 One opportunity, one encounter so live life to the fullest

 

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Zashiki style seating

 

We were equally excited about the food and sake- we had been waiting weeks for this day to arrive. There are plenty of small plates to choose from with many of the ingredients locally sourced and organic: roasted beet salad, house made gyoza, Japanese sweet potatoes, sake braised shimeji mushrooms, pork ribs (heritage St. Louis ribs), nami burger (local wagyu beef), kakiage (tempura battered shredded vegetables), and bokchoy. Each dish was very well prepared and plenty enough for sharing. With the very first bite of velvety shimeji mushrooms, we were in paradise!

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Top: Shimeji Mushrooms
Bottom: Gyozas

 

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Left: Beet Salad
Right: Japanese sweet potatoes
Bottom: Bokchoy

 

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Nami Burger with local Tucumcari asadero cheese

 

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Ginger BBQ Pork Ribs

 

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Aooni “Blue Devil” Beer smiling and ready to devour Kakiage

 

The sake menu is very impressive with over 40 different sakes to choose from. Reading the descriptions of all the sakes took a while, and to say the very least, was very entertaining. There are 4 general groups of sake- fragrant, bright; tart, sweet; rich, mellow; clean, refined. In each of these 4 groups, there are about 8-10 different sakes to choose from. If you are unfamiliar with sake and just want to explore, Izanami offers flights of sake with each flight consisting of 3 sakes from one group. Being the inexperienced sake drinker that I am, I was expecting the sakes to be harsh and astringent (and gagging). But I was pleasantly surprised. Many of them were smooth going down the throat and complex in taste. Sparkling sake is also available.

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Fragrant, Bright

 

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Tart, Sweet

 

Izanami
乾杯 (ganpai)!Bottoms up!

 

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Maybe not so crazy for Crazy Milk?

 

After a few flights, we were having a really good time! The zen-like atmosphere was replaced with loud laughter, hip-hop singing, and tangential conversations about anything, everything and most importantly which sake to order next. With descriptions like “cabin in the snow,” “euphoria,” “yuri’s sword,” or “four diamonds,” how can you not order more? The descriptions were so entertaining that by the end of our meal, each of us had chosen a personal sake name to commemorate the occasion- Moon Glow, Crazy Milk, Umami Bomb and Fragrant Jewel- can you guess who’s who?

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Black Sesame Panna Cotta

 

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Flourless Yuzu Ricotta cheesecake

 

It was hard to end such a perfect meal but all good things must come to an end. After having dessert, we headed back to The Duke City with XM Radio blaring 80s and 90s music. Tumbleweeds were blowing across the highway and thoughts of returning to our daily routines weren’t a bother. After all…it had been a perfect day!

Date visited: March 2014

Izanami on Urbanspoon

 

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