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Postcards from Travel Near and Far by Jia-Rui


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Montepulciano, 53045

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View from Montepulciano

Dear ——–,

We spent the morning in the elegant Renaissance town of Pienza, where the smell of local pecorino wafted out from shop after shop. For lunch, we went to an organic farm called Il Casale, where we had plates of prosciutto, salami, zucchini, cabbage, pasta in tomato sauce and a spelt salad. They make their own cheese — so there was ricotta, feta, chevre and several kinds of pecorino including a fresh variety and ones aged in hay and grape leaves. Stella got to meet her first pony on this farm (very interested) and her first goats (less interested). In the afternoon, we went to Montepulciano, where we took a look at the Contucci cellars and tasted their vino nobile di Montelpulciano. The reserva from 2007 was so velvety, we had to take one home. The host, Adamo, asked, “Am I famous in America?” and showed a picture of himself with Rick Steves. Well, that was how we got there.

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92262, Palm Springs

Vintage Porsche 356

Dear ——–,

The Cook family took its first vacation together this past weekend, packing the baby, the dog, our luggage, plus the baby’s swing and Pack n Play into the Mini Cooper. (We definitely needed the roof box.) We got a great deal on a room at the Riviera in Palm Springs thanks to Jetsetter. As we pulled in on Friday, we saw Porsche flags waving. What was that about? Turns out, there was some kind of rally for Porsche 356s — the first of the mass-produced Porsches — and we found them in all candy colors on the lawns the next morning.¬† To me, these cars pop right out of sun-drenched scenes in a Fellini film, driven by some Casanova scamp. The Riviera was an old Rat Pack hangout, so why not conjure up the Italian version? We ordered a little take-out from Trio and it was a good start to the weekend.


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90012, Little Tokyo

Wish tree in Little Tokyo

Dear ——–,
I’ve barely been out of the house since our daughter was born, but Bryan and I decided that we should try hiring a babysitter for the first time and go out for dinner for our 5th anniversary. We started at the Spice Table, a restaurant with southeast Asian specialties and an owner that used to work at Mozza. I had to try the Hainanese chicken and laksa because I wondered what the gourmet version of these humble comfort foods would be like. They were pretty tasty — less greasy, more focused, with sharper flavors. They also soared with the wine flight that our waiter recommended. After dinner, we took a walk around Little Tokyo, stopping to listen to an outdoor karaoke session (?!). After gawking at some mochi in the Mikawaya, I decided to pick up some imagawayaki, biscuit-sized pancakes filled with sweet red bean paste, for dessert. We stopped to admire a tree frilled with wishes on slips of paper. There was only a subtle breeze, but I was hoping one of the slips of paper would blow off, on its way to being fulfilled.


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90027, Los Feliz

Dover sole at Puran's

 

Dear ——–,

Bryan and I were on the fence about going out to dinner last night. On the one hand, I’d had my first real, painful contractions yesterday morning, waking me out of sleep at 4:20 a.m. But they’d turned mostly mild by midday and we thought this might be a last opportunity to have a quiet night out together with no babysitter. We headed out to Puran’s on Hillhurst. There was unlikely to be a wait and it was close enough that we could make it home in less than 20 minutes. I also love their herb-grilled Dover sole — I’m picky about fish even though I know I should eat more of it! As we settled into our seats at dusk, I noticed for the first time that you could see Griffith Observatory from our table. I wondered why I’d never noticed it before, but was glad I still had time to savor stillness and quiet. We headed home last night a little giddy in anticipation, knowing that it would probably only be a matter of hours before we would head to the hospital.


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90027, Hollywood

Two kinds of pizza at Mother Dough

Dear ——–,

We came to Hollywood tonight to join Erika and crew at the Moth, but bailed when we found out it was so full it was standing-room-only. (The guy at the door said that if we wanted a seat, we should get there next time at 6 p.m. for the 7:30 p.m. start time.) There was no way I could stand for more than 15 minutes, so we decided to use our trip to Hollywood to go to Mother Dough. So what if we’d been here exactly a week before for the first time? Their blistered, neapolitan-style pizzas had left us drooling for more. (The chocolate mousse and poached pear desserts were also heavenly.) This time we tried to arugula-prosciutto and margherita pizzas. I could do with a little more San Marzano tomato sauce and a few more slices of buffalo mozzarella slices, but the crust had a perfect toothiness. (The name comes from the old world practice of using a little bit of yesterday’s dough¬† — the mother dough — to help get the leavening process started on the next batch.) I was also impressed by the Bundaberg ginger beer, which might challenge Thomas Kemper’s ginger ale as my favorite ginger carbonated beverage.


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90021, Downtown Los Angeles

Inside Church & State

Dear ——–,

Leah and Neal know their way around restaurants, so when they suggested Church and State, we happily said yes. The bistro was in the National Biscuit Company building — whose title finally explained to us how the cookie company Nabisco got its name — in a warehouse-to-loft part of downtown. It was pretty noisy so we had a little trouble hearing each other, but maybe that was intentional on the part of the restauranteurs. The better to get guests to lean into each other and feel “intimate.” The gem lettuce salad was boring, but the mac and cheese and salmon main course were fantastic. The salmon was wrapped in ramp — which Leah informed us is a wild leek that is rare because it can’t be cultivated. It was sitting in a basil veloute that made me want to tip the bowl and drink the stuff like soup. I restrained myself just to sopping it up with bread. Bryan and I considered for a moment ordering the a.o.c. butter from Normandy because it’s the first time we’d ever seen butter on the menu. But while it was the cheapest item ($3), special ordering butter just seemed so excessive.


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20003, Washington

Half-eaten burger from Good Stuff

Dear ——–,

The other week when I was in D.C., Will took me to Good Stuff. We’re both fans of Top Chef, so it was a treat to try a restaurant run by one of the contestants (Spike). It was hard to choose one burger off the menu. But I’m a sucker for anything that has daikon, so I got one of those. We also split a malted shake. The verdict: thumbs up! But more than anything else, it was a good opportunity to catch up with Will, who’s been traveling the world (China and Egypt!) to cover the news. It made me happy to hear that young(ish) reporters are getting some opportunities to do foreign reporting now — two friends at the LA Times were recently in Egypt and Afghanistan, and another LA Times friend has been in China for over a year. We’ve been all maturing, or maybe the world has gotten more unstable, increasing the need for fresh, first-hand accounts from far-flung locations. In any case, I’m glad that my friends are the ones who are going out there and telling us what it’s like.