Perhaps it’s ’cause I’ve got a serious case of the travel bug, but my feet are itchin’ to move. I mean, I haven’t traveled in more than a year (and Maui for a friend’s wedding last autumn doesn’t count). I’m talking real traveling — India, Marrakesh, Kuala Lumpur. Far-flung destinations to shock the senses and lubricate the mind.
The hubby and I thought Istanbul this spring, but that had to be pushed back. Maybe in the fall? Until then, I’m going to have to be content with travels of the imagination. Thankfully, there are plenty of things to satiate (for now) the wanderlust in me.
FRANCE: Fig + Olive
Now, I haven’t been to Europe since my attorney days, when I used to travel every six months just to get through the next six months of billable hours, endless discovery paperwork and motions galore. Back then, Italy was my destination du jour (everywhere from the Amalfi Coast to Cinque Terre), but I also managed to hit Barcelona, Andalucia, London, the Cotswolds, and even followed the Jane Austen trail from Bath to Rye.
One place I purposely didn’t go, however, was France. Paris I was saving for something — or rather, someone — special. There’s so much romanticism and hype surrounding France, I wanted my first time there to be meaningful.
I’m glad I waited. Not only will I be renting a house in the Latin quarter, shopping at Collette’s, and getting lost in the Louvre, but, thanks to my semi-foodie husband, I’ll now be eating the best France has to offer. And I don’t mean the highest rated or the most to-be-seen-in restaurants. I mean, the local boulangerie, random crepe stands, fresh cheese from anywhere.
I got a taste of what to expect at the Fig + Olive opening two weeks ago. The New York-based restaurant, founded by South of France native Laurent Halasz, opened its first on the West Coast, on the Melrose Place offshoot of famed Melrose Avenue. They officially opened with three big kick-off parties showcasing different regional specialities — Spain, Italy and South of France. We attended the South of France night and we were not disappointed.
After being greeted by golden flutes of Moet and Chandon, we nibbled on a variety of crostini — prosciutto with fig jam, white mushroom with truffles (best of the night, definitely), sardines with tomato (salty and sweet and acidic — my husband’s favorite), manchego cheese and pesto with radish garnish, and the amazingly simple but so, so yummy crushed tomatoes. It’s the freshness of the ingredients and the amalgam of the varying tastes and textures that made me hungry to jet off to France that instant.
We also tried the simply named fish soup, which I personally loved because it was like cheese married clam chowder. My husband preferred the cucumber soup with pink peppercorns — refreshing after all the rich crostini and frankly tastes nothing like it looks. All this, of course, made even better by the wine, a range of sauvignon blanc and rose from Rimauresq, or guests could sip on their signature French Riviera-inspired Piscine, a cocktail of white sparkling wine and fresh strawberries.
What they didn’t have that night and what I will definitely be going back to try is the Custom Dirty Martini. You have your choice of three different olives as well as brine (Black Niçoise, Green Verdial, and Purple Sweet Arbequina). It’ll go perfectly with their tasting menu, which starts out with a taste of three distinct extra virgin olive oils, paired with the restaurant’s freshly baked Rosemary Olive Oil Fougasse Bread. Who knew there were so many types of olive oil, the menu’s core ingredient (even a green-fruit Provence olive oil served with a Green Apple Sorbet!).
Fig + Olive, 8490 Melrose Place, West Hollywood, CA 90069, 310-360-9100
AFRICA: The First Grader
Admittedly, most press screenings of films are hit-or-miss propositions, usually the latter. But I still go in the hopes of discovering true indie gems, ones I would probably miss had I not attended the screening. The Thomas Balmes documentary Babies was one (I made all my friends and family go watch it). Another one is The First Grader. Directed by Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl, Bleak House) from a script by Emmy-winner Ann Peacock (The Chronicles of Narnia), the film is based on the true story of Maruge, an octogenarian from the Mau Mau tribe, who, after losing his family and village as a young man fighting during the Mau Mau rebellion against British colonial rule in Kenya in the 1950s, is determined to learn how to read — even if that means he has to sit alongside 6-year-olds at the newly opened public school in the remote Kenyan bush.
It’s an inspiring story, but also tragic and shocking in its graphic depictions of the cruelty of mankind. One thing the movie does well is showcase the stark contrast between modern city life in Kenya’s capital of Nairobi (as modern as any metropolis today) and the almost time-stands-still quality of the Kenyan bush and the lifestyles of its residents. Though I’ve been to the island nation of Seychelles, technically a part of the African continent, I’ve never been to the continental mainland, so that is one place that is definitely on my bucket list.
The First Grader was an official selection at the 2010 Telluride Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival and London Film Festival, among others. It was executive produced by Joe Oppenheimer, Anant Singh and Helena Spring. The First Grader hits theaters in May.
ENGLAND: Downton Abbey
One of the perks of being the editor of an Asian American women’s magazine is the screeners people send you of various shows and movies. One of the downsides of same is having to limit my reviews to shows related to Asian America is some way. Such was the case when the publicist for Masterpiece Theatre’s Downton Abbey emailed me. Alas, I could find no Asian connection and thus had to pass. But oh, how the series intrigued me! (I will forever be a sucker for period pieces and an undercover Anglo-phile.)
Thankfully, Downton Abbey not only showed up on Netflix shortly thereafter, it was available for instant play. So I hunkered down one weekend and pressed play. My husband guffawed when I mentioned watching it with me; he did his own thing as I became more and more engrossed in the lives of the Crawleys and their (unbelievably) loyal cadre of servants. Before I knew it, my husband was glued to the sofa along with me, irresistibly drawn in by the well-developed characters, the fascinating relationships between the masters and servants, and the soap opera-like drama affecting everyone, regardless of class.
Downton Abbey was a huge hit when it aired in the UK, and understandably so. It’s not just a lavish period drama (oh, the clothes!); it’s also a fascinating look at a time caught between the old and the new — venerable, old families marrying new American entrepreneurs for their money; new technology (the telephone, electricity) changing everyday lives; a shift from the peaceful, self-encompassed world of Downton Abbey to the reality of a world war; and a society in flux, with a growing women’s suffrage movement and the lower classes no longer content to leave things be. (One the best scenes — when progressive activist and youngest daughter Sybil shows off her new “frock” of harem pants to her conservative family! You go, girl!)
Created and written by Academy Award-winning Julian Fellowes (of Gosford Park fame), Downton Abbey was so successful, they’re filming a second season this month, to air in the fall of 2011. Good thing, too, because I’m not quite ready to say goodbye to the Crawleys yet.