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About astrid

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  1. Thank you for recommending Izakaya Rintaro! For DC-based comparisons I'd put it a thin wedge above Sushi Taro and Izakaya Seki, because everything was so well made. Really enjoyable meal and as you say, not expensive for the quality and for being in San Francisco.
  2. Had a really lovely lunch at Girl and the Fig. The steak tartare and the flounder were particularly nice. Cochon Volant BBQ was strong in everything except pork ribs, which is about average for restaurant ribs, ie barely edible. Oxbow Market is well worth a visit, though very busy even at 3:30ish. Hog Island Oysters reminded me how much I miss eating West Coast oysters on the West Coast. Definitely enjoyed the smaller tasting room and vineyards to the big boys.
  3. astrid

    Vacation Ideas

    Thank you for the information! This pretty much clinches our trip towards 2 weeks in Portugal. We really love how easy it is to travel in Europe and just how mind-blowingly beautiful and historic every little town can be.
  4. astrid

    Vacation Ideas

    If you have Amazon Prime, episode 6 of The Romanoffs is basically a beautifully shot travelogue of Mexico City. We met a California couple in Prague (on a foodie tour) who went to Mexico City last summer and loved everything, including food, there.
  5. astrid

    Vacation Ideas

    Good to hear another resounding endorsement for Portugal, as we are very seriously considering it for a late February trip. We know 3 other couples who travelled there and everyone loved it. How much time do you recommend for the area? We are thinking of one week in Portugal and one week in southern Spain, but if there's lots to do in Portugal, we might stick to Portugal for most of the allotted 2 weeks plus a road trip to northern Spain.
  6. Grilled cheese sandwich made with brie?
  7. It's possible that they speak somewhat heavily accented Mandarin, but almost certainly good enough to understand and be understood by others. Even if their education is comparatively lackluster, they would have received 6 to 9 years of Pinyin based Chinese education. After that, getting by in the urban areas where they work and live most of the year is a good incentive to improve their everyday speaking skills. They are standardizing the Mandarin they learnt during primary school and that's much easier than learning Mandarin from scratch as adults. Also, keep in mind that majority of TV is in standard Mandarin, so they are getting regular exposure almost anywhere they live. The only time you are likely to encounter really hard to comprehend Mandarin is in rural areas, especially out West, where Mandarin instruction is lax and there is no incentive to improve Mandarin speech as a local speaker.
  8. Everyone in Shanghai under the age of 70 speaks excellent Mandarin. I suspect that everyone under 50 in Cantonese areas speaks excellent Mandarin. The only times where I have encounter poor spoken Mandarin is in "Mandarin" speaking areas in Western China. Learning Mandarin as an adult is very hard. In my experience, I probably only met 2 people who mastered it, a college professor who specializes in Chinese history and married a Chinese woman, and a law partner who specializes in international trade law working primarily with Taiwanese clients.
  9. astrid

    Vacation Ideas

    Got 2 continuous weeks of vacation and desire to see tons of penguins? I know this is big ship cruising without landing, but this is the lowest price I've seen for Antarctica. https://www.celebritycruises.com/itinerary-details/14-night-antarctica-cruise-from-buenos-aires-argentina?packageID=EC14F084&sDT=2019-01-20
  10. Costco.com is currently running quite a few discounts on clothing and their $3 per piece discount, plus most items are free shipping.
  11. astrid

    Vacation Ideas

    We are going to SF for MLK weekend. Not sure what we will be doing. SF was our stomping grounds in the first decade of the 21st century, but we haven't been back in almost 10 years. We loved the area when we were there and we were pretty sure that we would move back after a few years, but now we have neither the means or inclination to move back. Portugal or Azores would be nice for January, if you want to go a little further than the Caribbean but not too far. Charleston and Savannah or NOLA are easy getaways. Or for something different, maybe stay at a ice hotel in Canada or Scandinavia? January or February would be a nice time to visit a popular European cities if you don't mind the cold and want to avoid crowds. Also, Mexico City or Quito or Lima? Also, Quito combined with a Galapagos cruise?
  12. If distance is not a concern, I recommend Stiftskeller St. Peter in Salzburg. I can attest that it was full on Christmas-y 10 days ago and you can't beat the atmospherics. The food and service was pretty decent too.
  13. astrid


    Reporting back on our Viking River cruise. Even with two boat changes (3 boats total but we missed the more onerous one by skipping the first 2 days), it sounds like we got off rather easy compared to other recent Danube sailings. We saw everything that days 3-7 itinerary promised, albeit with some inconvenient dockings, bussings, extra packing, and a few cancelled excursions. We lucked into staying at 2 of the better ships and the service was fine, albeit nothing exceptional. There was rafting (tying river boats together as to render the perk of a balcony room useless) on the first few days, but no rafting on the latter part. That didn't affect us as we were in a cheap balcony-less cabin. Would we do it again? No! We realized that the restrictions of the river cruise itinerary doesn't give us the flexibility to explore as we would like. And while the tours were pretty well run, it's not nearly as nice as when we were traveling independently. And the passengers are not quite our crowd as vast majority are much older, travelling in groups, and seem more keyed for this type of travel. I missed certain aspects of the bigger boats more than I would have thought. The additional dining and entertainment options of ocean cruises were not available, and the river cruise schedule seemed much too busy after the lazier port schedule of ocean cruises. The food was pretty consistently good, never great, and lacking in variety and flexibility.
  14. astrid

    Michelin 3-Star Restaurants

    Our first Michelin 3 star was Azurmendi. It is a cool concept and you got a lot of presentation and courses for your money, but I was just okay with most of the courses. The Paris shootings happened just as we completed our courses, so the staff was just nowhere to be found for nearly an hour (after an already long meal we were tired and very ready to head back to our Airbnb). We were utterly confused and annoyed by this service lapse after getting pretty good if cool service before. It's a little more forgiveable after we learned what happened the next day. Azurmendi didn't leave to much of an impression on me because the food didn't wow or anger me. Much stronger very positive impressions were formed during the next few days for Extebarri (1 star) and Martin Berasategui (3 star), both being in my top best 5 meals ever. And I will hate Akelarre (3 star) forever for being terrible for service AND food (+1 mentioned that I got great value out of Akelarre because I now have an anchor for restaurant related hate and disappointment).